It's too easy to pick on the Marlins. But they have it coming.
What owner Jeffrey Loria did in the span of 12 months was so ridiculous that it would be surprising if anyone showed up at Marlins Park this season, other than the Phillies fans who flock south each summer for a trip to South Beach.
After making a serious bid to sign Albert Pujols while also reeling in Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, Marlins management unloaded those same two players this winter in an embarrassing trade with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Oh, and they included homegrown ace Josh Johnson in the salary-dumping deal with Toronto. They also shipped reliever Heath Bell to Arizona this winter, and traded former face of the franchise Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers last summer.
What's left is Giancarlo (Don't Call Me Mike) Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and the aquarium behind home plate. According to baseball-reference.com, the Marlins' estimated payroll for 2013 is the same amount the Phillies owe Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee alone this season: $45 million.
Even with Halladay, Chase Utley, Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz set to become free agents after this season, the Phillies have $103.5 million committed to their 2014 payroll. The Marlins have $5.5 million committed to their 2014 payroll.
The good news: The Marlins can go hog wild again on the free-agent market next winter, which is surely Loria's plan. Not. The bad news: The Marlins' savings in dollars translates into an unmarketable team that will struggle to win.
Then again, Miami had a $107.7 million payroll in 2012 that lost 93 games. So if you're going to flirt with 100 losses, you might as well save some money, right?
When you combine the Marlins' latest fire sale with the fact that they play in a highly competitive, big-spending division and it's difficult to see them avoiding the 100-loss total. Because unlike the Mets, the Marlins didn't receive premium prospects in their trades; they only received payroll relief.
The Marlins' 180-degree turn in strategy, from opening the wallet last winter to sticking a "For Sale" sign outside the ballpark this winter, has left their remaining players unhappy. Following the not-so-popular, 12-player trade that sent much of their team to Toronto, a few Fish took to Twitter:
"Huh?" - Nolasco.
"Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple." - Stanton.
"I'm not gonna do whatever body thinks I'm gonna do and freak out! Ugh, I need a bath." - outfielder Logan Morrison.
Unless the Marlins see what would be an unexpected uptick in attendance, those three players might not be long for Miami, either.
In the first season at Marlins Park, the Fish saw a modest increase in attendance, from 1.52 million in 2011 to 2.22 million in 2012. The allure of checking out the stadium and a roster of All-Star players is no more, so unless people want to watch Stanton's batting-practice sessions (which are, admittedly, fun to watch) the turnstiles won't be getting a lot of work this summer.
Since the Marlins really can't sink any lower, they might as well deal Stanton to the Texas Rangers, who have been sitting on a herd of prospects all winter and have the need for a middle-of-the-order bat, too. But since Stanton isn't arbitration-eligible until next winter, he's cheap, and thus, the perfect Marlin.
To put Miami's roster in perspective, consider this: The Marlins have just six players with more than 3 years of big-league service time. Half of those six are Phillies rejects Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre and Greg Dobbs.
The 37-year-old Polanco is the second highest-paid Marlin this season; he'll earn $2.75 million. Yes, the same Polanco who led the injury-ravaged Phillies in DL trips the last two seasons.
Welcome to Marlins baseball.
The outlook: Perhaps a plucky Marlins team shocks the baseball world and plays beyond its payroll and into contention. And perhaps Marlins ownership, which even charges media to park, also allows patrons to enter the stadium free of charge with an open bar at the Clevelander.
Translation: Not happening.
Tomorrow: The Braves