You know how this is playing in Montreal, right? The men who spirited the Expos out of town have now hijacked baseball’s off-season.
This is no time to rehash old battles or make the case that the Expos departed because of a failure of local political and economic will was as much as Jeffrey Loria and David Samson’s machinations. But it is time to put the Miami Marlins off-season spending spree in historical context: it was an $18-million (Canadian) investment in 1999 that gave Loria 24 per-cent interest in the Expos, which built gradually into enough clout to help force a franchise switch – Loria got the Marlins, John Henry got the Boston Red Sox – that saw the Expos become wards of the commissioner’s office en route to Washington, D.C. Loria and Samson won a World Series in 2003 and this season will open $515-million, 37,000-seat Marlins Ballpark. Now this: the Marlins formally signed Jose Reyes to a six-year, $106-million contract on Wednesday, signed Mark Buehrle to a four-year, $58-million package after apparently pulling a 10-year, $200-million-$220-million package for Albert Pujols off the table, and then zeroed in on the two remaining high-profile free-agents: C.J. Wilson and Prince Fielder.
Somebody suggested to Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen that troubled Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano might want to join him in south Florida. Guillen admitted he talks to his fellow Venezuelan every day or at least texts him.
“I talk to Zambrano, all of a sudden people think I’m talking about moving him to the Marlins – but that’s tampering, and we do that on the side, not around people,” the cavalier Guillen said, to loud laughter.
What a winter: the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fret about future luxury tax payments and the devil doesn’t wear Prada any more: it wears orange, blue, black and yellow, the colours of the Marlins’ new uniform that Loria picked because they reminded him of the ocean and south Florida’s sunsets. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the financing and political machinations around the new ballpark, and Loria back-loaded Reyes’ contract so much – $66-million of it is in the final three years, at $22-million a season – that it’s going to make it difficult to pull off another of Loria’s favourite tricks: the timely fire-sale.
Yet Loria has shown a willingness to splurge even back in those confused days when the dying embers of baseball in Montreal could be seen and he announced he was giving Expos slugger Vladimir Guerrero a five-year, $28-million extension that was at the time the largest-ever deal for a player with less than two years of major league service time.
As he sat in his suite at the Hilton Anatole waiting for the approach of the 11:59 ET deadline for second baseman Kelly Johnson to decide whether or not to return for 2012, Alex Anthopoulos was asked how he viewed all these goings on as a former Montrealer and die-hard baseball fan. The Blue Jays general manager smiled. His first paid job in baseball, he said, was $7 an hour doing photocopies for P.J. Loyello, now the Marlins senior vice-president of communications and broadcasting and formerly the Expos media relations director. Claude Delorme, the Expos director of stadium operations, was the guy who gave Anthopoulos the number of the direct line to general manager Jim Beattie in Florida when Anthopoulos was casting around for his first job in baseball. Beattie is now a senior adviser with the Blue Jays; Delorme, as the Marlins executive vice-president of ballpark development, was Loria’s point man on the new facility.
“He took my call,” Anthopoulos said of Delorme. “If he hadn’t done that … he gave me Jim’s number in Florida. Direct line. He didn’t have to do that. Claude’s the only guy who returned my call.”
Feelings? Anthopoulos shrugged. What he said is true: the Marlins front office, of president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest and vice-president and GM Mike Hill is “the most under-rated in baseball.” He joked about being baited, then noted: “The argument is, the Washington Nationals are the Expos.” And Loria and his stepson Samson? They’re turning the baseball world on its head.