In a move that surprised few, the Miami Marlins fired manager Ozzie Guillen today with three years remaining on his contract. But truth be told, this had been building for a while.
I remember almost a year ago at the winter meetings when the Marlins were the belles of the ball. They knew they were about to open a brand new stadium, and they were ready to spend. Though they didn't get Albert Pujols, they did sign Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, and that Reyes signing was the first sign of trouble.
The problem wasn't that they signed Reyes, it's that they didn't tell Hanley Ramirez, their in-house star shortstop, that they were planning to sign another All-Star and move him to third base. As a manager, you have to do a better job of managing your stars and make them aware if you are going to move them around, and that showed us right away that Ozzie was not on the same page as Ramirez. To his credit, Ramirez showed up at spring training saying all the right things, but the damage was done.
Then, of course, were Ozzie's infamous remarks about Fidel Castro that antagonized Miami's sizable Cuban-American community and earned him an early-season suspension. The Marlins should have fired him then, but he showed remorse and they had just given him a four-year contract, so they decided to let him stay. The nightmare season was just getting worse, and one has to wonder if Ozzie's comments played a role in the Marlins playing in front of a half-empty stadium all year.
The most remarkable aspect of this situation is that the Marlins were part of a Showtime documentary, so we could all watch their dysfunction on TV. I remember when GM Larry Beinfest went into Ozzie's office to tell him that he had traded Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn, and Ozzie said, "Who's going to play second tonight?"
"Bonifacio," replied Beinfest.
For a manager to be completely unaware of a major trade like that just goes to show how disconnected Ozzie was in Miami. That was another huge red flag.
Even when the Marlins were playing well in May, their front office knew it was smoke and mirrors. Ramirez was still not back to an All-Star level, Bell had turned people off by coming in with a big attitude and not performing, and Gaby Sanchez ended up being sent to Triple-A a year after making the All-Star team.
After reaching a high-water mark of 31-23 on June 3, the Fish slumped badly over the next six weeks and were 44-51 when they made the Sanchez/Infante deal, and they then sent Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers just two days later, sending a signal to the baseball world that they were giving up on 2012. (The Ramirez trade was particularly egregious since they sold him for 25 cents on the dollar, and probably could have gotten a lot more had they waited until the winter to make a deal.)
The front office was making it clear that they wanted to get rid of any problems, and they traded Sanchez to the Pirates at the trade deadline, and then sent Heath Bell to Arizona just a few days ago. Everyone knew Ozzie was next, but owner Jeffrey Loria, in his unique style, decided to go on a European vacation and let Ozzie twist in the wind.
I respect Ozzie and all the success in Chicago, but his act wore thin there, and you can see the team was revitalized under Robin Ventura this year. The Marlins had no cohesiveness under Ozzie, and he made further mockery of their season when he ended a long Twitter hiatus in September because he was "bored." That's not a message you want to send to your boss.
But the fact is that Ozzie dug his own grave with the Castro comments, and did himself no favors by fielding an underachieving team. If you alienate your fan base and can't get the most out of your players, there is no turning back
The Marlins' next hire will be a tough one because no proven skipper will want to go there since there is no job security. If I'm Loria/Beinfest, I'm taking a long look at a guy like Brad Ausmus, who is hungry to break in and would bring professionalism, intelligence and levity. After seeing the success that Ventura and Mike Matheny had in their first years, a guy like Ausmus would be a good fit. The Fish do not need another fiery guy, but rather someone who can bring a calmness to the clubhouse.
This next hire will be most critical hire Loria has ever made, so he'd better make it count.