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Tale of two winters: Marlins go from spending spree to fire sale

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- All the well-known managers in baseball were stopped by autograph seekers Wednesday afternoon before entering a ballroom where all 30 major league skippers took part in a luncheon with members of the media covering the Winter Meetings.

The Miami Marlins' Mike Redmond walked right by the crowd at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort and into the room without being bothered.

What a year it's been for the Marlins, baseball's most unpredictable franchise.

The Marlins were the stars of last year's Winter Meetings in Dallas. Owner Jeffrey Loria was the most visible man in the lobby of the Anatole Hotel, holding court with seemingly everybody.

Having already hired Ozzie Guillen as manager in anticipation of moving into $515 million Marlins Park for the 2012 season, the Marlins went on a free-agent shopping spree in Dallas.

First, shortstop Jose Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million contract. Then the Marlins gave closer Heath Bell a three-year, $27 million contract.

A day after the meetings concluded, left-hander Mark Buerhle agreed to terms on a four-year, $58 million deal.

Now Guillen and all three players are gone. Guillen was fired after the Marlins finished last in the National League East with a 69-93 record. Reyes and Buehrle were traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a 12-player deal, and Bell was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Loria is nowhere to be seen at the Opryland Hotel after ordering vice president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest to slash the payroll by tearing apart the roster.

Redmond, the Marlins' popular backup catcher when they last won the World Series in 2003, is left to pick up the pieces. He has just two years of managerial experience, both at the Class A level in the Blue Jays' farm system.

"I don't think we're going to make any major moves this time," Redmond deadpanned Wednesday when asked if he thought the Marlins might do anything before the meetings end Thursday morning.

Redmond was hired before the big trade with the Blue Jays. However, he wasn't surprised that the Marlins continued a roster deconstruction that started in late July when infielder Hanley Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Obviously, I knew that the organization was not happy with the 93 losses, and I knew there was going to be some changes," Redmond said.

However, Redmond was not hesitant to take the job when offered.

"We've picked up a lot of great young players," Redmond said. "We're starting with a clean slate, and we're going to be able to go out there and develop these young players by creating a winning environment, a winning culture, getting back to what helped to win the Marlins the World Series in 2003, which was playing the game the right way, playing the game hard. That's what we're focusing on, and that's why I'm excited."

The Marlins were a disjointed bunch last season as the new players and new manager never seemed to jell or get acclimated to playing in the new ballpark, where big power alleys seemed to play on the hitters' minds.

On the bright side, the Marlins haven't traded right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, one of top hitters in the game. Just 23, Stanton already has 93 career home runs in three seasons.

The Marlins' Double-A Jacksonville farm club could be one the most talent-laden in the minor leagues in 2013, with right-hander Jose Fernandez and outfielder Christian Yelich generally considered among two of the top 25 prospects in baseball. They likely will be joined by left-hander Justin Nicolino and outfielder Jake Marisnick, who were acquired from the Blue Jays.

However, it will be another season or two before those players will be in the major leagues. Of course, baseball history is also littered with failed prospects.

Thus, the Marlins likely will be in for a long year in 2013, perhaps reminiscent to their 1998 season. After the team won the World Series in 1997, former owner Wayne Huizenga slashed the payroll, and the Marlins went 54-108.

Compounding the Marlins' current problems is an angry fan base that feels its trust has been broken. For years, Loria said the only way the franchise could ever be positioned to win consistently was to build a new ballpark funded primarily with tax money.

With the fans disillusioned and the team capable of a triple-digit loss total, it is easy to project plenty of empty seats at Marlins Park next season. Redmond, though, says he is not deterred.

"We can't control anything outside of the field and the way we go out there and we go about our business," Redmond said. "I'm going to make those guys accountable for themselves on the field as well as myself and my staff. We're going to go out there and we're going to develop baseball players and get back to the winning ways."
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