Because sports blogging wouldn't be sports blogging if we didn't all shamelessly steal Deadspin's ideas, Strip Club With Stanton is teaming up with Ted Hill from Marlins Diehards and Michael Jong from FishStripes to participate in a roundtable discussion that will cover some of the more interesting topics of this Marlins season. Fair warning, there will be a lot less funny in these posts. This is serious bidness. Today's topic...
Larry Beinfest: Bumbling Idiot or Extremely Unlucky?
To: Ted Hill, Michael Jong
In 2007, the Marlins sent star third basemen Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers and in return, got back prospects Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. Today, five years later, Cabrera has 319 career home runs and, this season, is just one home run shy of being the first triple crown winner since 1967. Meanwhile, Cameron Maybin is batting .248 in Detroit, and Andrew Miller is in the Red Sox bullpen, unable to find a place in a starting rotation that boasts only one ERA lower than 4.90.
Flipping coins, landing on tails. Fair or not (and it probably isn't), this is Larry Beinfest's legacy.
We'll come back to that trade later, but what I really wonder is this: is Larry Beinfest truly this bad at what he does for a living or has he simply been a victim of a prolonged stretch of bad luck? Ten years of bad luck may sound a bit ridiculous, sure, but I guess the question is, how much of what Larry Beinfest does—what any of these GMs do, really—is an intrinsic skill and how much of it is a reliance on dumb luck?
Take Beinfest's poor draft history, for instance.
The Marlins have missed on pretty much every first round pick in Beinfest's tenure. (I say "pretty much" because we have to let his most recent picks fail before we declare them legitimate failures.) That's a decade of first round futility, which sounds really bad when you refer to it as "a decade" or even "ten years." That damning terminology, though, is entirely misleading. It's not a sample size of ten years, it's a sample size of ten…period, which isn't exactly a substantial number.
Of those fifteen first round selections in those ten years, only one was a top-10 pick and only eight were even top-20. The bottom half of the first round isn't exactly where GMs make their mark. And if you take an even closer look at some of their picks, the line that separates skill from luck becomes even thinner. Jeremy Hermida (2002) and Chris Volstad (2005) were highly rated prospects that just never panned out. Jeffrey Allison (2003) became a heroin addict after his rookie season. These aren't exactly things a GM can predict.
Let's be honest, though. Bad luck isn't the only luck, and Larry Beinfest has had his share of good fortunes, as well (albeit, not many). Finding Dan Uggla in the Rule 5 Draft and snagging Mike Stanton with the 76th overall pick aren't so much the works of a genius as much as they are fortunate accidents. (One could argue that the Marlins knew exactly what they were getting in Stanton, that the pick was smart, but if that's the case, why'd they take Matt Dominguez first?)
Obviously, the MLB draft isn't the only place where luck needs to be on your side, and it isn't the only place where Larry Beinfest's miserable luck has betrayed him.
Let's go back to the Miguel Cabrera trade for a minute. At the time, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller were two of the best prospects in all of baseball, not just the Tigers system, and no matter what your beliefs about the Marlins shady finances, they were never going to sign Cabrera to the kind of contract he was going to command. Larry Beinfest's arms can only reach as far as Jeffrey Loria's pockets will let them, which is to say, Larry Beinfest is a T-rex. That trade had to happen and, really, why not? After all, Beinfest had already turned Josh Johnson into Hanley Ramirez just a few years earlier.
As it would turn out, Maybin and Miller weren't Hanley Ramirez. They weren't even Felix Ramirez (I don't even know who or what Felix Ramirez is, to be honest). What's funny about that trade, though, is the ridiculous amount of praise Dave Dombrowski gets for being smart enough to fleece the Marlins, when the two main pieces on the Tiger's end of the deal turned out to be busts that Dombrowski, himself, selected. That trade was proof-positive that nobody knows anything.
Just for fun, go look at the Tigers' first round picks since 2002. See if you've head of any one of those guys. (Hint: you haven't.) Justin Verlander basically bought Dave Dombrowski a decade of first round immunity. And that's how it goes with young prospects in Major League Baseball. Sometimes they turn into Robinson Cano, other times they turn into Lastings Milledge, and a GM's genius (and job security) is ultimately decided by the amount of luck he has on his side when throwing those darts at the dartboard.
Back to Larry Beinfest again.
Beinfest's abysmal track record hasn't just been limited to draft picks and trades. Nope, he's got his own special version of the trifecta, also failing spectacularly when it comes to signing key players to long-term deals.
Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez… all were signed to long-term deals that the Marlins immediately regretted. But, again, how much of the aftermath can you pin on Larry Beinfest? The Marlins had one of the best players in baseball in Hanley Ramirez, so they locked him up. Who knew?
(Furthermore, why doesn't Larry Beinfest get the same credit for unloading his mistakes as someone like Dave Dombrowski?)
This year alone, almost every single player underperformed. Who knew Gaby Sanchez wasn't even good enough to be a Major League ballplayer? Who knew Logan Morrison would be this bad and this hurt? How can a lot of this season's troubles be pinned on the GM?
Let's not pretend all of Larry Beinfest's mistakes were the result of terrible fortune, though. The Bad Luck Bear is going to rear its ugly head at some point, no matter what, but throwing large sums of money at guys like Heath Bell and John Buck certainly isn't the way to minimize your chances of it making an appearance.
From a career standpoint, you can swing and miss on those types of deals when you have ten years of relative success under your belt, even if the foundation of that success is built mostly on good luck. But, that's not what Beinfest is working with. He's drafted too many Jeremy Hermidas, given too much money to too many Carlos Delgados and traded one too many Miguel Cabreras. He keeps guessing—just like every other GM in baseball—he just keeps guessing wrong.
In all likelihood, Larry Beinfest will be fired and someone else will take over…and that someone else will turn things around. Not necessarily because they're any better at the job than Beinfest, but because at some point, it has to. At some point, the new guy will accidentally draft a Giancarlo Stanton. At some point, he'll accidentally trade for a Hanley Ramirez. At some point, the coin is going to land on heads more often than tails, and when it does, the person flipping the coin is the one who'll get the credit.
Larry Beinfest has been flipping that coin for a decade and it keeps landing on tails. What we're witnessing might be the unluckiest streak in the history of unlucky streaks. Problem is, when you're playing with someone else's money, why the coin keeps landing on tails is irrelevant; there's eventually going to come a time when you lose the right to flip that coin.