My colleague Rob Kelley has been on the record as saying that if the Miami Marlins fire Ozzie Guillen it will be a sign that they are a bush league organization. I can certainly understand the impulse and today the Marlins became the bush league organization in his and many others eyes. That is because the Marlins announced that they have fired Ozzie Guillen one year into his four year contract. He will earn ten million dollars for the lifetime of the deal. He gets to sit at home for the majority of it.
It is easy to call the Marlins a joke and in many cases they certainly are. Much like the Bobby Valentine hiring, I knew the Ozzie Guillen hiring was doomed from the start. Beyond the personality problems was the fact that he was just not a good manager. According to total run index, he was the worst manager in baseball in 2011. That can be seen from the massive improvement the Chicago White Sox had this season under Robin Ventura. Some of it may be Ventura, but most of it is the absence of Guillen.
Similarly, signing Heath Bell was seen as a mistake by many. Heck, all of the contracts given to all of the free agents were seen as mistakes. I’d tend to agree that at least the long-term nature of those deals were mistakes. Mistakes happen. An organization becomes bush league when it refuses to admit to its mistakes. Allowing Ozzie Guillen to manage for another season or two would have been a failure to admit to the mistake.
Yet, the trade of Heath Bell to the Dbacks before the firing is particularly telling and likely a bone of contention between different commentators. I think it was a brilliant move in terms of organizational psychology. If you had fired Guillen before trading Bell it would have signaled to the players that they could run someone out of town. In this case, the Marlins sent a signal to the players that trying to undermine the manager would not be tolerated.
The Marlins of the past have certainly gotten their fair share of criticism. They have two World Series championships, but those titles were followed by two fire sales. Those fire sales seemed to be predicated on the notion that they could not afford to field a competitive ball club. So, despite having more championships than every team but the Yankees since 1997, they are seen as a model as how not to do something.
However, I will pass judgment when I see what the Marlins do this offseason. Good organizations make good decisions, but they remain good because they recover faster from bad decisions. The main way that you do that is by admitting that you’ve made a bad decision. The Marlins cut ties with Heath Bell and Ozzie Guillen after just one season. I’d say that’s a pretty quick decision. They did the same with Hanley Ramirez.
Now, if they pocket the savings (on the player end) then it would be fair to call them a bush league organization. If they reinvest that money in other players then it is fair to question those decisions, but it is not fair to call them a bush league organization. Bush league organizations don’t try to win. Bad organizations try to win, but they do it in the wrong ways. So far, the Marlins look like the latter, but now that they have a chance to start over we’ll begin to see where this thing is headed.