Column: Smooth on the field, Jeter struggles in front office
Derek Jeter, The Player, glided through two decades in the Big Apple. His charisma made it all look so effortless, a beloved figure who could seemingly do no wrong, even in the media cauldron that is New York City.
Which makes Derek Jeter, The Baseball Executive, all the more baffling.
How has a guy who rarely took a wrong step during his long career as the Yankees shortstop and captain managed to become Public Enemy No. 1 in South Florida in just a few short months?
Now, this isn’t one of those piling-on diatribes against Jeter for overseeing the latest fire sale by the Miami Marlins .
Frankly, he had no real options beyond dumping MVP slugger Giancarlo Stanton and the worst contract in sports history on his former team . Jeter would probably serve his new team well in the long run by unloading a few more top-of-the-line players. (Christian Yelich, anyone?)
Namely, the ever-dwindling Marlins fans base.
Jeter has made one public-relations misstep after another since taking over as CEO in October, when a $1.2 billion sale from Jeffrey Loria to the Bruce Sherman-led partnership was approved.
Since a 20-minute introductory news conference, Jeter has essentially declared the Miami media to be persona non grata. He did a fluff interview with the team’s flagship radio station and a teleconference during the winter meetings this week after dealing Stanton to the Yankees.
“One thing that has been consistent with me throughout my career is I do not operate through the media,” Jeter said on the conference call.
Problem is, he needs the media to get out the message he’s trying to sell to Marlins fans, who are so jaded at this point that the damage may be irreparable. Maybe he’s starting to get the message, announcing what seemed to be a hastily assembled town hall meeting with a couple hundred season-ticket holders on Tuesday evening at Marlins Park, along with a promise to meet afterward with the media.
If nothing else, Jeter (or anyone not named Loria, for that matter) should’ve enjoyed a bit of honeymoon, even if it was his intent to dismantle the roster once again.
All he had to do was make himself accessible, turn on the charm and let everyone know he was in this for the long haul. All he had to do was make it clear that he wasn’t Loria Lite, running the Marlins like a cash machine for his personal account.
There would’ve been grumbles, for sure, but Jeter could’ve pointed to the World Series champion Houston Astros as his template, a franchise that bottomed out no so long ago with three straight 100-loss seasons but always with the intent of rebuilding the farm system and setting up something the Marlins have never had in their quarter-century of existence — long-term success.
“If you want to be sustainable as an organization, you have to be good from top to bottom,” Jeter said, again from that conference call. “We’re going to invest in building this organization the right way so we can year in and year out compete.”
But those sage words have been drowned out by Jeter’s blunders, from making only a handful of public appearances to skipping out on attending the winter meetings — even though they were being held in the same state. Instead, Jeter was spotted Monday night in a luxury box at the Dolphins NFL game. He’s also turned up in Miami at an NBA game, where he was booed when shown on the video board.
Of course, the Marlins were a damaged product long before Jeter arrived.
This is a franchise that followed up two World Series titles by immediately breaking up the team, and tore up its roster a third time after Loria got a new publicly funded stadium. They’ll have to do it again largely because Major League Baseball approved an overpriced sale to a group that had to scrape together every spare million just to meet Loria’s ludicrous asking price.
The Marlins would’ve been far better served being sold to someone like Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has much deeper pockets and was interested until he saw the asking price. Ross likely would’ve been willing to pay something along the line of $900 million for the tarnished franchise, but Loria wanted to bleed every last dollar out of South Florida on his way out the door.
As a parting gift, Loria left the new owners with Stanton’s ludicrous contract — a $325 million boondoggle that could run until 2028, when he would be 38 years old, and includes a full no-trade clause. There were only a handful of teams willing to take on a deal that still must pay out at least $295 million to an injury plagued slugger, and the list was shortened even more when Stanton vetoed a couple of potential suitors.
The Yankees were really the only option.
Jeter has dealt two more All-Stars as well, outfielder Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Dee Gordon , and he’s surely not done. Second baseman Starlin Castro, acquired in the Stanton deal, probably won’t be around for long. And if Jeter really wants to go all in on this rebuilding project, he’ll do his best to deal Yelich, who’s got an attractive contract (at least four more years at $44.5 million) and would likely bring a huge bounty of prospects.
And while he’s at it, Jeter needs to work on his PR skills.
No one could’ve seen that one coming.
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
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