Early Monday afternoon, Craig Mish of the Miami Herald broke a major piece of news that overshadowed the CBA talks taking place in Jupiter. Marlins CEO and partial owner, Hall of Famer Derek Jeter is stepping down from his position within the organization, selling his shares to the team and moving on.
Jeter, who entered the Marlins organization in 2018 next to Sherman, was a 4% stakeholder in the club. He was entering the final year of a five year deal as CEO. 2022 would have been a huge year for Jeter and his future with the club as winning at the major league level right now has become of paramount importance. The Marlins had already committed to spend upwards of $109 million on two players, their star pitcher Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Avisail Garcia and had plans to spend even more before the current lockout. So why now? Why was February 28th, 2022 the right time for Jeter to move on?
From the beginning, Jeter, a natural born winner who is used to success, preached and stuck to his plan of building a sustainable winning franchise. The first few years were rough on both fans and those surrounding Jeter, including players and staff. After firing all the club’s special advisors including Jeff Conine, Jack McKeon, Tony Perez and Andre Dawson, Jeter hired Gary Denbo as VP of Player Development and Scouting, replacing the recently released Marc DelPiano. Denbo was considered Jeter’s first major hire. In an equally heralded move, Jeter dismissed longtime amateur scouting director Stan Meek from his role and replaced him with another Yankees’ supplant, DJ Svihlik. Meek remained with the Marlins in an advisory role before his retirement in 2020.
From there, Jeter turned his attention to the big league roster and put all his faith in Denbo and Svihlik to build a sustainable long term winning franchise by way of an elite feeder system. In the winter of 2017-18, Jeter executed a set of very well known trades designed to bolster the minor league system at the expense of proven major league talent.
At the winter meetings, the Marlins were very active: they dealt slugger and fan favorite Giancarlo Stanton along with most of his remaining $295 million contract to the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. The Marlins followed up days later by dealing Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Alcantara, Zac Gallen, Daniel Castano and Magneuris Sierra. Miami then cleared out the entire 2017 outfield in January by dealing Christian Yelich to the Brewers for Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto.
In the face of all of this, catcher JT Realmuto requested a trade from the Marlins. In mid-February of 2019, Jeter obliged sending Realmuto and two years of club control to the divisional rival Phillies for their second best prospect (according to Baseball America) Sixto Sanchez and their eighth best prospect Jorge Alfaro.
Entering the 2018 season, the Marlins’ Opening Day payroll was down from $115 mil to $99 mil and the full scale rebuild was on. In 2019, payroll fell to $71.9 mil. In 2020, the Marlins, who had COVID-19 wipe out 18 games, somehow made the playoffs during a 60 game spring, giving Jeter his first taste of the postseason as an owner and executive. During this time on the player development side, two things happened: Svihlik succeeded in the draft, putting together several highly lauded classes and Denbo and Co, though they had great success developing pitching. However, they have continuously struggled to develop offense. As Alcantara became a star and the current leader of the Marlins’ staff, 2017 first round pick Trevor Rogers was developed into a 2021 Rookie of the Year candidate and Pablo Lopez became one of the best command and control artist, the likes of trade returns Alfaro, Brinson, Diaz and Sierra as well as highly touted top draftees such as Connor Scott, Will Banfield, JJ Bleday and others have so far overall had trouble getting their offensive tools to translate to the minors.
Shortly after the Miracle Marlins’ 2020 season, Jeter fired the individual largely responsible, 19-year organizational man Michael Hill and made national headlines by hiring Kim Ng, making her the first female general manager in MLB history. Ng had been working in baseball operations for more than 30 years. But her hiring came with a caveat: all roster decisions would need to be approved by Jeter and Denbo. This proved to be a punitive approach. Due to very suspect roster construction, the 2021 Marlins limped their way to a 67-95 season, marking the third straight full season in which Miami lost at least 90 games.
After the club failed to retain Starling Marte (a decision they would later recount) and after pulling off a last minute deadline deal that sent Adam Duvall and his remaining year of control to the eventual World Series champion Atlanta Braves for the return of catcher Alex Jackson, Jeter’s record as Marlins CEO ran to where it sits today: 218-327.
In an odd case of irony, CBA negotiations continued to flare on the home front at the spring home of the Marlins, Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. On Monday afternoon, around the same time the Jeter news was broken, it was announced that owners would be willing to sacrifice up to a month of games if the two sides could not come to a quick agreement. With sizable gaps between the tipping points including the competitive balance tax, regular season baseball is very much in jeopardy. With the very real prospect of lost revenue for the small market Marlins in sight, this report from MLB insider Joel Sherman, who was well connected to Jeter throughout his career, was born:
Today, Jeter leaves the Marlins organization after forfeiting his salary for the 2020 season. He also leaves his salary for 2022 on the table. As such, Jeter’s tenure with Miami, which he bought into for $25 million, wasn’t very lucrative. In simple terms though and as Miguel Rojas stated, Jeter was sick of losing and didn’t see a path towards immediate improvement for the Marlins who still need to make multiple additions to the big league roster in order to be competitive in 2022.
In the midst of CBA negotiations, Jeter’s departure was championed on social media by multiple members of the MLBPA including Rojas, Justin Turner and Francisco Lindor.
But Jeter’s departure isn’t all gray skies for the Marlins organization. In fact, some positives could be born from it. Per reports, Ng will in the interim serve as Jeter’s heir apparent on the baseball operations side and COO Caroline O’Connor will handle financial responsibilities. When Jeter is eventually replaced, Ng is expected to still maintain the ability to make all roster movement decisions. For the first time, Ng will work without a buffer and without the need to run her decisions by someone else. As such, the promotion of prospects to sit on the bench and the continuous experimentation of failed projects should cease. Marlins fans and the organization will finally see her full influence and potential.
Jeter’s tenure with the Marlins is proof that on-field magnificence does not always immediately permeate to front office prowess. One of the greatest leaders and the most clutch performers in the game during his playing days, Jeter should still have a place in baseball. While that will not be with the Marlins, the fruitful seeds he was able to plant in Miami will continued to be nurtured. The positive impacts he made will continue to be felt by the organization and the negatives will be overcome.
But now, it is Kim Ng’s time to truly lead this organization with one voice. How that voice echoes within the organization and within the baseball world remains to be seen, but the peripherals are in place for brighter days ahead at loanDepot park.