McKeon excited about Marlins' busy offseason
'Trader Jack' believes changing personnel is a key to consistent success
MIAMI -- All the wheeling and dealing throughout Major League Baseball this offseason has made "Trader Jack" McKeon proud. It may be 2015, but the widespread player movement reminds McKeon of his days in San Diego, where he never hesitated to make a deal if something made sense.
The "Trader Jack" nickname was bestowed upon McKeon when he was the proactive general manager of the Padres from 1981-88. No one was off limits. He dealt eventual Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith and Rich Gossage. McKeon even moved his own son-in-law, Greg Booker.
"You can't worry about personal feelings, or whether you're going to upset the fan base," McKeon said. "You've got to go and make deals you think will help you win.
"I traded Ozzie Smith. He was a popular figure in San Diego. What happens? I trade him to St. Louis and got a couple, three kids back. We win the pennant  before he ever wins the pennant in St. Louis."
Still active and sharp at age 84, McKeon has been involved in professional baseball for close to 65 years. Along with being an aggressive general manager, he twice won the National League Manager of the Year Award, with the Reds (1999) and Marlins (2003).
The '03 season, of course, was a magical year in Miami. At 72, McKeon replaced Jeff Torborg in May, and he went on to guide the upstart squad to a World Series title.
To this day, McKeon remains a valued member of the Marlins' organization as a special assistant to owner Jeffrey Loria.
Baseball is so engrained in McKeon that he watches about five games a day during the regular season at his home in Elon, N.C.
"Baseball, it's in my blood," McKeon said. "I don't know what the heck I'd do without baseball. Even now when I'm not managing, I'm managing about five games a day. I'm watching, and I'm managing all those games."
Whenever possible, McKeon also travels about 25 miles to check out the Marlins' low Class A Greensboro affiliate.
"When I want to get out of the house, I just go over there," McKeon said. "If they have a seven-game homestand, I probably catch at least four."
Miami officials regularly use McKeon as a sounding board on player evaluations and potential moves.
Across Major League Baseball, it was a frantic and hectic Hot Stove season. The Marlins, Padres, Cubs and White Sox were among the more active teams in terms of free-agent signings and trades.
Miami president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings pulled off six trades between Nov. 28 and Dec. 20. The club also signed free agents Michael Morse and Ichiro Suzuki.
The sharp-witted McKeon has coined Jennings "Wheeling and Dealing Dan."
"It was great," McKeon said. "That's like Wheeling and Dealing Dan, he's trying to steal my trademark. I told him that, 'You're trying to steal my trademark, making all those good trades.'"
When McKeon was general manager in San Diego, he had field days at the Winter Meetings. He would set up camp at a table in the hotel lobby, and he displayed a hand-written "Open for Business" sign.
Whether the 1980s or today, McKeon applauds teams unafraid to make moves.
"You've got to change," he said. "This is the thing I've always said about managers. Teams like the Dodgers, for years. If you've got a good manager, you keep the manager and change the personnel. If the clubs don't win, they fire the manager. Nobody wants to change the personnel.
"Sometimes you've got to change the personnel. Look at all the good years the Braves have had. They'd say, 'How can you trade [David] Justice? How could they trade all those guys when they were having great years?' But they wanted to bring in some younger talent, change the chemistry a little bit, and they were successful."
Like the Marlins, Padres first-year GM A.J. Preller shook things up. McKeon likes what he saw from his former club.
"You look at the Padres," McKeon said. "They've done a tremendous job this year. Once again, it's a situation where evidently they were restricted the last few years with their payroll. All of a sudden this year, they say, 'Hey, we've got to build up this franchise again, and spend some money.' They've made some pretty big acquisitions."