The fleecing, it seems, is official.
This was supposed to be the year the Miami — nee Florida – Marlins made a statement: we are a legitimate baseball franchise. Ever since they came into existence in 1993, the Marlins have mostly operated on the cheap. They once spent a pile of free agent money back in the late 1990s to put together a competitive team, and even won a World Series, before stripping down back down to spare parts. In 2003, the Marlins made a surprise run to another World Series title, and started pinching pennies again right after, fading from relevance again.
But now, Miami supposedly had what it always needed: a shiny new baseball-only stadium, right in the heart of Little Havana, to draw sponsors and loyal fans and corporate luxury box money. Marlins Park has a night club, a bobblehead museum, an aquarium behind home plate, and a home run “sculpture” rising above the centerfield fence — a bunch of marlins pinwheel around like crazy when the team hits one out. With all these accoutrements drawing more fans, and generating more revenue, Miami could pay players, and win.
But, the Marlins told Miami residents for years before the stadium was built, we need your help. Miami-Dade County is on the hook for some $2.4 billion in debt payments on the stadium over 40 years. No matter that, according to financial statements obtained by the sports site Deadspin, the Marlins were profitable in 2008 and ’09, earning a total of $33.3 million those years. “We are in business to make money,” David Samson, president of the Marlins, and stepson of team owner Jeffrey Loria, an art dealer, told me in an interview before the season. “Everyone could have built it with their own money. But you don’t do that.”
You also don’t secure public money for from a recession-wracked region, secure good players for the stadium’s opening season – to show your supposed commitment to winning — and then, almost immediately, execute another Marlins fire sale. But that’s exactly what Miami has done. During the disappointing 2012 season, Miami traded away its most talented player, Hanley Ramirez, to the Los Angeles Dodgers before the deadline. Another of last offseason’s big free-agent signings, reliever Heath Bell, was dealt to Arizona last month (though Bell was a bust in Miami).
And now, the absolute worst of it: Florida has shipped two other major off-season acquisitions from last season, former New York Mets shortstop and 2011 batting champion Jose Reyes, and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, as well as top-line starter Josh Johnson, up north to Toronto. Infielder Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck are also headed out of Miami. In return, Toronto gave Miami some middling major leaguers and prospects.
One of Miami’s few remaining marquee players, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, reacted appropriately. On Twitter, he wrote: “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.”
This was a salary dump, plain and simple. Miami’s payroll will probably be less than $50 million in 2013 — it was more than double that at the beginning of this past season. Sure, you can justify dumping expensive players if the team is losing; Miami finished last in 2012. But you can’t help but wonder — even if the Marlins were winning, was this the team’s fraudulent plan all along? (Remember Samson’s words: “We are in business to make money.” Salaries cut into the bottom line).
Miami fans can no longer trust the team, or its ownership. In his last days as baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig has to use his bully pulpit, and do everything possible to muscle the current Marlins leadership out of the game. They’re bad for baseball.