Correct me if I’m wrong here but haven’t the now-Miami Marlins been baseball’s teal-hued equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge over the course of virtually their entire existence?
With the exception of a payroll splurge in 1997 that lead to the team winning the World Series in one of the most exciting Game 7s in the history of sport, the Marlins have spent money in a miserly fashion, regularly selling off players for prospects once their contract demands became too high. Their payroll purge following the 1997 World Series title was one of the more infamous, successfully (and understandably) turning off many baseball fans in South Florida, who saw a roster that bore little resemblance to the World Champs take the field on Opening Day 1998.
Now, with the team on the verge of moving into a state of the art $600 million stadium largely financed by taxpayers, they’re throwing around money like it’s nobody’s business. Yesterday, the team agreed to a six-year deal with former Mets SS Jose Reyes for a cool $106 million. The biggest challenge of the Hot Stove League early on hasn’t been figuring out which prominent free agent the Marlins have been linked to but which ones they haven’t.
So the big question — where exactly did this sudden influx of cash come from?
It’s a valid question and one that taxpayers throughout South Florida should be asking their elected officials more often these days.
You see, the team’s miserly spending hasn’t just been limited to the product on the field. When the team wanted to build a new stadium to escape from the cavernous confines of Sun Life Stadium, the team claimed they were running low on cash and needed taxpayer help if they were going to remain in South Florida for the long haul. According to a report back in May by the Miami New Times, that’s simply not true.
Per the New Times:
“In a WikiLeaks-like document dump, muckraking sports website Deadspinleaked dozens of pages of secret financial paperwork last August. It confirmed what Costales and Forbes had been saying for years. In 2008 and 2009, even as the team was begging for a public handout at county hall to build the stadium, it turned nearly $49 million in profit.
By Costales’s calculation, the Fish have made $300 million in revenue sharing since 2002 and banked at least $154 million in profit.”
So in other words, despite the fact that crowds were often so small at Marlins games that I actually used to go to them while a graduate student at the University of Miami to get some peace and quiet, the team was actually doing quite well in terms of revenue, certainly not posting $70 million losses like the Mets reportedly did this past season.
Now, taxpayers are on the hook for 80% of the $515 million tab for the Marlins new palace on the site of the old Orange Bowl in Little Havana, a deal that stinks to high heaven — and the federal government has taken notice. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission, not the Southeastern Conference) has reportedly subpoenaed details from the City of Miami in regards to why they agreed to provide so much taxpayer money to fund a stadium that many who are help paying for it likely won’t ever see the inside of.
Per the New York Times:
“City and county officials approved the deal to pay for more than three-quarters of the estimated $645 million cost of the stadium and parking lots in 2009. They did so during a deep recession, when services were being slashed, and despite calls to hold a referendum on the financing of the stadium and lots, which are being paid for with hotel bed
City and county officials were accused of spending too much money on the Marlins — a for-profit organization — when other buildings, like the convention center, needed repairs. The Marlins also refused to show government officials their financial books.”
Now that they’ve secured funding for the stadium in what some are calling one of the worst deals for taxpayers ever, the team is spending money like it’s going out of style. In addition to the $106 million Reyes got, the team is reportedly set to sign closer Heath Bell to a three-year deal worth $27 million. But the $133 million in contracts for Bell and Reyes doesn’t equal what it’s expected to take to get Albert Pujols to pull on one of those ridiculous orange jerseys next season. ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark is reporting Marlins officials are set to meet with Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano at some point within the next 48 hours. For the Marlins to land Pujols, the team is going to have to offer him a multi-year contract worth at least $180 million, money that Pujols can no doubt help the team earn back if he continues to produce at the rate he has over his first 11 years while generating mroe interest in the franchise throughout Latin America.
Pujols is hardly the last item on the Marlins’ shopping list as well. The team has reportedly offered a contract to White Sox ace Mark Buehrle and is kicking the tires on the Rangers’ CJ Wilson, who, like Pujols, is expected to command a multi-year contract north of $100 million. The Miami Herald is reporting the team’s payroll could approach $100 million for the first time in team history. While that would make the team competitive on the field in their debut season at the new ballpark, it only serves to further deepen the PR nightmare the team is facing with Miami taxpayers who thought they were propping up an underfunded franchise when they voted in favor of that boondoggle of a stadium deal.