Marlins Admit Low Salaries Help Pay for Stadium

South Florida Sun-Sentinel sportswriter Dave Hyde’s article expresses surprise that the Marlins have been maintaining a low payroll, in part, because Florida ownership has been pocketing profits to help pay for their share of funding that new stadium going up on the grounds of the old Orange Bowl.

The suprise, to me anyway, is that Hyde would have suspected anything less.  In order to get Miami-Dade to commit to putting up about 75% of the costs of the new stadium, the Marlins had to demonstrate that they could pay their part – despite not ever having to show how the owners were actually going to pay for it.

Perhaps people don’t remember how the cash-strapped Jeffrey Loria was able to buy the Marlins.  In 2002, John Henry had owned the team and was looking to buy the Boston Red Sox – so he had no choice but to put the Marlins up for sale.  Loria owned the Montreal Expos, a team that Major League Baseball had threatened to contract.  However, Loria didn’t want to get out of the game – he just wanted out of the Expos.  So, MLB paid $120 million to buy the Expos, and then gave Loria a $38 million dollar loan – with no interest for the first few years – to help him buy the Marlins.

One of the side notes of the deal was that if the Marlins didn’t get a new stadium within five years, he only owed MLB $23 million on that loan – and $15 million would be forgiven.  I wonder if the stalling to get a stadium deal was done, in part, to help Loria not have to pay that money…

Anyway, recently Deadspin.com received leaked financial statements for a number of major league teams.  Among the first released to the public were documents that showed the Marlins making nearly $50 million in profits in 2008 and 2009 – after selling off the pricey Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis following the 2007 season.

How is this a surprise to anyone watching the Marlins?  In the last four years, they have been 30th, 29th, 30th, and 30th in terms of their total player payroll.  Heck – the players union filed complaints with the league arguing that the Marlins weren’t spending revenue sharing dollars on players.  The surprise was when the Marlins gave a four-year deal to Josh Johnson and kept Dan Uggla.  What is less of a surprise – and actually seems deplorable no matter how much sportswriter Juan Rodriguez tries to defend the Marlins – is allowing the San Francisco Giants to claim Cody Ross for the last five or six weeks of the season without getting ANYTHING in return.

I wrote about this before – it always seemed to me that the Marlins ownership was profiting on purpose.  It may not have been to put extra money in Loria’s pockets for just greedy reasons, but rather that he didn’t have the wherewithal to actually pay for the stadium he felt his team needed.  I may be giving Loria more credit than he deserves (or making his sneaky profiteering seem almost noble), and I know that there are owners out there who contribute to the profitability of teams and aren’t happy about it.  (Oddly, the loudest complaints come from former Marlins owner John Henry.)

But long and short – the Marlins are in business to make money for the owners.  The owners needed money for a new stadium and to do that, the money spent on players was slashed to the lowest amount possible to keep a marginally successful team on the field.  The Marlins aren’t a bad team, and $10 million on players isn’t a guarantee for greater success.  When the new building opens in 2012, fan expectations will be that the Marlins should be able to afford even $50 or $60 million on player salaries – double what they are paying now – and will expect that the added payroll should convert the team into champions.

If you thought it was hard to be competitive on $30 million, ask all the teams who pay $60 million or more and still don’t win (the Chicago Cubs, for example) what it’s like to get grief for wasting money instead.  That will be sports talk radio in 2012 and 2013, compared to the types of complaints you hear about NOT spending money in 2010.

Either way, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody.

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