The Marlins have no intention of bringing back their old teal uniforms or returning to Sun Life Stadium, their home of 19 years. But they’re going retro with their roster.
Young and cheap, in other words.
After lounging just one year in the heady stratosphere of baseball’s penthouse of high rollers, the Marlins could open the 2013 season with the lowest payroll in the majors.
“It’s incumbent on us to make the changes necessary to make us a winner again,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a written statement after the team’s 12-player trade with Toronto was approved by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
Soon after Selig made the trade official, a trade in which the Marlins disposed of about $160 million in future salary obligations, president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest told reporters that the team had “achieved the payroll range” for the ’13 season.
If that’s the case, the Marlins’ Opening Day roster would cost about $35 million, a figure close to the 2009 team’s big-league-low $38.6 million payroll that year. It would have ranked as the lowest in the majors last season, when the Oakland A’s ($52 million) and Pittsburgh Pirates ($51.9 million) pulled up the rear, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
“There is a payroll component here, but I don’t think we should lay it all on payroll,” Beinfest said in discussing the Toronto deal, one in which the Marlins are sending Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to the Blue Jays for seven players.
Beinfest said payroll was set by ownership, but could not offer an explanation as to what precipitated the dramatic drop. The Marlins started last season with a franchise-record $95 million payroll after splurging on a set of free agents, including Reyes and Buehrle, to open their new ballpark.
The result: a last-place finish and lower-than-expected attendance.
“We’ve finished in last place the past two years, and it’s unacceptable to our fans, to us as an organization, and to me,” Loria said. “We want to get back to our winning ways, and we want a winning baseball team for our fans. It may not happen overnight.”
Marlins executives long argued that that the team could not compete with baseball’s big boys in terms of player salaries unless it had its own ballpark. But the premise went poof after the first season in a $515 million ballpark that was largely funded with taxpayer dollars.
The trade with Toronto has angered not only Marlins fans, but also politicians and taxpayers. Selig took the unusual step of issuing a written statement in announcing his approval of the deal, saying that he was “sensitive to the concerns of the fans” but had no grounds on which to nix the deal.
“It is my conclusion that this transaction, involving established Major Leaguers and highly regarded young players and prospects, represents the exercise of plausible baseball judgment on the part of both clubs,” Selig said.
Selig said he would continue to monitor the Marlins, who were brought to task by the players’ union and league in early 2010 for not spending enough money that it receives from revenue sharing. The Marlins promptly reacted by signing Johnson to a four-year, $39 million contract.
Johnson is now a Blue Jay, and the Marlins’ 2013 payroll could turn out to be less than it was in 2010 — $47.5 million — after being given an edict.
Beinfest said it is the belief of the Marlins front office that the roster turnover will help to put the franchise back on a winning path while also admitting that mistakes have been made.
“On the field, I think we found a way to underachieve,” Beinfest said. “I think in the front office, through either decision-making or evaluation, we found a way to underachieve. There was not a comfort level moving forward that we had the pieces here, as currently constituted, to put together a championship club.”
In returning to the team’s previous philosophy of acquiring undervalued players, Beinfest said, “I think we are going back to our roots a little bit.
“I think I understand the pause our fans have with the instability on our roster, and instability on our manager, and general instability at times we hoped to be very stable. … It did a 180 on us, and it’s just not a lot of fun.”