Perhaps the prospects acquired in this Marlins fire sale will be the core of a playoff contender in 2020. That’s the best Marlins fans can hope for after another payroll slash.
But it didn’t necessarily need to be this way.
Miami businessman Jorge Mas conveyed to me this month that if his Marlins offer had been accepted, he would have had a $130 million payroll in 2018, retained Giancarlo Stanton and hired a new general manager.
Instead, the Marlins intend to have a payroll of $90 million or less – a drop from $115 million last season and much lower than the $140 million it would have taken to keep the 2017 team together.
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Mas bid slightly more than $1 billion for the team, less than the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter $1.2 billion bid.
That extra $200 million could have been used toward payroll if the Jeter group hadn’t overpaid, with the Marlins convincing Jeter and Sherman they wouldn’t get the team for any less.
Even a Marlins official privately concedes Jeter and Sherman probably overpaid by $400 million, but credit Jeffrey Loria and David Samson for cajoling Sherman/Jeter to pay that much.
Wayne Rothbaum, who had a good chance to buy the team before one of his $200 million investors dropped out late, did not return phone calls regarding what he would have done as Marlins owner.
But a Major League Baseball source said his understanding was that the deep-pocked Rothbaum hadn’t planned to slash payroll in 2018 and was prepared to absorb substantial losses initially.
He intended to reduce executive salaries – among the highest in MLB under Jeffrey Loria – and cut what he considered to be wasteful non-player spending.
That extra money would have been used on player payroll, with the goal of rebuilding the farm system while the team was still contending.
Under Rothbaum, you likely would not have seen the big executive salaries such as the $5 million annually that Jeter reportedly is paying himself as CEO.
The Jeter/Sherman group had no choice but to cut payroll because Jeter – trying to lure investors to cover the bid beyond his modest $25 million investment and Sherman’s $390 million - assured them that there would not be cash calls to cover losses, according to a wealthy businessman approached by Jeter earlier this year.
Beyond borrowing $400 million to complete the sale (which Jeter said last week was not unusual), the Marlins owners are still trying to raise $200 million to cover debt and other expenses.
Jeter hosted a community breakfast to generate interest (as WINZ’s Andy Slater reported) and the Marlins have been sending emails imploring wealthy businessmen to invest, as FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported.
After his town hall meeting last week, Jeter said he is “confident” the Marlins will increase revenue: “That is our plan. We have to execute on that plan. There are many ways we can try to increase revenue.”
But that will be immensely challenging, with attendance expected to remain weak and with Fox Sports Florida (soon to be owned by ESPN) having no clear incentive to give the Marlins an enormous boost in its MLB-low rights fee before or after the contract expires after 2020.
Jeter shared a few ideas last week to boost attendance, including having more Latin music at games and somehow replicating the festive atmosphere of World Baseball Classic games.
When asked if he needs to increase revenue substantially to eventually have an average big-league payroll ($140 million or so), Jeter said only: "Give us a little time. It's been two months."
There was no assurance last week from Jeter that this ownership group would start spending money when this team is ready to win, which was honest but telling.
Frankly, how can Jeter give any such guarantee when he has no idea what future revenues will be and when investors were told they wouldn’t be asked to finance huge losses? That’s why it’s difficult to be optimistic about this franchise’s future, long-term or short-term.
From a fan perspective, what this franchise needed was a billionaire owner willing to sustain more sizable losses. And while Jeter insisted his group is not underfinanced, his 15 or so investors clearly aren’t inclined to lose money - a reality that seems to makes finances the priority over anything else.