MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred insisted Wednesday that the commissioner’s office was not aware before the sale of the team that the Marlins’ new owners planned to dramatically slash payroll, a fact disputed by two people directly involved in the negotiating process.
In a combative interview on ESPN Radio, host Dan Le Batard told Manfred: “We are starting with a lie” when Manfred said he did not know the plans of new owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman during the approval process.
“I’m not going to have you call me a liar!” Manfred said.
Two people directly involved in the sales process said that Jeter and Sherman were required to tell other owners their intentions with payroll during the approval process, and that they informed the other owners that payroll would be cut from $115 million to the $85 million to $90 million range, with $85 million used at times and $90 million other times in those discussions.
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Last year’s team would have cost about $140 million if it were kept together.
The Marlins’ current projected payroll for 2018 stands at about $94 million after the team traded Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna.
Pressed by Le Batard about whether he was aware of Jeter’s plan, Manfred said: “No. We did not have player specific plans from the Miami Marlins or any other team during the approval ownership process. Those are decisions the individual owners make. We do not approve operating decisions by any ownership, new owner or current owners. As a result, the answer is no.”
Pressed further by Le Batard, he said: “I’m not going to be deposed like this in some adversary thing. I will answer the way I want to answer.”
A source directly involved in the Marlins sales process, after hearing the Le Batard interview, said, via text: “Commissioner said was not aware of [Jeter] plan to slash payroll. Absolutely not true. They request and receive the operating plan from all bidders.
“Project Wolverine [the name for Jeter’s plan] called on his group to reduce payroll to $85 million. This was vetted and approved by MLB prior to approval by MLB. Every [Jeter] investor and non investor has the Wolverine financial plan of slashing payroll to $85 million. Widely circulated.”
In Manfred’s defense, there is no evidence that other owners were informed of specific players that the Marlins intended to trade.
Asked by Le Batard about MLB approving a deal with substantial debt ($400 million), Manfred said: “You have no idea what the cash was in this deal. This club had the same amount of debt as it did pre-transaction.”
When Le Batard asked why he cares more about the Marlins selling for $1.2 billion instead of caring about Marlins fans, Manfred said: “You have no idea what I care about and don’t care about. A competitive club in each one of our 30 markets is a foremost concern.”
Manfred said to Le Batard and Jon Weiner: “I know you have yourselves worked up on this topic. … [But] baseball has always been a cyclical business. The strategy the Marlins have adopted is tried and true in baseball. I’m not saying it’s without pain. … But it was a process that ultimate produced a winner [at times, including Houston this season], in terms of smaller markets’ ability to win.”
Shortly after Le Batard said the Marlins don’t deserve any support in South Florida, Manfred said: “Let me just stop you. I understand the concerns that have been expressed in South Florida. The one thing you leave out is there have been two World Series champions in South Florida.
“Whether people like everything that happened in between, after or before, there are a lot of markets who would make that trade in terms of having those two World Series championships.”