Final story in a five-part series on the new Marlins owners and their plans.
So how could this work?
How could this Marlins ownership’s business model, with highly ambitious attendance and revenue targets, produce any better long-term results than the last regime’s approach, which ended with 14 consecutive non playoff seasons, and Jeffrey Loria unable or unwilling to continue to sustain enormous losses?
Derek Jeter’s group declined to make anyone available to discuss why it believes this plan can succeed. Jeter said after a town hall meeting last month that he is very “confident” he will boost revenue but hasn’t said why or how, beyond having more Latin music at games.
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While one deep-pocketed investor approached by Jeter said he saw no way Jeter’s plan could work longterm, here’s one scenario where it could:
▪ On the field: Having traded three of the organization’s top five players, the Marlins need to hit big on most of these trades and hope their top pitching prospect, Braxton Garrett, rebounds effectively from Tommy John surgery.
If Garrett and all of the pitching prospects acquired this offseason reach their potential, the 2020 rotation could be very good and mostly cheap: Jose Urena (won’t be a free agent until after 2021); perhaps Dan Straily if he hasn’t been traded by then; Jorge Guzman (”there is no other starter in baseball that has an average fastball as high as Jorge Guzman,” Marlins executive Gary Denbo said); Sandy Alcantara (the top pitcher acquired from St. Louis; one scout said he could be a No. 2 starter); Garrett (scouts said he had ace potential before elbow surgery), and/or Nick Neidert (the quality prospect acquired from Seattle; Marlins rave about his deception).
Plus, there are other decent starting pitching prospects that could develop, from Dillon Peters to last year’s No.1 pick (Trevor Rogers, who didn’t pitch in the minors last season) to former Cardinals prospect Zach Gallen. And the Marlins must pay oft-injured Wei-Yin Chen $22 million in 2020, and keep in mind he was once a pretty good starter for Baltimore.
The bullpen has several strong young arms, including Kyle Barraclough, under team control through 2021. And some scouts believe Guzman could be a quality closer if he’s shifted to the bullpen.
A lineup for 2020 and beyond is far more difficult to project.
The outfield could have Christian Yelich (under contract through 2022; Marlins are listening to trade offers), speedy outfielder Magneuris Sierra (.292 minor-league hitter who “has tremendous range in center field,” according to Sirius XM host and former Nationals general manager Jim Bowden) and perhaps Derek Dietrich (not eligible for free agency until 2021).
The infield could feature top prospect Brian Anderson at third, perhaps J.T. Riddle or former Yankees prospect Jose Devers at shortstop and either Justin Bour (won’t be a free agent until 2021) or former Yankees farmhand Garrett Cooper at first base. Cooper had 84 RBI in 83 games in the upper minors last season.
Second base? Who knows, if Starlin Castro is dealt? Castro wants to be traded, according to a source. Perhaps Devers — who one American League scout said could become a star — could be ready by then; he can play second base or shortstop.
J.T Realmuto, under team control through 2020, would give Miami a frontline catcher, or he and Yelich could be traded for multiple blue-chip prospects at other positions.
By then, perhaps Straily will be flipped for a quality hitting prospect or more pitching. He can be a free agent after 2020.
Ultimately, though, how good this team can be will hinge on the aforementioned top pitching prospects.
“Since I’ve been with the organization, we’ve added middle infielders that are going to compete for positions,” said Denbo, hired in October as the Marlins’ vice president/scouting and player development. “We’ve also added … eight or nine starting pitcher candidates, which every organization is looking for. We feel good about the quality we got back in these deals.”
The Marlins project a payroll of $85 million in 2020, but jumping to $116 million in 2021, based on ambitious attendance and sponsorship revenue projections, plus the anticipation that the Marlins’ annual local broadcast revenue will jump from $20 million in 2020 to $52 million in 2021 with a new TV deal.
A $116 million payroll would allow the Marlins to sign a couple of quality free agents before that 2021 season, plus afford all of the young talent acquired in these trades, who will still be cheap in 2020 and 2021. The question is whether Jeter’s revenue projections will materialize and allow that sizable payroll jump.
Off the field
Several things need to happen for the numbers to work. It’s difficult to see the team’s ticket revenue jumping from $30 million in 2017 to $37.5 million, $40.6 million and $45.8 million over the next three years, as projected in an August version of Jeter’s Project Wolverine. But this could work if:
▪ 1. Jeter can convince sponsors to invest big dollars, which could happen if the team surprises on the field in the next three years. A lucrative stadium naming rights deal also would help.
▪ 2. If Jeter can persuade Fox to give the Marlins an enormous boost in TV rights before the contract expires after 2020 and a large up-front payment. An investor contacted by Jeter says that up-front payment was something the Jeter group stressed it wanted to achieve.
▪ 3. If efforts to raise another $200 million in working capital prove successful.
In my opinion, based on where they are right now, it will take five [to] seven years,” he said. “So 2023-2025 is the most realistic timetable just like the Cubs, Astros, Nationals etc.
Jim Bowden, Sirius XM host and former Nationals general manager
Remember, the August Wolverine projects profits of $68 million, $10 million, $15.8 million and $22 million the next four years, so the team can still break even if revenue projections fall short.
So there is a scenario where this model could work, both on the field and off. But the two seem intertwined; on-field success should lead to higher revenue potential.
It begins with the farm system — bolstered by these recent trades — churning out high-end talent ready to contribute by 2020 or 2021— attendance and enthusiasm rising as a result, and Fox Sports Florida (soon to be owned by ESPN) tripling the $18 million or so annual rights fee.
Bowden says the Marlins’ plan could work but will take a while to be successful.
“In my opinion, based on where they are right now, it will take five [to] seven years,” he said. “So 2023-2025 is the most realistic timetable just like the Cubs, Astros, Nationals etc.” when they rebuilt.
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