The Miami Marlins are a trash can fire that is soon to spread throughout baseball's reputation.
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.
In Chicago, we were acutely aware of the sale process when the bankrupt Tribune company sold the Cubs to the Ricketts family. MLB has strict financial review of any team bidders. MLB has rules in place on team debt ratios and ownership capital requirements. MLB also has access to team financials in regard to revenue sharing and luxury tax formulas. It also has had to step in to actually advance payroll for several clubs in the last decade. Every bidder needs to provide MLB with a detailed business plan so owners who vote on the franchise transfer can be assured that the new owners will not bankrupt the team.
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.
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.”
Just as any bidder does due diligence to set its offer price, MLB does a due diligence on potential ownership groups, including their background, business skills and financial deep pockets. MLB was aware that the Jeter group borrowed more than $400 million of the sale price. With that debt load, the bank would need to have security and covenants for timely principal and interest payments over the short term of the obligation.
Besides Jeter coming to town to burn down the roster, Marlins fans were upset that Jeter kicked out fan ambassadors and terminated a long time scout while he was in the hospital. The new ownership immediately dismissed four well-known
special assistant to the president Jeff Conine, who goes by the nickname
Mr. Marlin, and three special assistants to the owner — Hall of Famers
Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, and former manager Jack McKeon, who led the
Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship.
Jeter was also criticized for not attending the Winter Meetings. Jeter also avoided the press after the Stanton trade.
However, this week Jeter held a tense town hall with season-ticket holders Tuesday night. He was taken to task by angry fans. Jeter was under fire for selling off the team’s best players in a payroll slashing move that agent Scott Boras called MLB’s “pawn shop.” The Giancarlo Stanton trade for a nominal return angered fans as well as the Marlins have also traded notable big-name (and big-money) players like Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna this offseason.
Several fans questioned Jeter's moves and motivation. One fan mocked the $1.2 billion sale of the Marlins, saying Jeter spent "$1.2 billion and then ran out of money," ESPN reported.
Another fan told Jeter: "You act like you ran out of money. You're not going to win here with dancing girls. You're going to win with ballplayers who know how to win. The fans are alienated. They're upset. That's what you're dealing with here."
One memorable exchange involved "Marlins Man," a Marlins fan famous for traveling around the country to various high-profile sporting events and being seen on television wearing bright orange Marlins gear. He told Jeter he wouldn't pay high prices for a "triple-A team."
Marlins Man also asked to be more involved with the team. Jeter apparently drew laughs by offering to let him throw out the first pitch if he renewed his season tickets on a 10-year plan.
At times, the meeting got messy. The Miami Herald reported a crying fan told Jeter they could have signed a pitcher and contended for the playoffs, to which Jeter asked which pitchers they could have signed. When Jeter told fans to be patient, an older man said he didn't have many more years left.
The Marlins have posted a losing record for eight straight seasons and have not made the playoff since 2002. Jeter tried to explain his rationale to the angry fans.
"You can't throw money at a problem and dig a bigger and bigger hole and not have any depth in the organization,'' Jeter said. "You have to build from the bottom up. "I hear your pain. I know you've been through a lot. But we're trying to build something that is sustainable, and this is the only way to do it."
Other teams have announced rebuild plans (such as the Astros, Cubs and White Sox) with the expectation to fans that there would be some lean years ahead. But Jeter's plan was crude, arrogant and condescending to fans without a clear explanation of how ownership is going to create a championship team. Trading away all your good players for no real value not only hurts the fan base but destroys clubhouse chemistry. Several Marlins players are now demanding trades because the roster has been gutted to be not competitive in 2018.
When former owner Jeff Loria owned the Marlins, he was a laughingstock in the league. He was crude, brash and blind to the needs of his own fan base. He once sued his own season ticket holders who complained they were not getting what they had been promised. With the sale of the franchise, fans thought they would be getting an owner with a new vision for the future. Instead, they got a harsher version of the former hated owner, Loria 2.0.
And MLB gets a major hit to its reputation for allowing a new owner to crash and burn a franchise within a few weeks of taking it over.