Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Red Sox – the Marlins a tale to two franchises

The Boston Red Sox blew up their player roster on August 25 trading Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez and their contracts worth more than $250 million to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Red Sox Nation was elated, hailing general manager Ben Cherington’s bold move as an important step forward for the Red Sox. Tuesday the Miami Marlins traded Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck and their contracts worth more than $166 million to the Toronto Blue Jays. South Flordia’s reaction, – outrage, indignation, no one in Miami is happy.

The Marlins invested close to $100 million in their 2012 roster, a team that lost 93 games and finished dead last in the American League East. The team was a disaster on the field, and thanks in large part to manager Ozzie Guillen an embarrassment off the field. Reyes and Buehrle among the free agents the team signed to long-term contacts.

"We finished in last place. Figure it out," a defiant Marlins owner Jerry Loria said when asked if he had conducted a fire sale, the classic term after a sports franchise dumps their high priced salaried players.

"We have to get better," Loria said. "We can't finish in last place. We finished in last place. That's unacceptable. We have to take a new course."

Loria is right in what he is saying, has actions that have baseball pundits wondering what Loria is talking about. Is Loria who conducted a fire sale after the Marlins won the 2003 World Series cutting salary, is Loria committed to fielding a competitive team in 2013?

"We sat down after the season and talked about the team and said we cannot keep finishing in last place," Marlins David Samson said in a radio interview. "It just doesn't make sense. We entrusted all of our scouts and development people and upper level baseball people, and said what can we do to possibly start this to turn around? What needs to happen? How can it work? All sorts of different plans were possible. It just happens we found a way to possibly in one fell swoop get a whole lot
better and get on the road to getting better.

"I absolutely recognize names coming back in a potential trade are not names people are familiar with, but in the baseball world people are familiar with them. What I really hope will happen and what we plan on happening is winning more games, each year starting to win more games.

“I'm not sure what range the payroll will end up at, but I know we'll have the players in place to do better than last year," Samson said. "That's what it's about. We tried the higher payroll and ended up losing more games. Whatever the payroll is, the real important part is having better players."

The bigger question – does anyone believe or trust Loria or Samson? Have the owners of the Marlins lost the public trust? The question Marlins fans are asking – after the organization spent close to $100 million on their 2012 payroll, will the team spend anywhere close to that in trying to field a competitive team in 2013. At this point the Marlins have committed $16 million to their 2013 payroll

At the other end of the spectrum are the Boston Red Sox. They too traded away key players cutting a staggering $250 million from their roster. There seems to be no concerns the Red Sox will spend money to field a competitive team in 2013. The Red Sox have committed $45 million to their 2013 roster that does not include arbitration-eligible players Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Bailey.

"It's harder to predict this offseason than it has been in previous offseason because in previous offseasons we've been closer to that, closer to where we'll end up," Ben Cherington said in an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "Especially last offseason, when we were making more cosmetic changes.

"I know that we'll have a very strong payroll, a large payroll. I know that we're going to add to it this winter. I'm confident in saying that we'll be amongst the larger payrolls in the game. Exactly where it ends up, exactly what rank we are, I don't know that yet. I think it just depends on what we do. We're not going to shoot for an arbitrary payroll number just to say that we're going to get to this. We just have to look at each opportunity as it comes and figure out whether it's the right thing for the Red Sox."

One of the key cornerstones in building, marketing and selling any sports franchise is public perception of that team, and even more important trust ownership and management will do their best to field a competitive team each year. The Marlins lost any trust they had with sports fans in South Florida long before Loria and Samson blew their team up Tuesday night. Loria and Samson had their fire sale after the team won the 2003 World Series, similar to the fire sale owner Wayne Huzienga conducted after the Marlins won the 1997 World Series.

Much of the anger in South Florida is focused on the $2.4 billion South Florida taxpayers for several generations will be forced to pay, paying off a taxpayer built stadium Miami and Miami-Dade politicians decided Loria and Samson deserved. The stadium opened last year. Loria and Samson made many promises if taxpayers built the Marlins their own Taj Mahal, a competitive baseball team was at the top of their long list.

Taxpayers are on the hook for three-quarters of the reported $645 million price of the stadium and surrounding parking lots, the Marlins receiving all revenues produced through ticket and suite sales, concessions, advertising and any future naming rights. The $2.4 billion represents the pro-rated investment (that includes interest payments) on the more than $500 million taxpayers are being forced to pay. The ballpark cost $515 million to build with taxpayers kicking in $360 million (taxpayers paid the cost for two parking garages the team receives all of the revenues from.)

“Many times, on the record, they made a commitment that once they had a stadium, they would have a competitive team,” Carlos Gimenez, then a county commissioner, who was skeptical of the intentions of the team’s owner, Jeffrey Loria, and opposed a deal that seemed much too generous, particularly during a recession Gimenez said Wednesday of the Marlins’ ownership. Instead, he said, “the team seems to have indicated that they won’t do that now or in the future.”

Trust has to be earned. There are those who have questioned Red Sox owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino. A few weeks ago the Red Sox resigned 37-year old designated hitter David Ortiz to a two-year $26 million contract. The Red Sox overpaid Ortiz. That isn’t the point. Ortiz is the last remaining link to the team’s 2004 and 2007 World Series teams. The $26 million the Red Sox invested in Ortiz is as much a gift to Red Sox Nation as it is a baseball move. It’s a message to the millions of fans who fill Fenway Park every summer – the Red Sox owe it to their fans to field a competitive team that includes fan favourites like David Ortiz.

Addressing the media at ownership meetings in Chicago Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig indicated he isn’t happy with the blockbuster trade the Marlins and Blue Jays made

“We have this entire matter under thorough review.

“My job is to do what’s in the best interest of baseball,” Selig said. “People have different views of that, on what you should do, and how you should do it. I’ve spent a lot of time on this.

“I know what the commissioner can do, can’t do, what his legal responsibilities are, and other things. I understand all of that. I understand the feeling. In the end, I’ll do what I’ve done in other past situations.

“People ask me, don’t you wish it never happened. There are a lot of situations that I wish didn’t happen. I have to do what I have do to.”

Bowie Kuhn overturned a series of trades Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley attempted to make in 1975, selling his stars to the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Kuhn overturned the moves – believing the moves were not in baseball’s best interests. Finley tried to sell the players, the Marlins received players from the Blue Jays.

“I do think that the commissioner is always concerned when there’s an appearance of a fire sale, or of an owner giving up,” said sports economist Andrew Zimbalist in a Miami Herald report. “But I don’t think this is a battle that Selig would choose to fight.

“My guess is that the commissioner, although he will have some concerns, will say it’s up to the team owner to make that decision,” Zimbalist said.

After the Red Sox and the Dodgers completed their August 25 trade no one asked Bud Selig about the trade, unlike what has unfolded since the Marlins dumped their roster Tuesday. Selig won’t stop the Marlins player move. The Marlins didn’t do anything wrong in making the player moves they made this week. Loria and Samson are being portrayed as greedy owners who took taxpayers dollars to build a stadium, made promises they never intended to fulfill. If Loria and Samson want to prove they care and are committed to building and fielding a winner, they will have to spend a great deal more than the $16 million they currently have committed for the 2013 season.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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