Marlins President David Samson is speaking out about the attendance-challenged team's latest payroll purge.
A blockbuster trade sending three stars to Toronto could save Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria $150 million. The decision that a low-budget team is good enough for their new ballpark prompted a backlash from South Floridians.
Miami traded All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and right-hander Josh Johnson as part of the deal, which awaited final approval Wednesday pending physicals for the players.
Samson said the trade improved the Marlins, who have finished last in the NL East each of the past two years. This season they expected to contend for the playoffs with the highest payroll in franchise history but instead went 69-93, their worst record since 1999.
"We sat down after the season and talked about the team and said we cannot keep finishing in last place," Samson said on his weekly radio show on WINZ-AM. "We found a way to possibly in one fell swoop get a whole lot better. I recognize that the names coming back in a potential trade are not names people are familiar with, but in the baseball world, people are familiar with them."
When asked about fans feeling betrayed, Samson said, "I think that people should feel betrayed by the fact we're losing so much, and that they wouldn't want us to stand pat and keep losing."
"Everybody in the world wants to talk about the Marlins and the fact they're now a Triple-A team," said city commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who was an opponent of the ballpark project. "The Marlins have lost pretty much all credibility with fans. Even if this trade is a positive move from a baseball standpoint, it won't be viewed by the general public as a positive move."
"I called them this morning and I am waiting to hear from (David) Samson at this point," said county commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who voted for the stadium deal.
"What will you ask him," said Local 10's Todd Tongen.
"Basically, what is going on? This is a community. Without the community, the team doesn't go anywhere. You can have players but if no one is buying a ticket and no one is participating and nobody loves that team then what do you have? A bunch of guys throwing a ball around," replied Diaz.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who didn't vote for Marlins Park, also weighed in on the trade.
"It is a bad deal. The Marlins hold all the cards. Unless they want to open up the deal, the county is stuck, the city is stuck," said Gimenez.
Miami businessman Norman Braman also opposed the deal. He issued a statement Wednesday reading: "Ask the elected politicians who voted to give Loria and Samson tax payer dollars."
Loria declined to discuss the trade with reporters as he passed through the hotel lobby at the owners meetings in Chicago.
"Not today, boys," Loria said. "If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not going to figure it out for you."
The trade sent several of the Blue Jays' best young players to Miami, but that wasn't enough to mollify many Marlins fans. Radio talk show host Jeff DeForrest fielded calls from irate listeners shortly after news of the trade broke Tuesday.
"The next move obviously is to have Fidel Castro throw out the first pitch next year," DeForrest said. "That's the only way they could alienate the fans more than they have."
"It doesn't make any sense. Ozzie didn't make any sense. We need some baseball players," said fan Susan Peters.
"They are more worried about making money than they are about pleasing their fans and winning. It has been that way since this guy bought the place," said fan Dal Holle.
Castro became a source of acrimony last April, when Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's praise of the former Cuban leader infuriated team supporters. That was shortly after the new ballpark opened in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, and attendance never recovered from the tempest.
Management had projected the rebranded team would contend for a playoff berth and draw nearly 3 million fans, but instead the Marlins staggered to a last-place finish in the NL East and attendance barely topped 2.2 million.
With revenue falling short of projections, Loria decided to end the franchise's brief era of big spending. The players traded by the Marlins have combined guaranteed salaries of $163.75 million through 2018, including $96 million due Reyes. The deals he and Buehrle signed when they joined Miami a year ago were heavily backloaded.
Salaries for 2013 include $13.75 million for Johnson in the final year of his contract, $11 million for Buehrle and $10 million for Reyes. The net in guaranteed salaries coming off Marlins' books is expected to be $154 million, which does not account for any cash that may be involved in trade.
Three years ago, the Marlins reached an agreement with the players' union to increase spending in the wake of complaints team payroll had been so small as to violate baseball's revenue sharing provisions. But the trade with Toronto leaves the Marlins with an estimated opening day payroll of $34 million, which would be their lowest since 2008. Oakland had the lowest payroll in the majors last year at $53 million.