Dave Hyde | Sports Columnist
March 31, 2008
Ah, Opening Day. The crack of the bat. The smack of the glove. The Marlins fan looking over the new roster and asking, full of optimism, "Will any team be more profitable?"
Because let's not lie. Let's not ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the dugout and talk some Opening Day nonsense about how a little better defense or a few more first-pitch strikes will help these Marlins surprise everyone.
Let's discuss like grown-ups what this season is really about, which is another all-out money grab by owner Jeffrey Loria and team President David Samson. The Marlins have an Opening Day payroll of $21 million.
That's less than any team in baseball, except maybe the St. Lucie Mets. Tampa Bay has the second-lowest payroll in the major leagues. It's at $42 million. That's 2 1/2 times more. The major league average is $89.9 million. That's about five times more.
I'm no Bill James, but it seems in picking this Marlins roster the primary baseball question was, "Will you double-up on the road?"
That's why there's an Opening Day pitching mismatch of Mark Hendrickson against the New York Mets' Johan Santana. That's not a shot at Hendrickson. This isn't his fault. Hendrickson might be the best pitching option today.
But why he's gone from a sometimes starter with the Los Angeles Dodgers a year ago to the Marlins' Opening-Day starter has nothing to do with an improved fastball. It has to do with the owner's plan to make a buck.
Just like trading Miguel Cabrera did. Just like trading Dontrelle Willis did. And this would be all fine and dandy considering this area hasn't exactly supported them through the years, except for one little news bulletin this winter.
The Marlins got $600 million in public money for a new stadium and amenities. They can't just brush the subject of their embarrassing payroll under the carpet anymore and hope no one notices. As much as they want to, they can't just keep saying, "This is all we can afford until we get our new stadium."
These owners get $30 million in revenue sharing from other teams, which neither H. Wayne Huizenga or John Henry got in their tenures. They also get $30 million in local and national TV money. All that before selling a ticket.
So you do the math.
You figure if they can afford more than a $21 million payroll.
At some point, doesn't someone like Commissioner Bud Selig or another team owner step in and ask Loria and Samson, "Just what are you doing with all the money we're giving you?"
Because it sure looks like it's just being shoveled into their pockets. It also looks like the Marlins are keeping the decks cleared of costs to sell to a new owner as the $600 million stadium windfall nears.
No matter, Loria and Samson need to talk about why they have this curb-high payroll. If they want to answer along the lines of why dogs lick themselves — because they can — that's fine. People understand greed. That's their call.
But they need to say why Cabrera couldn't be afforded when just two years ago, at the previous player purge, they said he was the anchor to the future.
They need to tell fans if Hanley Ramirez is scripted for a similar fate.
They need to lay out some plan building toward 2011 when that publicly funded stadium opens.
These are rough seas for sports fans in South Florida. The Dolphins, the Heat, the Panthers — all big losers. But at least you could argue every other team is trying. Their owners are spending. You can argue whether they're spending wisely, spending appropriately or spending too much time in the wrong places.
Once upon a time, the Marlins used to spend money under this ownership. They mixed smart dollars with smart moves, won a title in 2003 and put together good teams the following couple of years. Then after the 2005 season, Samson said, "The insanity stops now."
Sadly, it keeps going.
Look around on Opening Day as the Marlins take the field. You'll see a bunch of fans so insanely in love with baseball they're spending on a team that isn't spending anything back.