Marlins shed All-Star talent; fans feel betrayed

Marketplace Contributor Nov 23, 2012

A small group of fans recently gathered at the Marlins’ new half-billion dollar stadium in Miami’s Little Havana to protest in both in Spanish and in English. They want new owners after the team’s latest purge: the trade of All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to the Blue Jays in return for seven mostly unknown players.

The move, which came after the team finished in last place, will save the Marlins more than $160 million in future payroll obligations. It comes within a year of the Marlins’ move into their new, mostly taxpayer-funded stadium.

Last year, at this time, the team’s owners promised to spend money to beef up the franchise and make it competitive in its new Miami home. But this latest fire sale has left Marlins fans feeling duped.

“I was born here in Miami, Fla.,” says Jorge Hidalgo. “I’ve been supporting the Marlins since 1993 when they first came out. I feel betrayal, devastating, shocked.”

Harold De La Cruz is standing nearby and holding up a sign: “Loria, sell the team and leave town. Signed, the fans.”

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is the subject of the fans ire. He put up $120 million of his own money, but that was a mere fraction of more than $600 million in total costs to build the ballpark.

De La Cruz says he feels the team betrayed its community.

“We were bought in to this,” he says. “We have a winning strategy. We’re gonna win. We’re gonna win games. We have a new manager. New ballpark. New players. When they sold everything else off, we were thinking about our tax dollars going in to the stadium, because we’re going to be paying this off for 40 years.”

That’s because over the next four decades, local municipalities will use $2.4 billion in taxes on tourists to pay off the stadium’s debt.

Miami-Dade County is on the hook for the bulk of the financing. Mayor Carlos Gimenez was opposed to the deal as a county commissioner when Miami-Dade agreed to the financing plan three-and-a-half years ago.

“The deal for the stadium was one thing,” Gimenez says. “That was horrible. The ‘I told you so moment,’ though, came later on the deal when we found out in fact they had a lot more money to put up than they were saying.”

Mayor Gimenez says the county is locked in to a bad deal.

“There was no revenue sharing. Nothing whatsoever,” he says. “We didn’t get any revenue from the naming rights. We didn’t get any more from concessions. We get nothing. And yet we invested the vast majority of public money [that was] put in to build the stadium. All we got was the debt, and that’s not right.”

Earlier this week, Marlins general manager Larry Beinfast defended the trades and said it wasn’t about the money.

“I think the fans have every right to be concerned,” Beinfast said. “I think they can be disappointed in the way we’ve played. We’ve won a bunch of games ranking in the lower third in payroll. And frankly, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about payroll. We needed players. We needed good players, that we can build a championship-quality team around, and that’s what this thing is all about.”

Still, the Marlins latest purge leaves the team with an opening-day payroll of $36 million, which would be the lowest in Major League Baseball.

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