10 March 2009


You know what? I think I really like the Marlins.

Everyone who knows me knows where my never-ending MLB loyalty lies, but there are still quite a few other organizations that I admire from afar. One of them has got to be the Florida Marlins. To use a rock music analogy, the way the Marlins are run is sort of like the ethos behind the DIY movement in rock in that you don't necessarily have to be a "big star" to be able to play interesting music. The sounds come from all over; you just need the dedication & a touch of aptitude to see it through to the ear. That's the Marlins... I guess.

Two recent web posting have brought me to write this: one was made yesterday over at Fangraphs putting the Marlins next to last in their organizational rankings; the other made today over at Baseball Prospectus (have to pay to play, sorry).

The author over at Fangraphs summarized his Grade D rating for the Marlins by saying:

"Ownership screws the whole situation up here, as the rest of the franchise actually performs pretty well. With a better owner committed to winning baseball and developing some positive revenue streams, the Marlins could be a force in the NL East. Instead, the good work of their baseball people is wasted as the team acts as a conduit to shift talent to other major league clubs. The Marlins are getting a lot of stuff right, but the overriding direction of the organization is not towards winning, and that cripples the overall health of the organization."

The ownership being pilloried here is one Jeffery Loria. The first thing that stands out to me is Loria's occupation. An art dealer? Doesn't that sound a little exotic for a baseball owner? Most of those guys got their money in boring old ways like supermarkets, billboards, real estate tax cheating, parking lots, Wal-Mart & the most boring & larcenous of them all, finance. Being an art dealer is an extremely up-scale version of what I do for a living, so in essence, I probably have more in common with Jeffery Loria than I do with any of baseball's other owners. We both sell things made by narcissistic wackos that have basically no empirical value at all to people who want to "beautify the lives". I can relate.

Loria's ownership of the Montreal Expos will hopefully be the final chapter of a beautiful yet-to-be-written book on that strange baseball experience, so I won't really delve into it now other than to say that Loria became the owner of the Florida Marlins under very contrived circumstances. Since Loria became owner in 2002, the Marlins record is 569 W - 564 L. That's um... over .500. Add to that a World Series championship in 2003 & you have a pretty competitive franchise, wouldn't you say? Is it possible to say that the owner of this franchise isn't one who "isn't committed to winning baseball"? Sounds like that's exactly what he's done there.

Anyway, there are two things that come to mind amongst the baseball folks rambling about on the internet that have gained Loria's tenure in South Florida the horrible reputation that it now has: the very public wrangling for a new stadium & the "fire sales" of players from their team.

Last year, the Marlins ranked last in MLB in attendance with an average attendance for home games of 16,668, just under 46% of the stadium's capacity. The Marlin's average ticket price was $18.69, so using my gorilla math, that means the Marlins reeled in (sorry..) just under $25 million dollars at the gate last year. Sounds ok, right? Well, the team with the next lowest attendance in their division, the Washington Nationals, cleared $58 million from their ticket sales.... Also consider that the Marlins get hardly any money from concessions or parking, the french fries of the stadium business, because of their existing lease with former owner Wayne Huizenga. Go on the web some more & you'll find that a lot of people think that Dolphins Stadium is the worst place to see a major league baseball game. One of my friends, who is a total Marlins fan, has told me that when you sit in your seat on the 3rd base side of the field, you are not facing home plate like in most parks. Instead, you are facing the left field wall. Not very conducive to baseball watching. He also tells me that Dolphins Stadium is not in the best location demographically... meaning it resides in a dump. And while some teams, like my beloved Cardinals, got new stadiums when they really didn't need them where it seems like the Marlins actually kinda need a new place to play if they want to stay in the 9th largest media market in the country & can't seem to make it happen?

Since no one seems to think the place that they play is at fault, it must be that whole "the team acts as a conduit to shift talent to other major league clubs" thing. The Marlins have been getting hammered for years for selling off their best players while thinking only of their pocketbooks & not the good of the franchise. Maybe that's why people don't show up to watch them? Well... not quite.

Loria participated in his own "firesale" after the 2005 season, when the Marlins were attempting to repeat as World Champs in 2003. They didn't. In a two week span about a month after the 2004 World Series ended, the Marlins traded off or let walk through free agency 7 of their "established stars" for prospects. Loria's tanking on purpose to save money! Here are the seven players that were traded & their "marginal win value" since being traded from the Marlins:
  1. Carlos Delgado - Salary = $44 million / Earned = $30.3 million
  2. Josh Beckett - Salary = $21.2 million / Earned = $57.2 million
  3. Mike Lowell - Salary = $30.5 million / Earned = $48.2 million
  4. Luis Castillo - Salary = $17.2 million / Earned = $19.2 million
  5. Paul LoDuca - Salary = $17.9 million / Earned = $17.4 million
  6. Juan Pierre - Salary = $21.3 million / Earned = $18 million
  7. AJ Burnett - Salary = $28.6 million / Earned = $48.7 million
All right. Add those up & you get $239 million worth of production at a cost of $180.7 million. Now, look at the same figures for some of the players the Marlins got back:
  1. Mike Jacobs - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $5.2 million
  2. Hanley Ramirez - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $75.3 million
  3. Anibal Sanchez - Salary = $1.1 million Earned = $6.9 million
  4. Sergio Mitre - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $9.4 million
  5. Ricky Nolasco - Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $20.3 million
The Marlins only got $117.1 million for their troubles, roughly 1/2 of what they let go, but paid just $5.5 million for the trouble. Oh, and they got HANLEY RAMIREZ. Now consider that Luis Castillo was replaced by Dan Uggla (Salary = $1.1 million / Earned = $49 million) and it looks like maybe the Marlins did the right thing here? And they did it in a way that MLB internetters have been clamoring for for years: not overpaying for performance when you don't have to. Isn't that what all of us want to see: an organization being fiscally responsible? But where are the Beanesque plaudits for the Marlins front office? Where's the love from the stat boys all over the internet? Well, this is how Prospectus, possibly the #1 site on the net for accountant baseball fans, summed up the Marlins complete dominance in their payroll efficiency rankings:

"Perhaps, though, the most efficient team in baseball last year was the Rays, with their $43.8 million opening-day player payroll, lowest in the AL, their 97 wins, and a World Series appearance. (The Marlins were even more efficient than the Rays, posting a .522 winning percentage with a payroll of just under $22 million, but this was more a fluke event than an item for future study.)"

What? Why isn't the fact that the Marlins over the last three years have paid LESS than the minimum MLB salary per marginal win "an item for future study"? (They paid $302,845 per marginal win according to the BPro study) Why is this a fluke? My guess is that Hanley Ramirez skewed the numbers way down due to his prodigious production but isn't the point of trading more established/expensive players to receive someone like Hanley Ramirez back?

This isn't a fluke to me. It seems to be exactly what the Marlins wanted to do & judging from their attendance figures & current stadium situation, what the Marlins have to do.

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