Miami Marlins president David Samson admits the team’s recent spending spree comes with its fair share of anxiety.
"We need to be right," he said. "Everything sounds good at the winter meetings but it’s the dog days of summer when it matters."
Samson and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria are confident their new ballpark and exciting new free agent signings will generate more fans and more revenue, eventually leading to another trip to the World Series.
"We are assuming that the ballpark will sell out," said Samson. "Instead of waiting for it sell out and then signing players, the decision was made to improve the team and win on a consistent basis and show that fans that not only do we have a new ballpark but we've got a team that we expect to be competitive and make the playoffs."
But, wait. Florida baseball history suggests success does not necessarily attract more fans -- or additional revenue needed to support the $200 million investment in Ozzie Guillen, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes.
The last time the Marlins appeared in a World Series was 2003. Despite the success on the field, the Marlins average regular season attendance was 16,290. In 1997, the year the wild-card Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, the team averaged 29,190 per game. In 2011, the team ranked 29th in league attendance.
The Marlins are playing a dangerous shell game.
In a report by Bloomberg News, Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at New York University bluntly stated, “This is smoke and mirrors. What we saw with the Marlins this past week is a gross misappropriation of funds on ballplayers whose return on investment could possibly be a negative in the years to come.”
“It’s all about cost certainty, accountability and responsibility,” he said. “They can’t sustain that business model if they lose those fans as quickly as they win them back. I think they’re being overtly aggressive, but it’s going to come back and bite them in the end.”
Based on their actions at the Winter Meetings it is apparent Samson and Loria are convinced opportunity outweighs the risk.
Buehrle agreed to a four-year, $58 million contract. He will be 33 in March. Buehrle may be worth $15 million for 200 innings work now, but how will he perform in 2014 and 2015?
Bell, 34, signed a three-year, $27 million deal; looks good – right now.
Reyes remains the biggest question of all. He will earn $10 million in 2012 and 2013, $16 million in 2014 and $22 million per year from 2015-2017. Miami has $22 million option for 2018 with a $4 million buyout.
Along with a record contract, Reyes brings speed, excitement, defense and a N.L. batting title to Miami … oh, and a career history of leg injuries.
“He spent a lot of time with the doctor,” said Samson. “We looked at every part of his body – every part -- to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be … and his hamstrings. The fact is that we are very confident in his ability to manage his legs over the course of six years to the point where he will still be able to outperform this deal.”
The Reyes signing has already created controversy, and we’re still three months from Spring Training. Guillen admitted Hanley Ramirez is “a little bit upset” about having to move from shortstop to third base saying, “He has a right to be upset. He's a human being. He was the shortstop.”
Don’t be surprised if Reyes' arrival leads Ramirez’ exit.
Guillen signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Marlins in October. His contract guarantees, win or lose, the Marlins will be in the headlines this summer with a healthy dose of press conference histrionics and occasional Twitter rant aimed at players, umpires, fans and the like.
Loria and Samson may win. The Marlins may play in October and, maybe, win a World Series. But if the Marlins aren’t selling out in June, July and August, winning won’t fill their empty pockets.