Miami taxpayers spent $500m on a Marlins stadium, and all they got were some lousy Jose Reyes t-shirts

So, where to begin? Last night, the Miami Marlins committed one of the craziest trades in the history of baseball, sending Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson (their two top starting pitchers), Jose Reyes (their starting shortstop), John Buck (their starting catcher), and Emilio Bonifacio (their top utility player) to the Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop Yunel Escobar, catcher Jeff Mathis, rookie pitcher Henderson Alvarez, and four minor-leaguers, none of them top prospects.

Given that this came only one year after the Marlins went on a spending spree to sign high-profile free agents (including Reyes and Buehrle) in advance of the opening of their their new stadium, a stadium that received nearly $500 million in public subsidies after team owner Jeffrey Loria argued that he needed it in order to field a competitive team; and that Loria had already dispensed with other high-priced players, including Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, and Heath Bell, earlier this year when the team wasn’t winning and fans weren’t turning out for games; and that the Marlins had already burned down their roster at least twice before, immediately after winning championships in 1997 and 2003 (the first time under former owner Wayne Huizenga, the second under Loria); and that Loria was previously revealed to be making tons of money on the team by keeping payrolls low and pocketing league revenue-sharing dollars; and that Loria was already famous for milking the Montreal Expos under his ownership so effectively that when new management arrived they didn’t even have office computers; and that this was only the cherry on the top of a massive sundae of embarrassment that Loria has been serving up all year — well, let’s just say that Marlins fans are a mite peeved this morning.

Though possibly still not as peeved as Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who despite earning only $480,000 this year instantly takes on the mantle of “only decent player remaining on the Marlins” (previously held by Miguel Cabrera held until he was traded for a pile of forgettable prospects in 2007), and who took to Twitter last night to proclaim:

(Stanton also changed his Twitter profile picture from one where he’s wearing a Marlins jersey to one with him wearing a plain black t-shirt.)

So in the long history of Marlins’ fire sales, how bad is this one? There’s a momentary temptation to compare this to the Boston Red Sox‘ salary-shedding trade of several high-priced veterans last summer to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but really there’s no comparison: The Red Sox still had a fair bit of talent remaining, they got a couple of okay prospects in the deal, and they were almost certainly planning to use the money saved to buy some new players who hadn’t burned their bridges in Boston. By contrast, even if Loria were to go out and sign, say, top free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, he’d still have a hollow shell of a team that lost 93 games last year even before all this trade.

Or, if you prefer, there’s Nate Silver’s pithier summary:

So unless Loria has some secret plan to augment his team with a supernatural Christopher Lloyd, this looks a simple case of an owner who got the publicly subsidized new stadium he’d been dreaming about for a decade, used some of the proceeds to pay star players like he’d promised, was disappointed in the results both on the field and at the ticket office, and threw up his hands three months in and decided, “Hell with this, I’m going to go back to making money the old-fashioned way: Not spending anything or trying to sell tickets, and just collecting my share of league money and pocketing it.” At least the Marlins don’t pay rent based on attendance — one of the few things Miami officials got right in their lease negotiations — but still they’ll only be paying $2.4 million to their city landlords next year, about 6% of the annual salary they shedded last night, and not even one-tenth of what it’ll take to pay off the public’s bond payments on the new stadium.

That new stadium, already a symbol of government ineptitude and poor taste, now becomes a symbol of something even more sinister. Last night, the Miami Herald’s David J. Neal pictured it speaking to him:

“My master, Lord Loria, merely dangled a few promises before you to fool you into helping to create me! Now, the mighty tractor beam of my debt will suck the money from your present and future pockets as you slave while I make Lord Loria ever richer and more powerful! BWAAAA-HA-HA-HA!”

Ah, well, at least Marlins fans, if there’s anyone in South Florida still willing to call themselves that, can still enjoy their one new sports bar. They’ll probably find Giancarlo Stanton drinking himself into a stupor there, alone.

19 comments on “Miami taxpayers spent $500m on a Marlins stadium, and all they got were some lousy Jose Reyes t-shirts

  1. Can’t say I’m shocked. Loria has never hidden his agenda with regard to screwing municipalities. Just ask Montreal. What’s sad though is that Miami let themselves get suckered in with that terrible stadium deal. I mean there’s taxpayer unfriendly stadium deals, and then there’s this.

  2. No sympathy here for the City of Miami. Sometimes governments get cornered by creative and respected (formerly respected?) business leaders who “strike while the iron is hot” to negotiate from a position of strength (IE: after a championship, with a lease about to expire).

    When dealing with Loria the bloodsucking scumbag and his clueless stepson (mini-me?), the city should have been on more solid footing. If they didn’t know what kind of heartless soulless scum they were dealing with, it’s their own fault. There is ample evidence all through Loria’s appalling history as an MLB owner to prove just exactly what he would do with the tens of millions annually poor Miami taxpayers are going to pay him.

    Though it’s unlikely to happen, this would be an appropriate time to start a criminal investigation into the the major players negotiating this deal for the city (including the former mayor). Saying “I’m stupid” doesn’t get you out of any other type of crime… why should it be a free pass for this kind of robbery?

  3. I thought about the Montreal angle too, and those people must be feeling raw today, too.

    Was this trade in the best interests of baseball? No. They could go “Charlie O” on the Marlins.

    If anything, though, it’s nice to see a Canadian city getting a measure of revenge here. Toronto kind of just scored one for you, Montreal.

    The whole thing with the Expos still rubs me the wrong way.

  4. As a Montreal Expos fan we always knew Loria was a carpetbagger and his son in law was an idiot.If i was a Marlins fan I wouldn’t put another nickel in their pockets.

  5. “Though it’s unlikely to happen, this would be an appropriate time to start a criminal investigation into the the major players negotiating this deal for the city…”

    Unfortunately, we live in an age where the concept of fiduciary responsibility is something of which elected officials (regardless of political party) are either completely ignorant or willfully negligent. And nobody ever gets called on it. Officials are told over and over and over again how bad these deals are and they just shrug it off. Particularly weird and frustrating at a time when communities everywhere are having problems paying the bills.

  6. If the Brewers stadium deal is considered the worst in baseball, then the criteria for what makes a stadium deal bad are stupid.

  7. MikeM:

    The Expos sage is one of two parts for me. There is no question that the fans in Montreal had given up on the team – even before Loria came along. A bad stadium and an appalling and underfunded owner (Brochu, MGP, who was awarded his minority interest in the team by the Bronfmans) didn’t help matters.

    I actually don’t blame MLB for pulling the franchise as much as I blame them for not squeezing Brochu out. It’s possible alternate ownership (the Molson family had an interest, though somewhat tepid) could have gotten the stadium done and rebuilt the fanbase.

    That said, Loria was and is scum. He should not have been allowed inside the MLB owners group.

  8. I can only assume the marlin stadium robbery wasnt final when the author wrote her book, However MLB business plan is to con cities into free stadiums many of which include other things to do besides watching baseball. Also their lawyers got that IRS loophole where season tickets are 100% tax deductible. That alone adds 10k tickets sold to each game. Remember Selig owned the brewers when they screwed Milwuakee. This is being done at every level of baseball including fly by night leagues. Most of baseball growth in last 20 years has come from direct tax payer subsidies. Loria is following the selig business plan and Bud backed up his lies.

  9. I don’t always agree with Neil on everything as he’s made a name for himself going after big business sports while remaining silent on other big corporations fleecing other states/cities for tax subsidies but this one really puts a black-eye on on the four major North American sports in general.

    I can’t see how any NBA, NFL or NHL owner along with the other MLB owners are happy with what Loria has just done. He’s probably blown up almost every avenue for public funding of stadiums. Loria is a crook and if Selig has a spine, he’ll make sure that Loria gets kicked-out of the MLB like he did with Frank McCourt.

    Honestly, I think at some point, Loria will have to sell, he’s slashed payroll for the next owner to do what they like, has a new stadium that now just needs a naming rights agreement and if I’m not mistaken the regional TV deal should come up soon.

    I feel bad for Marlins fans that can be happy about supporting two World Series championship teams but getting f’d in the a$$ multiple times by this man. I’m hoping the SEC finds something on this shady stadium deal and karma comes to bite Loria in the ass.

    As for the Blue Jays… They’ll regret this trade, but they want to win now and if they pull off a “Marlins-esque” miracle and win the World Series, I guess it would be worth it to get the City of Toronto a 3rd World Series championship.

  10. Silent here, perhaps, not elsewhere:

    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/02/city_panel_votes_on_128_million_freshdirect_payoff_liveblog.php

  11. “I don’t always agree with Neil on everything as he’s made a name for himself going after big business sports while remaining silent on other big corporations fleecing other states/cities for tax subsidies…”

    Sorta like going to a French restaurant and getting annoyed because they don’t also specialize in Italian.

  12. I am nolonger a Miami Marlins Fan–I will suppor any team that they play to beat them–even the dreaded METS. The county should run the Marlin owner and his management team out of Dade county on a spiked rail.
    I want a local t-shiort company to print black t-shirts with the following:
    THE MIAMI MARLINS SUCK

  13. Who didn’t see this coming? The most corrupt politicians in the country are complicit with these thieves in fleecing the tax payer. Many of us were against the stadium but these people just marched right into it.

  14. Alnhochs – technically you can get that printed on a T-shirt via a website fairly cheap, tho I won’t name a site because that’s spamming.
    Maybe Loria has a phobia of large crowds or something. Marlins will go back to drawing 6,000 a night. But how could any respectable baseball fan actually root for the Marlins?

  15. I’m kind of curious if Neil would ever put together a top 10 list of most screwed over by sports Metro Areas and how Miami would rank in that. The Miami Arena debacle wasn’t get, but at least it wasn’t a super-expensive arena to begin with.

  16. I get that question a lot, but I don’t really think it’s answerable. Every unhappy stadium deal is unhappy in its own way.