Dream the impossible dream: What
if Albert Pujols played for, of all
teams, the Marlins?
It’s not exactly The House That Hanley Built, but when the Florida Marlins move into their new ballpark in 2012, a task overdue by nearly 15 years, it will be hard not to note it was a move precipitated with Hanley being the focal point.
But let’s think outside the box a moment, and just contemplate a different scenario for the Marlins. Certainly the following is extremely unlikely, but let’s play a game of “what if.” For just a moment or two, let’s set aside reality and ponder a Marlins franchise making a big play for relevance once again.
As the Marlins prepare for the final year in Joe Robbie / Pro Player / Dolphin / Land Shark / Sun Life Stadium (whew, that was a mouthful), they’ll do so with their brightest star being more Hollywood than Miami—enough for a starring role in HBO’s Entourage. Making matters worse, the standoffish icon’s image, tainted as it is, now has to withstand a 2010 season that saw an OPS drop by 100 points from the previous year.
Even this diva wasn’t immune from the hitting-suppressed landscape around baseball this past year. He still hit .300 with 21 homers, but he also got the manager run out of town.
But the Marlins gave Ramirez a 6-year, $70 million extension in May 2008 with the goal of his being the face of the franchise as they move into their new park. Sometimes it feels like the $15 million they’ll pay him in 2012, the year the park opens, will be better suited being donated to the Columbian Cartel.
So it begs the question: do the Marlins need a new face—perhaps a kinder, gentler image with fewer blemishes? The Marlins should look west to find their royalty.
Albert Pujols is heading into his final season with the Cardinals, after a no-brainer $16 million club option was exercised by St. Louis a few weeks ago for 2011. The Cardinals will undoubtedly continue to attempt to ink Pujols to an extension, but thus far have seemingly been unsuccessful on that front. He says he wants to remain in St. Louis, but one wonders what the holdup is.
It’s not likely Pujols has any doubts about what the market will offer. It seems that nearly $30 million per annum awaits his future. One wonders, then, are the Cardinals willing to pay that bounty?
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If the Cardinals are not, the Marlins—yes, the lowly, cash-strapped Marlins—should definitely be willing. OK, so perhaps they’re not as cash-strapped as we thought, suggests the leaked Deadspin financial documents. But as revenue goes, we do know they’re lower on the totem pole than most of their peers, and a bad local revenue situation is about to get better—or at least not as bad.
When the Marlins open up their new ballpark at the Orange Bowl site in the Little Havana neighborhood next spring (see details of the stadium), they’ll be laying to rest one of the worst ballpark leases in baseball, and finally becoming self-supporting in gate revenue. Insert joke: if Florida opens up a new ballpark, will anyone be around to see it?
The Marlins believe that the Latino community will help increase attendance, and its proximity to downtown cannot hurt. But merely breaking the chains that bound them to philanthropist, entrepreneur and former Marlins’ owner Wayne Huizenga is a good start.
Currently, the Marlins pay Sun Life Stadium, which is partially owned by Huizenga, rent monies while keeping only a fraction of concessions and parking. The deal was initially set up when Huizenga was owner of the Marlins, presumably so he could collect revenue on the landlord side of the ledger while crying poverty to the city of Miami in his quest for a new ballpark at taxpayer expense. But when he sold the team to John Henry in 1998, the new ownership inherited the same vitriolic lease.
In addition to $2 million Huizenga receives annually as a tax rebate from the state of Florida, for bringing baseball to Miami, he still reportedly receives $5 million a year in rent from the Marlins, while keeping all revenue from luxury suites, nearly 64 percent of parking and 30 percent of concessions. Meanwhile, the Marlins must pay for all stadium personnel and keep only the limited remaining revenue.
When the Marlins break free from the lease beginning in 2012, they will inherit all concessions and parking and pay a fixed $2.3 million annually to the city of Miami for rent and capital improvements. The team could save potentially $20 million or more just by the new lease terms alone.
Then, you have all the additional revenue from attendance if fans suddenly discover baseball is played down there in Miami. But that might not be as far-fetched as it seems.
In the last 20 years, expansion teams excluded, there have been 19 new ballparks built. Of those 19, there were 17 where teams did not reach capacity, or at least, the attendance in the last season of the old ballpark was not greater than the capacity of the new park (only Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium did not qualify).
In the first years of the new ballparks, teams had an average bump at the gate of 5,019 fans a game, a 33 percent increase from the last season at their respective parks. Over the course of 81 home games, that’s 406,539 additional tickets sold—an extra $7 million in revenue at the price of the Marlins’ 2009 average $19 per ticket. The 3-year average, post-opening, is actually over 6,000 extra tickets per game.
Some of this additional income, perhaps as much as $30 million annually, might be neutralized once the Major League Baseball revenue sharing is removed. The Marlins have been the greatest benefactors of the Central Fund, and as their local revenue from attendance, concessions, parking, marketing inside the park, club suites, etc. increase, their share of the revenue will decrease. Still, it’s clear the Marlins will have some extra incentive to invest in payroll. The Marlins have cried poverty and asked for a new stadium and they finally got it.
Is it worth the financial gain to invest so heavily in one player? As the game’s biggest draw, Pujols might just be the catalyst to a rejuvenated fan base.
When the Reds traded for Ken Griffey Jr. in February of 2000, their attendance spiked over 600,000 the following year. The Cardinals, not shy on fan support in 1997, increased over 500,000 in 1998 behind the previous summer’s Mark McGwire addition (and his subsequent record-setting home run chase). An incredible million more people flooded the gates of Candlestick Park in 1993 following the signing of perennial All-Star Barry Bonds.
Remember, play the fantasy here... Might Pujols alone be worth an extra $10 million in additional revenue? The bigger question: would Pujols ever consider joining the Marlins?
In late September, Cardinals’ beat writer Derrick Goold reported Pujols had a limited no-trade clause that approved trades automatically to the Astros, Dodgers, Angels and, of all teams, the Marlins. Though Pujols has since seen his 10-5 rights kick in, meaning he could veto a trade to anyone of his choice, and the Cardinals swear they will not trade Pujols under any circumstances, it provides for the possibility that the Marlins could lure him to South Florida.
If the Cardinals reached July, underachieving in similar fashion to 2010, would they still be adamant against trading him? Would the Marlins be willing to take the risk of trading Logan Morrison (or Mike Stanton) in a package under the condition that Pujols worked out an extension?
Or what about a fantasy blockbuster: Pujols in a deal for Hanley.
The Cardinals would get a premier shortstop. Ramirez could benefit from a change of scenery. And he would be under their control for three additional seasons. The Marlins, meanwhile, would get Pujols to anchor their club and could offset nearly half of the expected salary he’ll earn beginning in 2012. It could be a win-win situation for both clubs.
But perhaps the Marlins can have their cake and eat it too. They could bide their time, wait to see if Pujols becomes a free agent, and then sign him as a free agent prior to the opening of new park.
Think about it: a star player hitting the open market and after months (and years) of speculation, signing with a team in Miami. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Unlike that “decision,” this one will not have two star players to entice him, unless Hanley played the role of Dwayne Wade. And unlike LeBron, Pujols has already a championship to his name. Still, the Marlins will suddenly have the financial resources to make it happen. Reportedly, Pujols would be intrigued by playing in Miami.
The Marlins need to make it happen. Hanley’s house? How about the Prince’s castle. Miami could have a king and a prince.
Kyle Lamb is staff writer for the Business of Sports Network. He looks forward to your comments.
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