Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins Offseason Splurge

Mar 13, 12 Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins Offseason Splurge

In Baseball Prospectus’ Baseball Between the Numbers, Jonah Keri considers whether former Florida Marlins owner, Wayne Huizenga is a genius. Huizenga bought the Marlins as an expansion club in1993 and later oversaw the club’s first world series championship in 1997, just five years after its expansion. The story of what unfolded after the 1997 season is a fascinating one – one that is hard to swallow for Marlins fans in South Beach.

Throughout the first four years of the Marlins existence, Huizenga ran the club with a low payroll. The 1996 season was a promising one for Florida. While the club finished just under .500, it consisted of promising young stars Edgar Renteria, Garry Sheffield, Charles Johnson, and Greg Colbrunn. The Marlins also boasted a stellar pitching staff headed by Kevin Brown and Al Leiter to compliment star close Robb Nen.

Huizenga realized the slim window of opportunity for his club and decided to splurge in the offseason following the 1996 year, spending $90MM and raising payroll by 68%. The key factor in these signings is Huizenga’s unwillingness to include no-trade clauses in contracts.

The Marlins went on to win the 1997 World Series with this epic hit by Renteria in the bottom of the 9th.

Following the World Series, Wayne Huizenga completely dismantled the club, trading all valuable assets. He understood that the team already capitalized from the World Series victory through season ticket sales, merchandise sales, media contracts, etc., and that it he would be able to capitalize even more by shrinking payroll to a minimal level.

Why do I bring this up?
Current Miami Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria is known for implementing the same policy of not including no-trade clauses in contracts greater than one-year in length. Ok, so the Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein don’t like no-trade clauses either. Also significant in the Marlins recent offseason spending-spree: The contracts signed by Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell are heavily back-loaded and include bonuses that are deferred with no interest ($3MM for Bell and $4MM for Buehrle).

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Jose Reyes $10MM $10MM $16MM $22MM $22MM $22MM $22MM club/$4MM buyout
Mark Buehrle $6MM $11MM $18MM $19MM
Heath Bell $6MM $9MM $9MM


To put this in perspective, in 2014, the Marlins have $59MM guaranteed to just four players (Reyes, Buehrle, Bell, and Hanley Ramirez). This is just $1.4MM shy of the clubs largest opening day payroll in franchise history. Something doesn’t seem right… and I’m not buying the fact that Loria (the man who kept a $14.9MM team payroll in 2006 and claimed team operating losses in order to get the city of Miami to pay the majority of the Marlins new ballpark) is all of a sudden ready to turn his club into the Yankees.

It can be argued that the heavy back-loaded contracts make trading the players more difficult as they age but that may not be the case if Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell each stay close to their 2011 numbers in 2012.

What to expect? If the Marlins win the World Series next year, I would not be surprised if Reyes and/or Buehrle are moved. Sounds crazy right? But so was the epic dismantling of the 1997 Marlins.

This is actually a savvy business and baseball move by Loria (as it was for Huizenga) if he is able to pull it off. To understand why, you must understand the theory of The Success Cycle. The theory, which has been much debated, essentially states that each team resides on a certain place within the success cycle (broadly: rebuilding, building, and competing) and must act accordingly to its position in the cycle in order to reach ultimate success – a World Series Championship. This sounds fair considering that not many teams can really compete for a championship every year for a decade or more (the Braves and Yankees are two notable exceptions).

If you buy into this theory, then, as Jonah Keri claims in Baseball Between the Numbers, Wayne Huizenga is a genius and Jeffrey Loria may be following those footsteps.

After all, you may criticize the Marlins ownership, but they have brought two World Series Championships to South Beach in just 19 years of existence.

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