Who are these Fish? Marlins, hopeful with new stadium, spend money

David Brown

DALLAS — What a strange kettle of fish, these Miami Marlins are. A franchise mostly known for twice fileting its roster immediately after winning the World Series, the previously thrifty Marlins are being very new school at baseball's winter meetings. They're spending lots of money and are rumored to be spending much more.

Flanked by team president Larry Beinfest and owner Jeffrey Loria, free-agent signee Heath Bell formally put on the new Marlins home white jersey for the first time Monday afternoon. Bell, Jose Reyes and maybe Albert Pujols. New manager in Ozzie Guillen, new stadium actually in the city of Miami, a payroll that possibly might double. And uniforms that feature every color in the rainbow (in this dimension and others). Who knows where this fishing expedition is going? Wherever it lands, it is shining a lot of light on the Marlins. And that seems to be making Beinfest, the team's president of baseball operations, nervous.

"For those of you that know me and Mike, we try to keep things quiet and do things under the radar so it's been a little uncomfortable in that respect," Beinfest said.

"Under the radar" doesn't even begin to cover it. After helping to build Miami's previous World Series winner in 2003, Beinfest receded into the background and promoted Michael Hill to GM in September 2007. Even four years later, how many fans know that Hill is the GM? And how about the media? Not one question about the Marlins, or Bell's signing, came Hill's way while on the dais.

That's probably because the only Marlins executive who really matters these days is Loria, who has decided to reverse course after years of austerity and increase payroll, which was about $58 million in 2011. Even Major League Baseball cracked down on the Marlins' miserly ways, saying they violated league rules by not spending enough money on player salaries.

While some reporters stayed back to speak with Beinfest and (hopefully) Hill, a dozen or more chased Loria down a hotel hallway for answers. Loria said most of them lie in a new ballpark. {YSP:MORE}

"You have no idea how difficult it is, every single day, watching the rain come," Loria said of life in the Marlins old park. "We don't have that issue anymore. We have an air-conditioned stadium with a roof."

And the best animated home run sign ever. One problem with the park: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced it is investigating how the ballpark got funded. This had to give Loria some pause when it came to doling out cash. Right?

"Nah, one has nothing to do with the other," Loria said. "There's absolutely no questions. We will work with the SEC and help them in any way possible. It's an ongoing matter. We're there to be helpful. But I don't really want to make any further comments about it."

Well, then. Bell seems to have no qualms about going to Miami, probably because they've validating his major league career by paying him $27 million. Even if the SEC issues fines or worse, Bell will get paid. But are the Marlins sure they'll be able to afford a $75 or $100 million payroll? That's what would happen, were they to land Pujols.

The Fish finished last in the NL in attendance in 2011, averaging about 19,000 fans. For the Marlins to reach Loria's prediction of three million fans coming through the turnstiles in 2012, they'll need to almost double their attendance. But will doing that even give them enough revenue? Doesn't the big money in baseball come from rich TV contracts?

You know what? If you're Beinfest and Hill (he's a real guy — just look at the photo above with him, Fredi Gonzalez and Beinfest), you don't ask questions. You just use your baseball mojo to spend Loria's money the best way possible. And then, if the team fails or the SEC comes back with bad news (or both), you recede into the background.

You know, like before.

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