Dan Le Batard, for all his antics, is finally representing the fans this time. I have always seen him as a self-aggrandizing individual, bent on promoting (or creating?) his brand. His brash, loud-mouthed style of sports journalism always did seem at home here in South Florida and, well, he has been very open about being from here. He is the son of Cuban refugees, and that alone gives him a pretty good insight into our landscape.
With the Marlins, it is a tortured history for baseball fans here in South Florida. In fact, I got into a heated dispute back at the start of 2003 with Le Batard about the signing of Pudge Rodriguez. He likened it to “putting breast implants on a corpse”. Yes, he was trying to shock jock his way into notoriety. I felt he was very short-sighted on the issue then and was missing the big picture. New owner, Jeffrey Loria, was heavily vilified in the press then but came to town signing a “has-been” in Rodriguez to a 1 year deal, worth $10M, to make a splash. I felt that was the turning point this team needed in terms of getting leadership and credibility into the clubhouse and I was proven right. Le Batard, at the time, was vastly wrong.
Right or wrong, Le Batard has always represented the casual fan. Most sports fans in Miami had a bad taste in their mouths regarding the Fish and Le Batard reflected that in citing the Marlins as being a bad franchise rife with rot and fit to be carried out to the trash. There was talk of contraction hovering in those days and desperate fans, like myself, wanted that talk to be both unlawful and untrue and clinged, instead, to the hope of the franchise’s future. The fire sale of ’98 was bearing fruit at that point, for those who hung in there – but most had not. They were burned by the young franchise who totally mishandled any goodwill on the heels of a championship.
So Le Batard has become a weather vane for sports here in South Florida. On the current ownership issue, Le Batard once again represents the voice of casual sports fans and his frustration and anger give voice to what is the right side of this issue, as troubling as it may be. Although he saw a new owner and franchise heading in the wrong direction in 2003, he was wrong because not only did they have a miraculous 2003 season, but they would go on to build a stadium in Miami and even host the All Star game this past season. They would also trade away a HOF talent in Miguel Cabrera (yet to be realized until the end of 2003) but would cultivate Giancarlo Stanton along the way.
If Loria was the problem, then a new owner would be the panacea. So most thought. It turns out, that is indeed not the case. Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman came to town sniffing around about purchasing the Marlins. They would end up winning the bid, paying $1.2 billion for the Marlins and apparently outbidding two other groups.
There are many problems with this transaction – in order for any group to purchase the Marlins, they would have to be approved by MLB and a commission of owners who would look into the financial profile of any group trying to place a bid. Now, we have learned, that Jeter’s plan, designated “Project Wolverine” had called for slashing payroll down to the neighborhood of $85-90M. The rationale? The Marlins were riddled with debt that needed to be repaid and there was also a need to get the financials into a sustainable situation. There was also the issue of the Marlins’ talent level, which was barren at the farm level and although putting up historic offensive numbers, the team only won 77 games last year and without any real pitching help on the way.
In other words, the Marlins were caught in the mediocrity loop – where they would be spending money to win minimally and there would be no immediate way out. The only way forward, some would argue, was to blow up the roster and start over again.
Le Batard’s heated interview with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred accused Manfred of “starting with a lie” regarding the bids for the Marlins. Le Batard asked whether or not Manfred knew of Jeter’s plan to slash payroll and trade Giancarlo Stanton; Manfred denied the allegation. See the full interview here.
Dan brought on MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, to discuss the sale and acquisition of the Miami Marlins, the trade of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, and what appears to be yet another Marlins franchise firesale.
The full interview:https://t.co/IS2RDGT4PI
— Dan Le Batard Show (@LeBatardShow) December 20, 2017
The interview did not go as Manfred, or MLB, had hoped. In fact, there were complaints voiced to upper ESPN management.
Barry Jackson, backing up Le Batard’s accusation lobbed towards Manfred, wrote, “Two people directly involved in the sales process said that Jeter and Sherman were required to tell other owners their intentions with payroll during the approval process, and that they informed the other owners that payroll would be cut from $115 million to the $85 million to $90 million range, with $85 million used at times and $90 million other times in those discussions.”
Jackson is a very reputable reporter and adds even more credibility to the situation. He continues, “A source directly involved in the Marlins sales process, after hearing the Le Batard interview, said, via text: ‘Commissioner said was not aware of [Jeter] plan to slash payroll. Absolutely not true. They request and receive the operating plan from all bidders.’ Project Wolverine [the name for Jeter’s plan] called on his group to reduce payroll to $85 million. This was vetted and approved by MLB prior to approval by MLB. Every [Jeter] investor and non investor has the Wolverine financial plan of slashing payroll to $85 million. Widely circulated.” Sports Business Daily followed Jackson’s sources.
Le Batard uncovered not only a denial by Manfred, but a greater problem here is the cover up by MLB. There were two other bidders, that we know of, both of which had legit bids. One of which was Jorge Mas, the south Florida billionaire who claims he would not have taken the Marlins in the current direction that Jeter and his Project Wolverine backers would have.
If MLB and Manfred were, in fact, aware of the coming fire sale, then why did they not take the other bids seriously? Were all bids similar in price? Did the Sherman/Jeter bid pose the highest price mark and was that the only motivation for selecting it? Where is the $400M in debt for the club coming from – was it from this current sale in order to get to the $1.2B price point?
If these allegations are true, and Manfred and MLB approved the sale knowing the coming fire sale was going to happen, then they chose to further poison baseball’s relationship to its shrinking fan base here in South Florida. Whether or not Project Wolverine was necessary will be the subject of a different post.