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A Sign of Things to Come?

Is the Miami spending spree any kind of sign of what could happen if the Rays' stadium situation ever changes in the market?

Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

In 2009, Rays fans watched the Yankees spend $423.5M to acquire A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira in the same off-season prior to the opening of their new palatial version of Yankee Stadium. This off-season, Rays fans are watching Jeffrey Loria, Larry Beinfest and crew making it rain at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas as they have already spent $142M to roster Jose Reyes and Heath Bell and have been rumored most of the day to be very close to adding Albert Pujols as well. Causation equals correlation, right? If the Rays ever get a new stadium, Stu Sternberg will own the winter meetings and buy the best of the 2017 free agent class and shock the press corps as Loria has done with his antics this week, right?

To say that Loria and the Miami Marlins are turning heads would be an understatement. When the Yankees signed their trio of free agents in 2009 to that sum of money. The team who already had a high payroll and had just been handed a $27M luxury tax bill went out and spent $423.5M to acquire the best free agents available and the script played out wonderfully as the Yankees won the 2009 World Series in the new stadium. In today's dollars calculating 5.2 percent inflation into play, the Yankees spent $445.3M to acquire the three players. To match that value, Loria and the Marlins would have to give Pujols a deal that paid him $303M over the life of the contract which seems unlikely to happen. Then again, the Marlins signing three premier free agents seemed rather unlikely just two weeks ago.

The funding for all of this is coming from a combination of the projections for the new stadium and as well as whatever money Loria said he did not have when he was able to convince local governments to pay for 80 percent of the new stadium as well as give him complete control of the parking garages for it. The funding model he has in mind calls for some rather aggressive attendance expectations considering the history of the market. Loria, in his own words earlier this week:

Loria expects his team will draw 2.5 million to 3 million at the new ballpark. "When you have a ballpark that seats 78,000, there's no great demand — and in the middle of nowhere in a football-configured stadium," he said. "But with a ballpark half the size of that and a baseball-only ballpark, you create a different kind of experience and we've seen it in our sales already."

Over 81 games, Loria is expecting the Marlins to draw on average anywhere from 30,864 to 37,037 fans an evening at the new park to help fund the payroll. That is a very lofty goal considering the Marlins have drawn 30,000 or more to a home game just 22 times over the past four seasons and most of those games involved visiting crowds coming to see the Yankees and Cubs play.

If we are to look at just the 2012 committed payroll according to Cot's and add in the AAV that Reyes is going to get (16.7) and the assume Pujols signs at $225M over ten years (22.5), the Marlins have a committed payroll of $97.95M for 2012 with just nine players under guaranteed payroll:

  • Albert Pujols (22.5)
  • Jose Reyes (16.7)
  • Hanley Ramirez (15)
  • Josh Johnson (13.75)
  • Ricky Nolasco (9)
  • Heath Bell (9)
  • John Buck (6.5)
  • Omar Infante (4)
  • Randy Choate (1.5)

That number escalates to $99.45M in 2013 before several names drop but Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison begin their arbitration years at that same point as well. There is a large amount of distrust in the south Florida area after watching two former World Series teams be dismantled as quickly as they were built so the club is going to have to win and prove that they are serious this time about sustaining it. Spending upwards of $370M at the winter meetings is a nice start but the sustainability of it all will depend on keeping a notorious fair-weathered population interested for longer than the novelty season of 2012 when the Marlins get to unveil their new shiny toys.

Meanwhile, the Rays fans are left with a heaping dose of envy as the Marlins unveil a new convertible stadium and potentially three impact free agents. To the swindler goes the spoils.

Nate Silver compared the Marlins spending spree to the housing bubble of ten years ago. Given the financial acumen of the braintrust that run the Rays, it is tough to imagine them behaving the same was as the Marlins are if the stadium fortunes are to change for the club in the coming years given the volatility of the financing should the attendance projections fall well short of the model. What say you? Is the reward worth the risk or should the Rays continue to pay player for what they project them to be rather than for what they have done?