With no stadium deal, Marlins to explore move

Updated: November 25, 2005, 12:29 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins are cutting salary, and may soon cut ties with South Florida.

Following years of unsuccessful attempts to secure a baseball-only stadium in downtown Miami, the team announced Tuesday it will look into relocation, which team president David Samson said could happen as early as the 2008 season.

"There's no more fake deadlines or real deadlines," Samson said. "This is about the Marlins trying to save its franchise. We need a place to play after 2010 and we don't have one."

Samson said owner Jeffrey Loria's goal is to keep the team in South Florida, but added that no deal will be struck for a ballpark in the city of Miami. The Marlins said they received approval to pursue relocation plans from the commissioner's office on Monday.

"I would love nothing more than to get this deal done," Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said. "But I'm not going to put the taxpayers of the city of Miami at risk."

Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., which both failed to land the Montreal Expos before that franchise moved to Washington a year ago, are likely to try to lure the franchise. Samson said another possibility is building on land near Dolphins Stadium and owned by the franchise's original owner, H. Wayne Huizenga.

"We are all very disappointed that despite the efforts of three sets of owners, our office, two world championships, and a very significant economic proposal from the current owners, that plans for a new stadium have not been brought to fruition," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"A new ballpark is an absolute necessity for the team to survive economically and compete. The commissioner believes strongly that Major League Baseball can thrive in southeast Florida but only with a suitable facility. He remains hopeful that can still happen."

The Marlins' lease with Dolphins Stadium, owned by Huizenga, is in effect until 2007. The team has a series of one-year options that could keep it there through the 2010 season. Samson said the team will not extend its current lease at Dolphins Stadium under any circumstances.

"No longer can baseball in South Florida be assured," Loria, who was in Europe, said in a statement read by Samson. "It is now clear to us that there will be no baseball stadium in the city of Miami. So we must begin to explore other options."

Samson said some cities have called the Marlins to discuss possibilities, including Portland, Ore., which moved quickly after Tuesday's announcement.

"We made an introductory phone call," said Drew Mahalic, chief executive of the Oregon Sports Authority. "Hopefully this opens a dialogue with Portland and the state of Oregon as far as the advantages of relocating a team here."

The Marlins have already had a busy offseason, with the hiring of new manager Joe Girardi to replace Jack McKeon, plus a still-not-finalized deal with Boston that would send pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to Boston for three prospects. A preliminary agreement on that deal was struck Monday.

Samson said other trades are being discussed, without offering any specifics.

"Where there's smoke, there's usually fire," Samson said.

But he cautioned against describing the Marlins' payroll-cutting as a fire sale, such as the one that occurred following Florida's 1997 World Series championship. The Marlins won 54 games the next season.

Samson used the term "significant market correction," and said the team, which may have lost up to $20 million last year, with only a $60 million payroll, would only spend what matches its revenue. And that may mean more big names could go, including Carlos Delgado, who's owed $48 million for the next three seasons.

"This is a deliberate effort by the Marlins to correct what ails them," Samson said. "And what ails us is the amount of money lost."

Gov. Jeb Bush and other top state lawmakers expressed hope the team remains in South Florida.

"I'm more than happy to work with the ownership of the team and the Florida Legislature to come up with a solution," Bush said.

The Marlins have lobbied for their own stadium since Huizenga sold the team to John Henry in 1999. Plans for a 38,000-seat retractable-roof stadium to be built next to Miami's Orange Bowl came apart this spring.

That ballpark had an estimated cost of $420 million to $435 million, including $60 million in state funding. While money was approved in April by the Florida House, the state Senate refused to go along.

"There's a lot of people to blame," Samson said. "And they know exactly who they are."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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