For years, people have complained about teams buying their way to a championship. But when they say that, they’re generally referring to the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, and Phillies. After all, the Marlins have been misers for years, with payrolls below $60 million for every year since 2000 (with the exception of 2005. Indeed, just five years ago, the Marlins entire roster made less than $15 million. They’ve been built up and torn down so many times that it’s understandable that Miami fans would choose to stay away from the club in droves, as they have for years (the Marlins have finished last in the NL in attendance every year since 2005, when they finished second to last, and even those numbers have been artificially inflated by huge amounts by the embarrassed Fish Franchise).
But once again, things are changing down in Miami. With the new ballpark opening up, Jeffrey Loria seems to have found the Christmas spirit, and is handing out contracts left and right. His transformation reminds me of another famous transformation that took place around this time of year…
Jeffrey Loria deciding to spend money on free agents is great news, which reminds me of this Charles Dickens book…
A Christmas Carol is one of the most influential stories of all time. There have been at least 22 film adaptations of it, including a 1901 British film, one starring the Muppets, one with Mickey Mouse, and one with Jim Carrey as recently as 2009. There’s also Scrooged, starring Bill Murray in a modern retelling of the story, and It’s a Wonderful Life, which repurposes certain elements of the book to tell a very different story. There are countless television adaptations, the most famous of which is probably George C. Scott’s 1984 made for TV movie. And its basic structure has been used by shows as varied as Sanford and Son, WKRP in Cincinnati, Family Ties, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Doctor Who. The word Scrooge has become an adjective in and of itself. Charles Dickens’ tale of a horrible man who finds redemption just in time for Christmas is a cultural touchstone and has become deeply integrated into how Christmas is regarded today by millions of people.
Jeffrey Loria used to be a Scrooge. He slashed payrolls in Montreal, and refused to negotiate an English-language broadcast contract for the team in 2000. Unable to move the Expos and unable to get a new ballpark, Loria orchestrated a move to abandon the team and buy the Marlins from John Henry. When Loria left, he brought the computers, furniture and staff with him, leaving Montreal essentially bare. He continued to restrict spending in Florida, to the point where a MLB Players Association investigation found enough compelling evidence that Loria was refusing to spend on the Marlins to keep revenues low and collect MLB revenue sharing funds that the Marlins were warned and have been essentially forced to hand out longer, more expensive contracts to foundational stars like Josh Johnson.
But like Scrooge, when he woke up on Christmas morning, Loria has changed seemingly overnight. Scrooge awakes after being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and sends a Christmas turkey to his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit and joins his nephew’s family for Christmas. Loria, was visited by the Ghosts of Baseball Future and Miami-Dade County, who showed him a vision of what baseball in Florida could be like in a shiny new ballpark. So Loria is using the financial windfall that he expects to receive to bring big names to play there. Heath Bell and Jose Reyes are already in the fold, and they’ve offered a 10 year contract to Albert Pujols. There are reports that they’re also out on CJ Wilson, Mark Buehrle, and Javier Vazquez.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for Loria. Is it permanent? Who knows? Scrooge’s outlook was changed forever by his experience that night, and he became filled with Christmas spirit for the rest of his life. Loria, on the other hand, seems to be leaving himself an out by refusing to hand out no-trade clauses, which would potentially allow him to gut the team like Wayne Huizenga did in 1998.