Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marlins spending dough from controversial new ballpark

The Miami Marlins are opening a brand-new ballpark in 2012, but they aren’t pocketing all the money that comes with the new baseball stadium. They are hoping to spend a huge chunk of that dough on some of the best free agents on the market, namely Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes. But a lot of people in Miami are upset about what they call the sweetheart deal that financed the new stadium. Now the feds are poking around, which could mean big trouble.

You have to admire the Marlins’ aggressiveness this offseason. They are trying to make a splash in the free agent market, paying (and possibly overpaying) Heath Bell to close games for what they hope will be the new and improved Marlins. But Bell isn’t their only, or even primary, target as the Marlins have already reportedly made offers to Pujols and Reyes.

Imagine Pujols and Reyes in a brand-new ballpark with a glittering view of downtown Miami. Everyone has assumed that Pujols will return to St. Louis because he has played there his entire career and they just won another World Series. It is probably the longest of long shots, but until he signs his name to a contract I don’t think you can take it for granted that he will return to the Midwest. Reyes might be a more attractive target because it won’t take nearly as much money or be as difficult to pry him away from the New York Mets.

I had the pleasure of having a private tour of the new ballpark when I was in Miami recently (more on that in a separate blog post). While I got a genuine thrill of seeing a ballpark being built from the ground up, I was informed by my tour leader that the stadium deal is quite controversial because the county will end up paying more than $2.4 billion over 40 years to pay for the new ballpark. As it turns out, the deal may have also been illegal because the US Securities & Exchange Commission is now sniffing around. It is unclear what the SEC is looking for, but if investigators uncover something shady, it could set baseball in Florida back for decades.

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