MIAMI – The Florida Marlins made big profits with baseball's smallest player payroll in 2008-09, and team president David Samson says the income was needed to ensure being able to borrow money for a new ballpark.
Team financial statements acquired by Deadspin.com show the Marlins netted $49 million during the two seasons, with operating income of $37.8 million in 2008 and $11.1 million 2009. Samson didn't dispute the figures during a conference call Monday.
"It was critical for us as a team to make sure we had enough money to put into the ballpark," he said.
The Marlins had the lowest player payroll in the major leagues both seasons — $22 million in 2008 and $37 million in 2009. Last winter they reached an agreement with the players' union to increase spending in the wake of complaints team payroll had been so small as to violate baseball's revenue sharing provisions.
Under owner Jeffrey Loria, the franchise has always claimed payroll matches revenue. In explaining the 2008-09 profits, Samson said there was another part of the equation: the need to borrow money for ballpark financing.
"We had to show that we were a healthy company that was not overleveraged, having too much debt," he said.
"The information that is now public basically confirms everything that we have said over the years in terms of how we have operated the team with an eye toward one thing, and that was making sure that baseball would be secure in South Florida, and we would be able to contribute what was required in order to consummate a stadium transaction."
The Marlins' profits in 2008 came after they traded All-Star slugger Miguel Cabrera following the 2007 season, one of many cost-cutting moves under Loria.
"We could have had Cabrera and no ballpark," Samson said.
Florida's new home is expected to open in 2012. Total cost of the project is estimated at $609 million, with the Marlins paying more than $120 million.
While Samson said the financial statements support what he has said in the past, he said he was disappointed the numbers had been made public. When asked why, he said: "It's just that we're a private company. ... 'Disappointed' is the exact word. Not angry. Not putting our head in the sand. Not denying it. Not kicking and screaming like petulant children. Disappointed."
Samson said the leaking of the documents was a crime.
"It will be followed up intensely by Major League Baseball and its member clubs," he said.
The Marlins' financial statements became public one day after The Associated Press reported that the cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates made nearly $29.4 million in 2007 and 2008, according to team documents.