- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Florida Marlins may have done more than just send Chicago into another winter of depression Wednesday night when they won Game7 of the National League Championship Series. They may have laid out the blueprint for other owners on how to construct a successful team.

Here’s the key — pay for play.

When the season began, the Marlins had just one player on their 25-man roster with a contract guaranteed beyond this season: Juan Pierre. That meant that, in essence, every other player on the Marlins was playing for his paycheck.

Based on their success, they would seem to have proved one theory right: Players do better in their contract years. And there is no better evidence of that than Ivan Rodriguez.

The Marlins took a lot of heat when they signed Pudge to a one-year, $10million, incentive-laden contract. There had been little interest in the catcher coming off an injury-filled season, with talk he was damaged goods. The Orioles offered him a three-year, $18million deal that Pudge had no intention of taking, and he came close to playing in Japan for a season.

But at the last minute, the Marlins stepped in with their offer. For Pudge, the deal was perfect because it would give him a chance to prove himself and, in essence, perform well enough to warrant the top-dollar, long-term contract he sought. He has certainly done that, particularly with his MVP play in the postseason.

And for the Marlins, the deal was perfect because they got what they paid for, and in baseball these days, when you get production that equals the pay — instead of being on the hook for millions of dollars for years to come — you are ahead of the game.

The Marlins got far more than what they paid out. Pudge helped put the Fish in the playoffs and propelled them to both the division series and NLCS titles. Along the way, they played six home playoff games, drawing more than 300,000 people, more than a quarter of what they drew in 81 home games this season — at postseason ticket prices.

That is all found money and likely will prevent another sell-off of talent as the Marlins did after they won the 1997 World Series, when garbage man Wayne Huizenga broke up that championship team. Pudge may or may not be back — he loves playing in South Florida — but the Marlins have about a dozen young players eligible for arbitration that they will be able to make deals with instead of not offering contract to the players, which would make them free agents earlier than the six years they normally would have to be in the major leagues.

Now the Marlins have a chance to keep the momentum going from their postseason success and also build momentum toward their goal of getting a new ballpark in South Florida — something they have not even broached with public officials given their reluctance in the past to commit to one. There was no goodwill to build on then. Now things are different.

The hilarious part of all this is that this was not the plan Cadillac Bud Selig and the owners had for the Marlins and their owner, Jeffrey Loria. They stuck Loria in Florida as part of the suspicious three-way franchise swap nearly two years ago in which major league baseball owners bought the Montreal Expos from Loria, who in turn took the $120million he received for the team, plus a $38million loan from fellow owners, to turn around and buy the Marlins from John Henry, who then turned around and joined Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner to purchase the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and the New England Sports Network for $700million.

That deal was set up for two reasons — to allow Henry to buy the Red Sox and to punish Loria, who is disliked by fellow owners for what they perceive as sabotaging the Expos franchise even further than the sorry state it was in when they let him buy into it four years ago. They didn’t want Loria to reap the benefits of selling the Expos to willing buyers — such as the prospective Washington area baseball owners — or to relocate it himself, as Loria had been trying to do.

So they figured to stick him with the Marlins, a franchise seemingly doomed for failure, and after five years — when, under the terms of the deal, he had to have a stadium commitment in place or else the loan would be called in — set up the contraction of the club when the current labor agreement expires after the 2006 season.

The Marlins messed all of that up by going and winning the National League pennant. For that reason alone, everybody should be doing the “Fish” — yeah, yeah yeah.

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