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Marlins Abusing Revenue Sharing?

a Marlins gameAn interesting little story came out yesterday about Major League Baseball and the Florida Marlins agreeing that the team has to spend their revenue sharing money on personnel. You can check it out here. Basically, the agreement ensures that the Marlins use money they gain through revenue sharing for the next three years either on player salaries or player development, instead of using it on other debts, or straight-up pocketing it.

This is an agreement that looks good on paper. The idea of revenue sharing is to promote competitive balance. So, if a team like the Marlins gets money to help it be more competitive, it better spend that money on being more competitive. However, Florida always has a laughably low payroll.

There is a catch though: the Marlins have been competitive.

Last year, Florida went 87-75, good enough for second place in the NL East. They finished behind the Philadelphia Phillies, who happen to be the back-to-back National League Champions. The Marlins did this with a $37 million payroll. The teams behind them in the NL East were the Braves ($97 million payroll), Mets ($149 million payroll), and Nationals ($60 million payroll).

The Marlins are not a one-year wonder, either. They have finished with a winning record in five of the last seven seasons, highlighted by a World Championship back in 2003.

Do the Florida Marlins really look like a team that is not trying to win?

The Marlins look to me like a franchise that knows how to spend remarkably wisely. They also have an eye towards the future. The Marlins will move into a new ballpark in 2012, and have already begun taking steps to re-brand themselves with the big switch. The new ballpark should bring increased revenue, which would allow for increased payroll. In the meantime, it makes sense to eliminate/avoid debt and in the process put as good of a product on the field as possible.

Yet, for some reason, baseball thinks the Marlins are not trying to be competitive. Never mind that the Pittsburgh Pirates just wrapped up their 17th consecutive losing season with a payroll under $50 million. Never mind that the San Diego Padres cut their payroll almost in half last season, and also had 12 fewer wins than the Marlins. Baseball does not have agreements with either of those teams, or anyone else for that matter. Apparently, it is the Marlins that baseball is worried about most.

Money is not everything in baseball. In 2008, the Rays made the world series with a $43 million payroll, while the Mariners lost over 100 games with a payroll in excess of $100 million. The Yankees have easily had the highest payroll for a decade running, yet only have one World Championship to show for it. The Marlins have clearly made a habit of outperforming teams with higher payrolls too.

I don't know which is more pathetic, that baseball does not hold teams accountable when they receive money through revenue sharing, or that baseball has singled out the Marlins as the team abusing the system. Florida is frugal, but the organization knows what it is doing. If anything, other teams should take lessons away from how they field a consistently competitive team with such a small operating budget.

This is one of those times where the beauty of baseball is awkwardly on display. It continues to be a compelling product on the field despite the "problems" its leadership identifies, and the problems they fail to see.