Who’s running my team: Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins new owners (left) Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter hug after speaking to reporters for the first time since completing their purchase of the team from Jeffrey Loria on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. (Taimy Alvarez/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Miami Marlins new owners (left) Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter hug after speaking to reporters for the first time since completing their purchase of the team from Jeffrey Loria on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. (Taimy Alvarez/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) /

One of a series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team. Let’s take a closer look at the Miami Marlins.

Miami Marlins

  • Owner: Bruce Sherman
  • President: Derek Jeter
  • President of Baseball Operations: Michael Hill

If baseball was played on a Monopoly board, the Miami Marlins would own Mediterranean Avenue.

At $1 billion, the Marlins rank 30th out of 30 in Forbes’ estimate of team valuations. They also rank at the bottom of virtually every sub-revenue source. Their situation is illustrated graphically by comparing their numbers with those of the average of the other 29 MLB teams. All figures are in millions of dollars.

More from Miami Marlins

                                             Marlins    MLB avg.

Market revenue                $179       $698

Stadium revenue             $   91       $327

Brand revenue                 $   54       $227

In only one revenue source do the Marlins rank other than last. They receive $676 million in revenue sharing from the MLB Central office, $44 million more than any other team and an amount representing two-thirds of their total value.

In the baseball world, the Miami Marlins are a charity case.

Sherman and Jeter knew all of this, of course, when they purchased the franchise from Jeffrey Loria in October of 2017. Sherman is founder of a capital management fund with no previous baseball background while Jeter’s baseball background is too lengthy and obvious to require listing.

While Sherman is the money behind the organization, Jeter—who actually owns only a four percent stake in the team – is the baseball mind, functioning as the chief executive officer.

How Hill fits into this is a fascinating, and somewhat muddy, question. Signing on as an assistant GM in 2003, he rose through the ranks under Loria to be named vice president and general manager following the 2007 season. He was named president of baseball operations in 2013, briefly ceding those duties to Dan Jennings and then resuming them when Jennings took over as field manager in the middle of the 2015 season.

The five-year, $10 million contract Hill is reported to have signed prior to the Sherman-Jeter purchase expires this season. Given the natural tendency of new owners to want their own front office leadership, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether Hill’s days are numbered.

With or without Hill, the team’s revenue problems cited earlier aren’t going anywhere. The $224 million in revenue received during 2019 ranks ahead only of Kansas City, and while it is 69 percent higher than the $144 million the team made a decade ago, that merely illustrates the problem with relying on percentage math.

In real dollars, only the White Sox, Mets, Rays and Athletics saw a smaller revenue increase across the decade…and the Sox and Mets both began with substantially higher revenue bases.

Over the same period, the Marlins’ on-field salary commitment rose by 83 percent. Again, over-reliance on rate-based data can be misleading; the actual rise was only from $47 million to $86 million. Still, the impact of that increase on profitability cannot be overlooked. In 2019, as they have over five of the past seven seasons the Marlins lost money, last season’s loss amounting to $22 million.

In fact, the team has unfailingly operated at a deficit since Sherman and Jeter took over.

One obvious reason is the lack of community interest in the team. In both 2018 and 2019, the Marlins were the only MLB franchise to draw fewer than 1 million fans.

On a per-game basis, the Marlins’ 10,016 average attendance last season is not only baseball’s worst, but it is also the worst among any of the four major North American team sports, 2,000 fewer fans than haunted each Ottawa Senators NHL home game.

Not that the club is driving people away by its pricing policies; those Miami Marlins fans who do go to the games produce an average of just $12 in revenue per visit to the team. That’s half as much as any other team.

Miami’s 6.2 million metropolitan area population, giving the Marlins baseball’s 10th largest potential fan base, stands in defiance of those attendance numbers. The explanation is probably partly cultural and partly performance-related.

The performance aspect – fans follow a winner – is only partly illustratable by looking at the records of Miami entries in other team sports. The NFL Dolphins, 5-11, ranked 22nd among 30 NFL teams in home attendance this past season. The NBA’s Heat, with a 31-13 record to date, ranks fourth among the Association’s 30 clubs.

But the NHL’s Panthers stand just 29th in per-game attendance among that league’s 32 teams despite having a 28-16 record. That raises the cultural aspect: Hockey probably isn’t a big deal in Miami.

The problem is that baseball, with its large Cuban immigrant population, ought to be hugely popular in Miami. With powerful development programs throughout Latin America and especially in Cuba, the city is a latent hotbed of interest. And that gets any analysis back to the performance component.

Hill’s work as GM/president appears to have only exacerbated the chronic problems. Across nine seasons covering two terms in that office, his cumulative personnel moves – based on Wins Above Average* — have created -62.6 games of impact on Miami’s talent base. That’s an average of nearly a 7.0 game decline per season. In only one of those nine seasons has Hill measurably improved the talent base.

Certainly, the financial realities governing maintenance of a team in Miami play a role, How else does one explain the trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna? The problem is that the Miami Marlins have also failed to effectively explore alternatives, such as growing their own talent. Since Hill’s arrival, the Marlins’ system has produced 15.3 games of talent for the franchise based on WAA, the quartet of Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna and Alex Fernandez having generated 32.1 games of that 15.3.

To put it another way, aside from those four the contribution of every player brought to the team under Hill’s direction amounts to -16.8 games.

Related Story. Miami Marlins add switch-pitcher Pat Venditte. light

*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of all player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.