By STEVEN WINE
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI — Amid the towering columns that will anchor the
Florida Marlins’ new ballpark stood the 6-foot-7 pillar of their
Josh Johnson had just signed a $39 million, four-year contract
cementing his status as the Marlins’ ace. Now he surveyed the
construction site, looking toward the spot that will be home
plate as workers scurried about and cranes swung blocks of
concrete into place.
“This is actually my first time to see it,” Johnson said
Thursday. “I always said, `I won’t believe it until I see it.”’
Believe it: The frugal Marlins will have their long-sought home
in 2012, and they’re starting to spend more money in
anticipation of the move.
The Marlins have even decided they can afford Dan Uggla. Team
president David Samson said the team won’t trade its slugging
second baseman, who agreed Monday to a $7.8 million, one-year
“We’re going at 2010 with the team we have now,” Samson said.
That means a payroll of about $45 million, an increase of more
than 20 percent from last year’s $36.8 million opening-day
figure, which was the lowest in the major leagues. It would be
Florida’s largest payroll since 2005.
Samson declined to make a commitment regarding payrolls in 2011
and 2012, saying they will depend in part on whether the Marlins
incur cost overruns for the ballpark project.
But Samson said it’s reasonable to envision the Marlins in the
middle of the major league pack in spending, which would have
put them around $80 million last year.
“We’re not a small-market team,” Samson said. “This is a large
market in Miami. We’re a low-revenue team.”
The Marlins expect revenue and attendance to improve at the new
ballpark, which is on schedule to be completed for opening day
The franchise recently reached an agreement with the players’
union to increase spending in the wake of complaints the payroll
has been so small as to violate revenue sharing provisions. But
Samson denied the decisions regarding Johnson and Uggla stemmed
from the agreement with the union.
“I did not go to bed a single night this offseason thinking Dan
Uggla was not going to be in our lineup,” Samson said. “We
wanted to do everything we could to build on last year as we’re
heading into the new ballpark and get momentum.”
Despite the tight budget, Florida went 87-75 in 2009 and
finished six games behind NL champion Philadelphia in the East.
Johnson was a big part of the Marlins’ success. He made the
All-Star team for the first time and went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA
in 209 innings. He’s 22-6 since returning in July 2008 from
elbow ligament replacement surgery.
His injury history makes the multiyear deal riskier for the
Marlins, but Johnson said his elbow is better than ever.
“It’s fixed, and there’s a lot less of a chance of anything
happening to it again,” he said.
Johnson wanted a four-year contract, which stalled negotiations
before last week’s agreement. Samson conceded he advised owner
Jeffrey Loria to turn Johnson down.
“I was not in favor of a fourth year from a risk standpoint,”
Samson said. “Jeffrey called me and said, `David, I appreciate
your advice, and I don’t accept it. Josh is going to be on this
team for well over a decade. We’d like him to go into the Hall
of Fame as a Marlin.”’
Samson turned to Johnson.
“Is that too much pressure?” Samson said. Johnson just smiled.
But it’s true higher spending means higher expectations, and not
just for Johnson.
Last year Loria was upset when the Marlins missed the playoffs,
raising speculation manager Fredi Gonzalez would be fired. He
wasn’t, but it’s clear the owner is counting on a big year in
While the new ballpark rises near downtown, the Marlins believe
they’re also building a winner.
“We have very high expectations going into this season,” Samson
said. “It is not unreasonable for our fans to believe that we
will make the playoffs.”