Shortstop Jose Reyes, second from right, is introduced as a member of the… (U.S. Presswire )
Reporting from Dallas — Seated at a table in a corner of the media workroom at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen was informed his team had reached an agreement with free-agent pitcher Mark Buehrle on a four-year, $58-million contract.
"Now, how about three more?" Guillen said.
Three more, as in three more players. The few dozen reporters around him laughed.
Long known for a form frugality that made Frank McCourt's Dodgers look like free spenders, the Marlins turned the baseball world upside down at the winter meetings this week by committing almost $200 million to three players — Buehrle, National League batting champion Jose Reyes and All-Star closer Heath Bell.
And the Marlins apparently weren't finished. "They told me they would look for another person," Guillen said.
Although various reports indicated they were no longer pursuing Albert Pujols, they still had an offer out to pitcher C.J. Wilson.
This revamping of a last-place roster is part of a complete image overhaul by the Marlins, who will move into a new stadium in April. They changed their name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. They changed their uniforms. They hired the bombastic Guillen, who won a World Series title with the Chicago White Sox.
Only five years ago, the Marlins' entire payroll was $15 million and they were reprimanded by the league in 2010 for not spending enough money on players.
How can they suddenly afford hundreds of millions of dollars in player acquisitions?
"What we are assuming is that this ballpark will sell out," Marlins President David Samson said of his team's new 37,000-seat home.
Samson continued, "Instead of waiting for it to sell out and then signing players, the decision was made to improve the team and win on a consistent basis and show the fans that not only do we have a new ballpark, but we've got a team that we expect to be competitive and make the playoffs."
The Marlins haven't had much fan support since their inaugural season in 1993. Playing in a football stadium they shared with the Miami Dolphins, the Marlins drew an average of 19,007 fans per home game last season. The figure was the third-lowest in baseball, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics.
There is a safeguard of sorts in that the Marlins refuse to include no-trade clauses in their recent player contracts. The Marlins' stance was an obstacle in their abandoned attempt to sign Pujols, according to reports. But if the revenue isn't what they expect, they can rid themselves of at least a portion of their payroll.
The last time the Marlins went on a spending spree was after the 1996 season, when they picked up Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla and Alex Fernandez. The Marlins won the first of their World Series titles the next season.
But locked into an unfavorable lease and unable to get a new stadium built, the Marlins said they were losing money and dismantled the team by trading numerous players.
More troubling is that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether federal securities laws were violated in securing public funding for the $634-million retractable-roof stadium. The project has been the source of controversy in Miami because three-quarters of the costs are being covered by taxpayers.
The SEC has requested financial information from the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, as well as communications with Marlins and Major League Baseball officials.
"We will work with the SEC in every way possible," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said.
The commissioner's office declined to comment.
There are also issues that could affect the Marlins on the field.
After Reyes' signing, there were several reports about how the talented but temperamental Hanley Ramirez didn't want to move from shortstop to third base to accommodate his new teammate.
The reports cited anonymous sources and some went so far as to say Ramirez had requested a trade. Marlins management denied that was the case.
Guillen defended Ramirez, saying it would be only natural to be disappointed about a position change. The manager said he would speak to the former All-Star on Thursday.
"The worst thing that could happen to me this year is that he doesn't play for me," Guillen said. "Hanley is the heart of this team."
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.