MIAMI - The Florida Marlins will look into relocation as early as the 2008 season, after years of unsuccessful attempts to secure a baseball-only stadium in downtown Miami.
Marlins president David Samson said Tuesday the team has received permission from the commissioner's office to investigate its options in other cities. Samson added owner Jeffrey Loria's primary intention is to keep the team in South Florida, but added that no deal will be struck for a ballpark in Miami.
Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., which both failed to land the Montreal Expos before that franchise moved to Washington a year ago, are likely to try to lure the Marlins. Samson said another possibility is building on land near Dolphins Stadium and owned by the franchise's original owner, H. Wayne Huizenga.
"No longer can baseball in South Florida be assured," Loria said in a statement read by Samson. "It is now clear to us that there will be no baseball stadium in the city of Miami. So we must begin to explore other options. Therefore, we will expand our search beyond the city of Miami."
Loria was in Europe and unavailable for further comment.
The Marlins' lease with Dolphins Stadium - owned by Huizenga - is in effect until 2007. The team has a series of one-year options that could keep it there through the 2010 season. Samson said the team will not extend its current lease at Dolphins Stadium under any circumstances.
"We simply must play in a baseball-only facility," Samson said.
Samson wouldn't get into specifics of any trades, but said there would be an immediate "significant market correction" to the team's payroll, which was $60 million at the start of last season.
He said several trades are being considered, but cautioned against calling the moves a "fire sale" like the one that occurred following Florida's 1997 World Series championship. The Marlins won only 54 games the next season.
"That's not what this is," Samson said. "This is a deliberate effort by the Marlins to correct what ails them. And what ails us is the amount of money lost."
Samson said some cities have called the Marlins to discuss possibilities, including Portland, Ore., which moved quickly after Tuesday's announcement.
"We made an introductory phone call," said Drew Mahalic, chief executive of the Oregon Sports Authority. "Hopefully this opens a dialogue with Portland and the state of Oregon as far as the advantages of relocating a team here."
The team has lobbied for its own stadium since Huizenga sold the team to John Henry in 1999. The team's latest ballpark plan, 38,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof that would be built next to Miami's Orange Bowl, came apart this spring.
Gov. Jeb Bush and other top state lawmakers expressed hope the team remains in South Florida. "I'm more than happy to work with the ownership of the team and the Florida Legislature to come up with a solution," Bush said.
The ballpark had an estimated cost of $420 million to $435 million, and the financing plan included $60 million in state funding. While money was approved in April by the Florida House, the state Senate refused to go along.
Then, South Florida government officials and the team didn't meet a June 9 deadline established by Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, for a detailed update on the funding plans.
"There's no more fake deadlines or real deadlines," Samson said. "This is about the Marlins trying to save its franchise. We need a place to play after 2010, and we don't have one."
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said he will continue to support the team's stadium hopes. However, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said he "would love nothing more than to get this deal done, but I'm not going to put the taxpayers of the city of Miami at risk."
Meanwhile, the Marlins appeared to have begun paring payroll. The Red Sox and Marlins reached a preliminary agreement Monday night on a trade that would send pitcher Josh Beckett - the MVP of Florida's 2003 World Series championship - and third baseman Mike Lowell to Boston for three prospects. The trade wasn't finalized because physicals were pending, according to a baseball official who requested anonymity.
The 25-year-old Beckett, eligible for salary arbitration, is expected to earn between $4 million and $5 million next year and can become a free agent after the 2007 season. Lowell, 31, is owed $9 million each of the next two seasons.
Samson did not specify how much the Marlins planned to slice from payroll for 2006, other than saying that it would match the team's revenue. The Marlins have said they've lost $20 million annually in recent years.
"The fiscal insanity that Jeffrey was willing to be a part of for all these years is over," Samson said. "We've been asked time and time again, when does it end? And today is that day."