While new ballparks generally bring with them a high level of hope for a franchise and its fans, more often than not a team fails to deliver upon immediate expectations. Rarely can a new ballpark act as an immediate change of course for a franchise. The exceptions, examined last week, were Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians. More often than not new ballparks lead to a variable degree of success. Teams such as the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates following the opening of their new ballpark invested to keep or attract their stars to their respective cities. However, inefficient spending and a poorly developed farm system have limited success for both teams.
While not necessarily a failure, the Minnesota Twins have had mixed success since 2010 in their new home at Target Field. Without doubt, the projected revenue gained by the construction of Target Field allowed the Twins to sign their home grown star Joe Mauer to a 9 year, 184 million dollar extension. Two years prior Justin Morneau, the all-star, but oft injured first basemen and former MVP was re-signed for 6 years and 80 million dollars. The Mauer signing, which extended a perennial all-star and fan favorite, was originally viewed as a major milestone for the Twins regarding their ability to develop and maintain star players. In the past the Twins stadium situation forced Minnesota to deal ace Johan Santana. Much like the Marlins, a crippling lease in a multi sport facility limited the franchise’s ability to hold onto premium talent. While deemed necessary at the time, the Mauer and Morneau extensions now have seemed to cripple the franchise’s ability to develop its depth and extend its payroll. While this was not a factor in 2010 when the Twins won the AL Central, these contracts and subsequent injuries contributed to an American League low 63 wins in 2011. The Twins lacked payroll flexibility and depth within the minor leagues to manage in spite of these key injuries. Unlike Minnesota, the Marlins through extensions for Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson were able to maintain their ability to alter payroll going forward into the new ballpark. This provided Miami the capability to have a very successful off-season with the signings of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in addition to the trade for Carlos Zambrano. The Twins, despite their poor 2011 season, can still contend depending on the health of Mauer and Morneau. However, the team due to a lack of payroll flexibility was not able to keep pace with the emerging Detroit Tigers.
Pittsburgh opened PNC Park in 2001. Like Marlins Park is being received now, PNC Park was and still is viewed among the jewels of major league ballparks. While both teams have had owners who were willing to spend going into their new ballpark, Pittsburgh gave large contracts to overvalued players such as Derek Bell and Jason Kendall which basically crippled the franchises finances and flexibility. As such, following the 2001 season, Pittsburgh ownership directed several cost cutting measures over the next few seasons. Pittsburgh is a prime example in how a new ballpark can lead to inefficient spending and can cripple the franchise for years to come. The Pirates have not had a winning record since 1992.
Clearly, while new ballparks have allowed franchises to maintain their stars or seek impact players on the free agent market,teams have had a variable degree of success. To maximize the impact of a new ballpark, teams must have a high degree of young talent in combination with the ability to spend smartly. With this in mind, the Miami Marlins should be able to follow the path of a Cleveland or a Philadelphia instead of the course followed by Minnesota and Pittsburgh.