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Leyland and Burnett are "heartbroken" over the firesale


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DALLAS - Two men who own Florida Marlins World Series rings appeared at separate news conferences in the same room at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel on Tuesday.


Jim Leyland earned his chunk of gold as manager of the 1997 Marlins.


A.J. Burnett picked up his impressive piece of jewelry for being part of the 2003 Marlins.


Neither man is employed by the Marlins anymore.


Leyland was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers in October.


Burnett was hired on Tuesday as a starting pitcher by the Toronto Blue Jays. The price was steep - $55 million over five seasons.


On a day when Leyland and Burnett stopped by the winter meetings to talk about new challenges, both were asked for their opinions on what is going on with the Marlins.


"It breaks your heart," said Leyland, wearing his 1997 World Series ring. "It's sad."


"I'm glad I'm not down there anymore," said Burnett, wearing a crisp, new Blue Jays jersey, number 34. "I feel for the players."


The Marlins franchise has only been around since 1993, yet in that time it has won two World Series, or one more than the Phillies have won in 123 years. Both of those Marlins teams were broken up for financial reasons, not long after the champagne corks popped.


Former owner Wayne Huizenga began selling off the talented pieces from the 1997 club less than a month after that team beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.


Current owner Jeffrey Loria ordered doorstop-sized rings for his 2003 championship team and tried to win again in 2004 and 2005.


But now, Loria finds himself in the same position Huizenga once did - losing money, selling off parts, ticking off fans.


Six key members of the 2005 Marlins - Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, Luis Castillo and Paul LoDuca - have been traded this off-season. Centerfielder Juan Pierre will go any day. Todd Jones, who had a brilliant season as the team's closer in 2005, will not be re-signed.


The Marlins' payroll last season was more than $60 million. It could be less than $30 million in 2006.


Loria says he is losing money and has no choice but to bring down the payroll. The Marlins had the lowest average attendance (22,872) in the National League in 2005. The team, which plays in cavernous Dolphins Stadium, is in need of a baseball-only ballpark that would enhance revenues. The team is willing to contribute $200 million. Local and state government has balked at coming through with the rest.


Hence the talk of the Marlins moving out of South Florida.


Hence the current fire sale.


The post-1997 salary dump reduced the Marlins from a 92-win, World Series-winning team to a 54-108 abomination in 1998.


New manager Joe Girardi could be in for a similar season in 2006 - not that Phillies, Mets, Braves or Nationals fans should feel bad for him.


"It's tough to handle," Leyland said. "They're not far off winning the World Series.


"It's too bad. They won two World Series in seven years. It's really none of my business, but I will say this: South Florida has no excuse. They've been to two World Series. [Fans] have no beef, in my opinion. It's not like they haven't seen good teams."


Though Burnett was not sold off in recent weeks, he still, in a way, was a victim of the Marlins' financially driven change in approach. The team was in no position to re-sign him, even if it wanted to.


Burnett's free agency arrived a little earlier than he planned when he was sent home during the final days of the season for criticizing team management.


Despite a 49-50 career record, Burnett, who features a 96-m.p.h. fastball, quickly zoomed to the top of a weak market for pitchers. Right out of the chute, the Blue Jays, who had money to spend, made him their top target, clinging to the belief that he hadn't yet hit his prime.


The Blue Jays beat out the Cardinals for Burnett's services. Earlier this off-season, the Jays got closer B.J. Ryan with a five-year deal.


Those are lengthy commitments for pitchers, but general manager J.P. Ricciardi believes that both Ryan, who will turn 30 this month, and Burnett, who will turn 29 next month, are young enough to warrant such deals.


"I don't think we would have done it for someone in his mid-30s," said Ricciardi, who spent $102 million on the two pitchers.


These are the prices you have to pay to keep up with the Yankees and the Red Sox in the American League East.


Over in the National League East, the Marlins aren't able to pay prices like that. Or they don't want to. That's why they hold fire sales every few years.


But at least they do some winning in between. The World Series rings on the fingers of Leyland and Burnett are proof of that.



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