Marlins' core may not stay intact

Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has promised that he won't dump payroll like his predecessor, Wayne Huizenga, did after his team won the World Series in 1997.

But don't expect Loria to keep this year's champs completely intact, either.

Loria isn't ready to spend the approximate $80 million cost of doing so, thanks to fact that the Marlins drew only 16,000 fans per game during the regular season, and their postseason run was minimized financially by their unfavorable lease to the point that team officials still claim more than $20 million in losses for the 2003 season.

In addition, a new stadium proposal figures to limit the Marlins' payroll over the next couple of years. The Marlins have offered $137 million toward a $325 million, 38,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof that could be ready in 2007. Miami-Dade County has offered $73 million and over the next couple weeks team officials hope that the city of Miami and the state will agree to cover the $115 million gap in funding.

"The team contribution for the stadium is so large that it does impact our decision about upcoming payroll," said team president David Samson, who noted that a 2004 payroll budget has not yet been set.

In order to keep the top talent, payroll could rise to more than $80 million, up from this year's cost of $54 million. There are nine free agents, including Ivan Rodriguez, Luis Castillo and Ugueth Urbina, as well as 15 arbitration-eligible players, including pitchers Brad Penny and A.J. Burnett.

"After the 1997 season, the payroll went from $57 million to $16 million," Samson said. "We've already said that that's not going to happen with us. But there will be some changes and we have to make good decisions like we did before this season."

Samson would not comment on the team's talks with any of its free agents.

Critics have said that$325 million for a stadium seems low, given that a deal being structured with former Marlins owner and current Red Sox owner John Henry was estimated at $385 million, coupled with the fact that Safeco Field, built with a retractable roof, cost $517 million, more than $100 million over projections.

"We're responsible for the overruns and right now we think we can get a building with all the revenue producers for that price that will be great for our fans," Samson said.

Keeping the entire team intact might not be for the best. Last year's World Series champion Angels raised their payroll from $62 million last season to $79 million this season. The Angels lost 85 games.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.