Jeffrey Loria Hasty, Impatient, Competitive and Perhaps Incompetent

Is Jeffrey Loria the devil? Or evil mastermind? Or just smarter than we all think?
Is Jeffrey Loria the devil? Or evil mastermind? Or just smarter than we all think?

The Marlins have been swept by the Braves in their opening series for the 2013 season. The Marlins offense scored a total of 2 runs in the series while the Braves dropped 6 in the top of the 6th alone yesterday in their series ending win.

The fans showed up for pretty much one game, then didn’t come back for the rest of the series. The 62,000 tally for a three game series is the smallest at Marlins Park in its brief history (previous low was 65,000 for a series in August against the Phillies).

There is a lot of anger and frustration over the decisions of the Marlins recently, and all fingers point back to team owner Jeffrey Loria. The protests have been squashed on opening day, but the fans involved have gotten their message out via Twitter. In fact, Twitter has become a valuable medium for fans venting their anger with many a “fire” Loria satire account, often filled with “trolling” comments. There even was a Marlins beat writer who had another frustrated fan’s account suspended on Twitter – which is odd because it seems that even some of the beat writers are getting overly sensitive about this issue. The beat writers, too, are tired of answering questions about Loria, his intentions, the attendance of games. Tired of dealing with fans’ attacks on the current roster and its performance. All of the negativity is starting to get to people.

One thing people have to keep in mind is who Loria is. Yes, he messed up this franchise quite a bit. Some argue it is irreparable. It is unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the legacy of this franchise has been tarnished yet again. The Florida Marlins were mired by the Wayne Huizenga decision to scrap the roster after the 1997 championship season. Here was a great franchise with an excellent roster and front office, poised to make runs into the future and poof! It was gone. 1998 was a dismal season as the team was rebuilt but germinating on that roster was the future makeup of a new champion, the 2003 version.

That was Loria’s first year. He came in, took a chance on an aging Pudge Rodriguez who was basically out of options and signed a 1 year, $10M deal with the Marlins. It led to his resurrection and a championship. Loria and the Marlins offered a fair deal to Rodriguez, but because he was a Scott Boras client, he was advised to take a $10M a year deal with the Tigers instead of the fair market price of only $7M which the Marlins made. The next two years, the Marlins were basically the same roster and Loria tried to keep that team together, but attendance and ticket sales did not prop up the roster enough he claimed.

The run was scrapped for the 2006 season but that team outperformed expectations as the Joe Girardi-led youth movement finished near .500. Girardi was run out of town by Loria, and got the last laugh by walking towards the Yankees with manager of the year hardware. Fredi Gonzalez came in, and even though he was more amicable towards Loria’s hands-on style, he too was eventually run out.

Then came some interim years and finally the arrival of Ozzie Guillen, who was disastrous in his return to the Marlins (previously he coached under the Expos with Loria and came over in 2003 for the championship run). Now, a new coach has been handpicked, former champion from the 2003 team, Mike Redmond.

If anything, the string of managers under Loria demonstrates that he is not an evil man simply trying to ruin a franchise. He is hasty (Girardi), Impatient (Gonzalez, Guillen), and most certainly a competitive man. In many ways, like the rest of us, he is spoiled by the sudden success of winning a World Series. For many Marlin fans, there is no perspective on what it takes to build and win a World Series – and how could there be? There is not a long history of professional baseball here in Miami as the franchise only dates back to 1993. In just four years, we won a title only to have the team scrapped. Then GM Dave Dombrowski did his best to reload the Marlins and make them a winner, which happened with the 2003 team. That is just 6 years to go from basement to top of the world – and beat a team in the Yankees that was steeped in experience and money. They were a miracle for a reason.

Fans have lost their perspective on this. They believe the hype that the media has been foisting on them for years. When Loria first got here, Dan Le Batard likened the signing of Pudge Rodriguez to putting “breast implants on a corpse”. I heavily criticized him for this macabre depiction and called him out on it. He ate crow at the end of the season. Mike Berardino, who was the beat writer for the Marlins, was so biased against Loria that practically all of his writings became unreadable as he continued to dump on the Marlins. He was re-assigned shortly after the 2003 season when it became apparent his eye was no longer objective.

Loria came in with a bad rap. He was found innocent of any business wrong doing for his actions in Montreal. If you look carefully, every franchise he has touched has increased in value. He started with the OKC 89ers back in 1989, leading a group of investors and purchasing it for $4.2M. He sold the franchise for $8M in 1993. Loria then turned his eyes towards MLB but failed in bids for Texas, Baltimore, and even Kansas City. In 1999 he realized his dream in an opportunity with the Expos, finally getting a stake in an MLB franchise.  He bought 24% of the franchise for a modest investment of $12M which then turned into a 94% hold for only $18M in investment. Then came the three way deal between the Expos, the Red Sox, and the Marlins.

Purchasing the Marlins for $158.5M (with a $38.5M interest free loan from MLB plus the $120M MLB bought the Expos for) back in 2002, he has seen his franchise value increase to an estimated $520M.

Say what you will about Loria, but he runs a tight fiscal ship. He will do whatever it takes to make financial sense within his market. The market, customers, fans or supporters, may not agree with the moves, but if his team loses money it is not for long. It was revealed that although he was stuck with a bad lease at Sun Life, he was able to squirrel away a pretty profit through subsidies. In 2008, he netted a profit of $29M.

Name an owner who has been able to win a World Series, deliver on a new stadium in Miami, and have the highest payroll in franchise history? Not Wayne Huizenga – who had deep pockets. Not John Henry, who although was well-intentioned, kept claiming poverty only to turn around and purchase the Red Sox for a then all-time high price tag. Nope, it is the toad-like Jeffrey Loria, the guy who was getting dumped on all along by the media before he really even set foot down here.

As the saying goes, it takes money to spend money. If anything, Loria has been able to increase the value of his franchises where ever he has gone. The Marlins franchise has increased in value and that has to be a positive thing for fans who claim they want (or need) an owner with deep pockets. Despite a history of bad attendance figures, the Marlins have been able to operate and survive in an unkind market, increase value, and be competitive at some level. Something they are doing must be right.

Loria is definitely not without his faults. He is egotistical to a fault. Instead of coming out and admitting fault, or at least admitting he was hasty, he tried to sell another “the future is bright” roster. You can’t sell sunshine in a place loaded with it. People won’t buy something they get for free. So we fans are supposed to take him on his word and be patient – but his credibility is ravaged. Which means fans get angry and frustrated and cry foul and point back to the “evidence” they were handed by the media back when Loria first arrived.

Does Loria even want to win, or just nurse along his franchise’s value? It is clear he intends to maximize profit. No one in the position of being a multi-millionaire or billionaire gets there by being nice. They get their by seeking value and trading in on it. They get their through capitalization. The fan up in the cheap seats doesn’t get it because they simply don’t think that way. If they did, they wouldn’t be settling for cheap seats after all. So yes, Loria is competitive in wanting to make money, but what about winning?

Loria is a former high school baseball player who is in love with the game. it is a life-long passion for him and that is evidenced through several anecdotes. Former players of his note his competitive fire – almost to a fault. He becomes impassioned with winning and wanting to win immediately – so much so it leads to hasty decisions that he really, shouldn’t be involved in. The Carlos Lee for Matt Dominguez deal last year, Larry Beinfest admitted, was an attempt to get the team’s offense right. It was a gamble, and it didn’t pay off. And instead of having a 3B of the future taking over, which this team could definitely use, they have a gaping void which is being filled by Placido Polanco – for now. There are no immediate prospects for 3B moving forward other than marginal prospect Zack Cox.

Supposedly, even the signing of Heath Bell was a move that was strongly encouraged by Loria. That backfired. John Buck currently has more home runs and about as many RBIs as the 2013 Marlins’ roster has. Maybe Loria could have pared down the payroll a bit, kept a few players from last season to build around for the upcoming season, but his temper and hastiness set in.

Think about this for a moment. For a guy who supposedly just wants to make money, why would he doom the revenue of his entire franchise for basically the next year or so? It seems he was fed up with something – perhaps it was simply the paychecks. Or maybe it was not getting value in return for his money? Or maybe, a bit more extreme, it was not only that there was not fair value, but that there was little hope of competing and the time was nigh to make a move to save the Marlins from a future of bloated contracts and mediocrity?

Loria may not be the owner you want or even like. But he has been able to increase the value of the franchise, get a stadium, and is willing to spend money to win – but the team has to perform in order to win. Is this a sustainable approach? Yes, it seems that the Marlins will remain financially viable and will function given the constraints of the market. If that means they have to blow up the roster and go young and unproven they will – and try to compete with that approach. If there are some target assets out there that have a chance to push competitiveness on the field, Loria will do that, too. See Pudge Rodriguez.

What should have happened is the Marlins should have only signed a guy like Reyes to the roster in last year’s offseason. Made a modest splash and improve the team on the field gradually. See if they could win then look for options to fill in holes that were needed. Instead, we have to face the horror of a hasty decision being blown up in our faces. We will have to endure the jokes about attendance again. Loria may not be the owner you want, but as hard as it sounds, he is the owner the city needs right now. Regardless, we are stuck with it.