IN MY OPINION

Linda Robertson: Miami Marlins’ instability begins with Jeffrey Loria

 
 
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria stands on the field after the Marlins defeated the Atlanta Braves 5-2 during a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Miami.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria stands on the field after the Marlins defeated the Atlanta Braves 5-2 during a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Miami.
Lynne Sladky / AP

lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

Seeing as Jeffrey Loria is calling all the shots anyway, the simplest move by the Miami Marlins would be to have Loria appoint himself president, chief of operations and general manager and apply the salary savings to a roster upgrade.

Two niggling problems with that scenario: Loria is an art dealer who has spent his career evaluating paintings and sculpture, not baseball players. And, given the distaste for Loria around town, home attendance would fall to the point where peanut vendors outnumber fans.

But Loria is the owner of the franchise and has the right to do whatever he chooses, which he has exercised throughout a miserable Marlins season.

One could argue that Loria’s meddling on personnel decisions hasn’t had much effect on a team that was doomed to hit the 100-loss mark.

Yet his constant interference is causing instability — again — for a ballclub that desperately needs to follow a blueprint.

Loria’s impulsiveness is indisputable. He has gone through seven managers since he bought the team in 2002, and Mike Redmond was the fourth different Opening Day manager in four years in April, which seems like eons ago for the Marlins, who will miss the playoffs for the 10th season in a row.

The spending sprees and fire sales have given the Marlins a bipolar personality. The clumsy gamesmanship and disdain for the citizenry in the building of new Marlins Park created ill will that backfired. Loria insisted on hiring certain free agents for the reinvented 2012 Marlins. Then he took a sledgehammer to his underperforming roster twice in four months.

Passion is a positive thing. Loria loves baseball, loves to win, loves to be involved. But he goes about it in the wrong way by micromanaging and second-guessing his employees.

Proof that the Marlins have no plan is in their regression: For the fourth season in a row they will lose more games than they did the previous season. If you’re thinking turnaround, the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer reported that the 24 teams which lost 100-plus games from 1993 through 2012 averaged 95 losses the following season, and five actually lost more games.

Change is due in the Marlins’ front office. Larry Beinfest, vice president of baseball operations and main architect of the Marlins since 2002, is on the hook again and this time he’s fed up and wants to leave.

Beinfest has done a lot with a little under the miserly Loria, manipulating payrolls that have been lowest in baseball. Overall, his record is mixed. He solidified the 2003 championship team, but he also traded Miguel Cabrera. He has been hesitant to embrace sabermetrics, but in last fall’s payroll dump, he got the best of the trades. His drafts have been shaky, but Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich and Colin Moran give the Marlins a bright future.

The most glaring indictment of Beinfest’s tenure is nearly 300 miles north in Tampa, where the formerly hopeless Rays — also limited by a frugal budget and poor attendance – do manage to stick to a development philosophy and find success.

“There’s a sense that Larry is burned out,” said a source with inside knowledge of the Marlins. “That’s natural considering he’s been with the same team for 13 years. Given the fact that the team has had three last-place seasons with him at the top of baseball operations, perhaps he not only bears some responsibility but he would want to use rumors about Jeffrey in the media in a way that would allow him to be relieved of his duties.”

When that source also uses the description “checked out” for Beinfest’s on-the-job mentality it sounds like dissension in the front office is irreparable. Beinfest and GM Michael Hill have two years left on their contracts. The fate of president David Samson is less clear because he has long been Loria’s right-hand man.

If Loria promotes assistant GM Dan Jennings the Marlins may have a puppet at the helm. But at least Loria would trust Jennings.

Beinfest’s parting gift is a bushel of promise. The feisty Fernandez will be Rookie of the Year and star of a strong pitching staff. Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison should recover from disappointing seasons. Adeiny Hechavarria is a fielding magician (replay his acrobatics from Wednesday). The outfield looks solid.

But the Marlins are one of the worst offensive teams in history, and will finish with even fewer runs than the 1993 expansion Marlins. Loria has to pay if he wants hitters who can transform this anemic team.

One detail Loria cannot control is the rust accumulating on the wacky centerfield home run sculpture. But he can choose a leader to get this franchise back on track, and show enough intelligence and restraint not to derail it.

Read more Linda Robertson stories from the Miami Herald

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