In his first interview since the team’s controversial trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in November, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said Monday night his team is not for sale and the breakup of the 69-win, last-place 2012 squad was necessary for the franchise to move forward.
“We didn’t break up the 1927 Yankees,” Loria said to a small group of writers invited to speak with him by his new public relations firm inside the high-end Diamond Club at Marlins Park.
“We broke up a losing ballclub that was going nowhere for two straight years. I’m about winning. I like to win. I love winning. I love Miami. I love this ballclub, and I love what we’ve done now. Little painful for a lot of people. But no pain no gain.”
Loria, who bought ad space for an 800-word letter directed to fans in Sunday’s editions of The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post, explained the reason he has kept quiet until now is because he wanted to “decompress” and get out of the way of “a runaway train” of negativity.
“I have a sense of [the public anger],” Loria said. I’m sorry we built this amazing ballpark and fans are feeling the way they do. But we did this for a reason. We weren’t going anywhere ... we had to do something swiftly, quickly and bold.”
Loria said he was approached by maybe 20 to 30 people on Saturday night at the South Florida food and wine festival. He said all of them congratulated him and some asked to take pictures.
“I haven’t seen anything,” Loria said referring to displays of negativity in his presence. “I got a few silly phone calls. But that was in November, and it stopped. ... I’m hoping we can call a halt to it all and try to get behind the home team here.”
Loria reiterated how the Marlins “raided the Blue Jays’” farm system and now have six of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Loria said former franchise player Hanley Ramirez, traded to the Dodgers last July, called the Marlins this offseason to rave about new shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
“When Hanley Ramirez calls you and tells you [Hechavarria’s] a better shortstop than [he is] you’ve got a great guy on your hands,” Loria said.
As far as whom the Marlins traded, the only player that seemed to sting Loria was the loss of Jose Reyes, who a week ago said Loria had encouraged him to buy a home just before the trade to Toronto. Loria called that claim “inaccurate” but later added that he still “loves Jose.”
A year ago the Marlins payroll was between $95 million to $100 million according to Loria. He said the club lost “tens of millions” and the team had to “push the restart button.” President David Samson said the Marlins expected “worst case” to draw more than two million fans last season, but drew just 1.3 million.
After selling 12,000 season tickets last year, Samson said, the club is hovering below 5,000 with five weeks to go before the home opener. Asked if the Marlins would sell out Opening Day, Samson said: “I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Loria said all spending moving forward will be based on a function of revenue. Asked if the Marlins might spend $100 million on payroll again, Loria said. “No. We’ll never get to $100 million. We don’t have the TV contract yet to do that. We will one day.”
The Marlins’ TV contract runs through the 2020 season.
Will Giancarlo Stanton still be in a Marlins uniform by then? Loria was only committal for the 2013 season. He said he understands why Stanton was upset with the 12-player trade with the Blue Jays at first. But that’s behind them now. Loria said he and his wife had dinner with Stanton at the Eiffel Tower during the offseason.
“I would love to see him be the young centerpiece on this ballclub. He’d be the young giant on the ballclub,” Loria said. “But you can’t make promises in this game because strange things happen all the time.”
Pushed on Stanton again, Loria said: "I don’t think this is the year to go to Giancarlo with an offer. We have to let him play it out, let him feel comfortable."