As poorly as things have gone for the Marlins on the field, a behind-the-scenes rift between team owner Jeffrey Loria and a few of his top front office executives is creating added tension in the waning days of a dismal season.
Sources said Loria is now making most — if not all — of the baseball decisions, which is fueling speculation that president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest and team president David Samson could be ousted after the season.
“He has marginalized the front office,” said a major-league source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “The front office isn’t making decisions. Loria makes them all.”
Beinfest, who has served under Loria for 13 years and is under contract through the 2015 season, was rumored to be on the hot seat last season, too, but ended up keeping his job.
Efforts to reach Loria were unsuccessful, and a Marlins spokesman issued this statement: “For over a decade, the Marlins have maintained an official policy of not commenting on personnel during the season.”
Beinfest declined comment, and Samson could not be reached for comment.
Another source with knowledge of the situation, however, said: “Samson’s job is not in jeopardy.”
Multiple sources, though, described an organization filled with internal strife because of Loria’s meddling and constant intrusions on even mundane roster decisions.
Some examples:• The Marlins front office wanted to demote struggling catcher Rob Brantly to the minors in May. But Loria balked, and Brantly remained with the Marlins until August when his prolonged slump could no longer be ignored, and he was finally demoted.
• When the front office wanted to call up utility infielder Chris Valaika last month, Loria put his foot down again, vetoing the promotion. Valaika was one of several players who claimed that hitting coach Tino Martinez — Loria’s hand-picked choice for the job — assaulted them verbally and, in one case, physically.
• Loria also sent last-minute orders to Minnesota in April to have rookie standout Jose Fernandez pitch the first game of a day-night doubleheader instead of Ricky Nolasco, who had been scheduled to go first. Loria didn’t want to expose Fernandez to the colder night temperatures.
“There’s not one move that happens that he doesn’t do,” the major-league source said. “That’s just how he operates the team. The team is run in this sort of backwards way.”
Multiple sources said that in making his decisions, Loria often heeds the advice and suggestions of others, everyone from player agents to assistant general manager Dan Jennings, without receiving any input from Beinfest and general manager Michael Hill. Jennings has long been one of Loria’s favorites, and there is rampant speculation he would take over in the front office in the event of a change in leadership.
Beinfest, Hill and Jennings are all under contract through 2015.
According to a FoxSports.com report, Beinfest recently confronted Loria to decide upon his job status, one way or the other. But Loria has not yet signaled his intentions.
ESPN baseball analyst Jim Bowden, a former general manager who served under George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott, among others, said he is not aware of any of the particulars with the Marlins.
But Bowden said that, in general, it’s the owner’s team and they “can and should do whatever they think is best for the organization, because they own it.”
“I think people tend to believe that an owner should hire a GM and not be involved, and that’s really old-school thinking,” Bowden said. “There are very few situations left in baseball where the GM has full autonomy in making the call. I’ve never had a situation my entire career where I got to make the call, ever.”
That said, Bowden added that “the most important thing is to be on the same page.”
But the major-league source said the central issue at the heart of the rift is that Loria has chosen to get advice from others while bypassing the brain trust at the top of the organizational ladder.
“The people who have his ear are not in charge,” the source said. “It’s the weirdest thing.”