Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has reached an agreement in principle to sell the team to a group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and including former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, pending Major League Baseball approval and other details still to be worked out in the drawing-up and execution of a contract, an MLB source said Tuesday.
According to the source, Bush’s group has agreed to pay $1.3 billion for the team.
The source said the Marlins and the Bush group are very optimistic a deal will be finalized, but the process could take months to conclude.
Bush plans to be the Marlins’ “control person,” the individual who would have ultimate control over franchise decisions, according to the source.
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Jeter, the former All-Star player who lives in Tampa, plans to play an active role in the franchise.
Bush’s group includes at least five investors, and the identity of those investors and their connections to South Florida are unknown. All of Bush and Jeter’s partners would need to be vetted and approved by Major League Baseball.
It’s also unclear which of those investors has the most money invested in the bid, but a source reiterated that Bush will be the control person, similar to a managing partner.
Loria does not plan to retain a piece of the team that he has owned since 2002, the source said.
Bush was informed this week that his offer was selected over bids from at least two others — New York businessman Wayne Rothbaum and a group led by Massachusetts businessman Tagg Romney, son of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The belief, according to the MLB source, is that Bush intends to retain manager Don Mattingly and president of baseball operations Mike Hill barring something unforeseen.
It’s unclear whether Bush’s group would significantly raise the team’s $120 million payroll, which is the highest in Marlins history and ranks 20th in baseball — a dramatic increase over the team’s $74 million payroll the previous season.
Despite opening a new stadium in 2012, the Marlins have ranked in the bottom quarter of baseball in attendance for the past several years and also generate less money from their regional cable television contract than any other team in baseball. The Marlins have tried unsuccessfully for years to renegotiate that Fox contract, which runs through 2020.
The Marlins declined to comment on where the sales process stands.
“I have not commented on the process and plan to keep it that way; thank you,” Marlins president David Samson said.
Bush did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
According to a New York-based Loria associate, Loria decided to sell the team for a variety of factors: his belief that leaving baseball and getting his estate in order was prudent at this stage of his life at 76; sadness over the death of Jose Fernandez; unhappiness with years of being criticized by fans; and prolonged losing since winning a World Series in 2003, among other factors.
County officials think the 2009 deal requires the Marlins to pay Miami-Dade an unknown amount if a sale takes place this year. But the formula in the original agreement hinges on how much value the team has gained since the park opened, and the county’s chief financial officer, Ed Marquez, said it will take significant number-crunching and back-and-forth with the team to determine the payout. Either way, Loria is expected to depart with more than $1.2 billion.
“I haven’t heard anything at all,” Marquez said Tuesday. “We can’t do much without any details.”
The Marlins’ 13-year postseason drought is the second-longest in baseball, ahead of only the Seattle Mariners.
Loria heavily backloaded the contracts of several Marlins players, including star slugger Giancarlo Stanton and pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, which will result in significantly higher payrolls for the new owner barring trades.
Loria purchased the Marlins in 2002 as part of a three-team transaction authorized by then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Loria sold the Expos to “Expos Baseball LP,” a partnership of the other 29 major-league clubs, for $120 million.
The Expos essentially were sold to the commissioner’s office. John Henry then sold the Marlins to Loria for $158.5 million, including a $38.5 million no-interest loan from MLB and then bought the Boston Red Sox.
This was Bush’s second bid to buy the Marlins after an unsuccessful attempt three years ago.
Bush, 64, served as Florida’s 43rd governor from 1999 to 2007. Bush, who was born in Midland, Texas, and grew up in Houston, is the second son of former President George H.W. Bush and younger brother of former President George W. Bush, who once owned the Texas Rangers.
Jeb Bush graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and attended the University of Texas, where he earned a degree in Latin American affairs. He moved to Florida in 1980 and pursued a career in real-estate development, then became Florida’s Secretary of Commerce until 1988.
Bush made his first run for office in 1994, losing the gubernatorial election by less than 2 percentage points to incumbent Lawton Chiles. Bush ran again in 1998 and defeated Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay with 55 percent of the vote, then won re-election against Bill McBride in 2002, becoming Florida’s first two-term Republican governor.
Bush spent many years in the private sector after leaving office, then announced in June 2015 that he would run for the Republican presidential nomination. After poor results in Iowa and New Hampshire, Bush focused on the South Carolina primary but placed fourth with under 8 percent of the vote and suspended his campaign that night, ultimately ending his presidential bid, and eventually endorsing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Bush later joined a group of Republicans who opposed then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
In December, Bush accepted a job as a strategic consultant to Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a law firm with a major lobbying presence in the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. His mission has been to generate business for the firm, particularly in South Florida, where the former governor lives and where the firm wants to expand its presence.
Jeter, meanwhile, would give the Marlins cachet and a former player universally respected in baseball.
Jeter, 42, played his entire 20-year career with the Yankees before retiring after the 2014 season and was one of the most celebrated, heavily marketed and distinguished players of his era.
He was a 14-time All-Star, won five Gold Glove Awards, five Silver Slugger awards, two Hank Aaron Awards and is the Yankees’ all-time career leader in hits (3,465), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), times on base (4,716) and at-bats (11,195).
Jeter became the 28th player to reach 3,000 hits and finished his career sixth all-time in career hits and the all-time MLB leader in hits by a shortstop.
He consistently ranked among the American League leaders in hits and runs scored for most of his career, and served as the Yankees’ team captain from 2003 until his retirement in 2014.
Jeter won five World Series (1996, 1998 through 2000 and 2009) and holds many postseason records.
Loria, a Yankees fan before buying the Marlins, is said to hold Jeter in high regard.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said during a meeting last week with the Associated Press Sports Editors that he supported Jeter getting back into baseball as an owner.
“I’ve talked to Derek privately about his desire to be an owner,” Manfred said. “I think the idea of a former player being an owner is an appealing one for baseball, particularly a player like Derek. It would bring some diversity to our ownership group. I think that would be a good thing.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was a vocal critic of the 2009 stadium-financing deal as a county commissioner and waited four seasons before finally attending a game at Marlins Park, said through a spokesman on Tuesday that Jeb Bush owning the Marlins “would be good” for the county.
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.