The new owners of the Miami Marlins pledged to make fans their “No. 1 priority,” but provided few other specifics about what direction they intend to take both on and off the field.
Will they trade Giancarlo Stanton?
Will they change the team’s colors and logo?
Will they break up the roster and rebuild from the ground up?
“Some of these details are going to take time,” said Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankees star who bought the franchise in partnership with lead investor Bruce Sherman and others. “We’re in a transition phase. It’s going to take a lot of patience.”
One day after completing the purchase of the team for $1.2 billion from Jeffrey Loria, Jeter and Sherman answered questions but offered little about how they intend to energize a franchise that has gone eight years without a winner and lags near the bottom of the majors in attendance.
As Sherman noted: “We have a lot of work to do.”
And as Jeter added: “Moving forward, there’s going to be, at times, unpopular decisions we make on behalf of the organization. But, just understand that every decision we make is for the betterment of this organization.”
Both repeatedly emphasized the need, however, to invigorate a largely disenchanted fan base that has had little to cheer about from one losing season to the next.
Despite the opening of a new ballpark in 2012, the Marlins have ranked no better than 27th in home attendance (out of the 30 Major League teams) during the past five seasons. Their eight-year losing drought is the longest in the Majors, and they haven’t reached the postseason since winning the World Series in 2003.
“We believe in this market,” Jeter said. “We believe in the fan base. We are focused on bringing the fans back. We want them to get to know us as owners. More importantly, we want to get to know them. We want to hear from the fans. We need to get back into the community and bring the fans back.”
Said Sherman, who has a 46 percent stake in the franchise: “There are no surprises to anybody in the group about the attendance ... and all the elements. We have to re-engage the community. We recognize that. We know it’s a long-term process.”
Jeter joked that attendance didn’t look too bad to him when he attended Sunday’s season finale at Marlins Park. A crowd of 25,222 turned out, primarily to see whether Stanton would hit his 60th home run (he didn’t). Jeter said it was the first game he has watched from the stands since he was in high school.
But both acknowledged there are challenges ahead.
Jeter gave no strong indication whether trading Stanton or other core players was part of the plan. He said he first wanted to speak with Mike Hill, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations, before making any decisions. But it is widely assumed the new owners, given that the team lost more than $50 million last season with a $115 million payroll, will look for ways to cut costs.
“I don’t like the word teardown,” Jeter said. “Yeah, we are rebuilding the franchise. But I think a lot of times people associate those words with losing, and you never go into a situation and the message is we’re going to lose.”
Jeter indicated that strengthening a farm system that ranks as one of the worst in the Majors is another priority, which would suggest trading top players to acquire young talent.
“We do have to rebuild an organization, and it starts with player development and scouting,” Jeter said. “You have to be strong in those areas, because if you’re going to have a sustainable organization over time, you need that pipeline of young players that can come.”
Jeter would not say whether he intends to keep manager Don Mattingly, though the two have a long relationship from their days with the Yankees. All indications are he will remain to serve a third season.
Jeter, a resident of Tampa, also said he intends to spend the bulk of his time in South Florida running the Marlins.
“The vast majority of my time and effort will be here working for the Marlins,” he said. “I think you have to be present, have to be involved.”
Asked whether he and Sherman have any intentions of changing the team’s colors or logo, which were dramatically altered when the Marlins moved into their new ballpark, Jeter replied: “It’s a little early to talk about that. Some of these details are going to take time. We’re in a transition phase. We have plenty of time to make those decisions.”
Jeter acknowledged that going from All-Star shortstop to Major League owner will be a learning curve for him.
“This is a whole other beast,” he said. “And it’s going to take some time to learn. So I’m not coming in here thinking I know everything about team ownership. I do not. One thing I’m very good at is knowing what I don’t know, and I surround myself with people who are much smarter than I am, and I lean on them for advance. We have wonderful people working in this organization now, and we’re going to add some quality people, as well, to not only help me, but help us turn this organization around.”