Barry Jackson

Marlins focus on Kushner sales talks; Challenges await for new owner

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and the organization are now focusing all of their potential sale efforts on discussions with New York businessmen Joshua Kushner and Joseph Meyer, and while they are moving toward a deal, the Marlins aren’t certain that it will get done, a source with direct knowledge said this week.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and the organization are now focusing all of their potential sale efforts on discussions with New York businessmen Joshua Kushner and Joseph Meyer, and while they are moving toward a deal, the Marlins aren’t certain that it will get done, a source with direct knowledge said this week. Getty Images

The Marlins are now focusing all of their potential sale efforts on discussions with New York businessmen Joshua Kushner and Joseph Meyer, and while they are moving toward a deal, the Marlins aren’t certain that it will get done, a source with direct knowledge said this week.

The Marlins are not negotiating with any other potential buyers at this time, the source said.

Kushner is a venture capitalist who is the younger brother of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Meyer is Joshua Kushner’s brother-in-law.

The Marlins are neither pessimistic nor overly optimistic that the deal will get done with Kushner and Meyer, who last week were first identified as potential Marlins buyers by the New York Times, which reported that Kushner/Meyer balked at the $1.6 billion asking price.

The source confirmed the Times report that Kushner is “devising a complicated financial arrangement that would include bringing in partners later.”

CelebrityNetWorth.com estimates Kushner’s personal net worth at $200 million, well below MLB owners.

Whether Kushner/Meyer can come up with enough financing to be approved by MLB remains to be seen. One person in contact with the Marlins expressed some doubts, but enough progress has been made that conversations have been put on hold with other groups, the source said.

The New York Post reported that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is pushing for Loria to be named ambassador to France and appears to be “winning” in that effort.

[UPDATE: Joshua Kushner told The New York Times tonight that he has made substantial progress toward purchasing the Marlins but won’t buy them if reports are true that Loria will be named ambassador to France. Here is Kushner’s complete statement tonight.]

Meanwhile, I’m told that a former owner of another big-league team would be interested in buying the Marlins if the Kushner deal falls apart.

Joshua Kushner, 31, is a lifelong Democrat (according to Esquire), attended Harvard, started his career at Goldman Sachs and dates supermodel Karlie Kloss.

Meyer, 37, last month took over as publisher of New York Media publication The Observer after Jared Kushner stepped down to become a senior adviser for Trump. Jared Kushner is not involved in the Marlins’ bid.

Whoever buys the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria – and it appears a matter of if, not when – will be faced with not only with the NL’s lowest attendance and the worst local TV contract in baseball (that runs through 2020), but two other realities: back-loaded contracts and one of MLB’s most shallow farm systems, further depleted by several trades.

On the contract front, the Marlins already have $95 million committed to just eight players for 2018, $84 million for five players in 2019 and $74 million for four in 2020.

Those four in 2020: Giancarlo Stanton at $26 million, Christian Yelich at $12.5 million, Dee Gordon at $13.5 million and Wei-Yin Chen at $22 million.

That leaves limited resources to round out the roster, unless the new owner is willing to boost payroll well above $130 million.

The Yin Chen deal is particularly problematic, unless he improves dramatically over 2016.

His salary jumps from $9 million this season to $10 million in 2018, then $20 million and $22 million and a $16 million conditional player option in 2021 if he meets certain requirements. Every year after this one is a player option, but good luck moving that deal if Chen doesn’t rebound.

Stanton’s deal jumps from $14.5 million this season to $25 million next year and will pay him between $25 million and $32 million every year through 2028. That’s fine if he’s healthy and productive, troublesome otherwise.

Gordon’s deal rise from $7.5 million this year to $10.5 million, $13 million, $13.5 million and $14 million. That’s great if he’s the 2015 version, not good if he’s the 2016 version.

Martin Prado’s contract could be burdensome by the end of it, rising from $11.5 million to $13.5 million to $15 million. Edinson Volquez, due $9 million this season, will jump to $13 million in 2018 – which would be problematic if he flops this year.

Loria backloaded these contracts partly so he wouldn’t need to pay them if he sold the team. Of the back-loaded contracts, Yelich’s deal (topping out at $15 million in 2022) appears to be unquestionably good value barring unforeseen circumstances.

Then there’s the whole issue of the farm system.

The man running it for the past year-plus (Marc DelPiano) is well regarded and has taken steps to help the situation, but the system has suffered from a handful of regrettable high draft picks before his arrival (Tyler Kolek, Kyle Skipworth, Chad James) and Loria’s willingness to trade a handful of top prospects in the past year-and-half.

Last year’s first-rounder, left-handed pitcher Braxton Garrett, is the Marlins’ only top-100 caliber prospect.

One Marlins official said he’s not sure there’s a single starting big-league position player in the system, though third baseman Brian Anderson has upside. ESPN’s Keith Law rates the Marlins’ system 29th, ahead of only Arizona.

Law’s analysis: “The Marlins landed command lefty Braxton Garrett with their first pick in the 2016 draft, a departure from their history of taking big, hard-throwing, unpolished prep arms. He immediately became their best prospect after several years of high picks who haven’t panned out.

“They’ve already traded their first-rounders from 2012, 2013 and 2015. Their 2014 first-rounder (Kolek) is out after Tommy John surgery, and they have only had one pick after the first round produce even 5 WAR on his career since 2007’s draft produced two. They also don’t spend much internationally, with their top three Latin American prospects right now including one acquired in trade and two who signed for a total of $350,000. The Marlins will probably never run huge payrolls under their current ownership, so they are going to have to introduce more young talent to the farm system than they have during the past five years.”

Marlins executive Michael Hill says “probably our only deep spot in the organization is right-handed relievers.”

Bottom line: The Marlins’ new owner will face unquestioned challenges. At least the new owners will have respected baseball people in the front office and on-field coaching staffs, should he/they choose to keep them.

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