Pelted with pointed questions from angry fans in the first of several town hall meetings at Marlins Park, new Marlins co-owner Derek Jeter on Tuesday evening asked fans for patience, declined to say when the team would have a sizable payroll again and repeatedly cited failure under the previous regime when asked why the team didn’t keep all its key offensive players and sign pitching instead of dismantling.
Several fans told Jeter they were angry over the new regime’s payroll slashing. One shouted at Jeter that his group spent “$1.2 billion and then ran out of money.”
“I can’t sit here and say trust me,” said Jeter, who answered questions for nearly 90 minutes. “You don’t know me. You earn trust over time. I know how organizations are sustainable over time. I know you have been through a lot. I can’t relate to it. It’s going to be a tough road. It’s going to take time and effort.”
The question asked at least four times, including by one woman who was crying while asking: Why didn’t the Marlins keep Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon and merely add pitching? Twice, Jeter challenged fans to name the pitchers they would add.
“You can’t throw money at a problem and continue to dig a bigger hole,” Jeter said, while praising the crying woman’s passion. “To not have any depth in the organization, even if you were to win, you would have to build again at some point. Throwing money at a problem is not the answer.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Go get more pitching and you’re going to win.’ There are no guarantees by grabbing pitching you are going to win. The only way to be sustainable over time is to build up the minor-league system. That is our focus. … I don’t expect you to be happy.”
Jeter made clear finances matter: “This is an organization that is losing a significant amount of money. We didn’t buy this team to continue losing money or more importantly, losing games. More of the same is not the answer.”
Asked to specifically explain his plan, Jeter deferred to president of baseball operations Michael Hill, who wasn’t at the podium at the time but spoke off to the side later.
“Michael can speak on this. We have trust in him doing his job. He does it very well,” Jeter said. “Pitching, defense wins. This minor-league system was the worst in baseball. You can’t win like that. We need to add prospects to our organization and develop them. We added [former Yankees executive] Gary Denbo, who is the best in the business in player development.”
Jeter said several times that it’s “not acceptable” that the team hasn’t had a winning record in eight years or made the playoffs since 2003.
Jeter vowed “this is not the same old, same old. We have a plan. This is not a project to break a team down to build it back up just to break it down again. We have a path to being sustainable over time.”
But when asked when the payroll would be increased, Jeter declined to say.
“We have to turn a lot of things around when it comes to the business of baseball,” he said. “I wouldn’t put a time frame on it. We will add when we can add, when we need to add.”
He also didn’t put a time frame on a plan that he declines to call rebuilding.
Jeter made clear the Marlins must figure out a way to increase revenue, citing poor attendance and not enough corporate sponsorships and the “worst TV deal in baseball” that he said needs to be renegotiated. He said he wants the stadium at Marlins games “every night” to resemble World Baseball Classic games.
Jeter also bypassed answering several other questions, including why Ozuna was traded, his thoughts on the prospects acquired (Hill addressed that later) and the status of Christian Yelich or J.T. Realmuto, who are both unhappy.
Jeter also said: “I can’t sit here and say who’s going to be playing for the Marlins in 2018. We’re still looking for ways to improve the organization.”
Jeter addressed other issues:
▪ Asked by a fan why he should remain a season ticket holder after trading 37 percent of the team’s RBI from last season, Jeter said: “Because you want to be a part of something we’re building. I don’t expect you to believe me because you’ve been through quite a bit.”
▪ He disputed the “this team is under financial duress, which is driving this financial reduction.” He also denied the perception “this ownership group is unable to afford the team. Our group is a bunch of financially successful individuals. Not motivated by near-term cash needs. This ownership group wants to win.”
He says the team’s debt is “a tool that allows us flexibility. Don’t hear that word and think that’s something that’s unorthodox with this organization.”
▪ Asked if he could imagine deceased former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner trading Mickey Mantle, Andy Pettitte and Jeter, Jeter said: “Yes, I can if we didn’t win. Give me a chance.”
▪ Asked why he didn’t pay less for the team, he said: “If we could have paid less for the team, we would have paid less for the team. It was a competitive environment.”
▪ Jeter said he has “final approval” on all Marlins personnel moves.