Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Giancarlo Stanton deal could help repair Jeffrey Loria’s image

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria looks on before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Marlin Park.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria looks on before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Marlin Park. AP

The cynicism and skepticism are built in as regards the Marlins and Jeffrey Loria. It has become part of the South Florida fan DNA to not quite trust the ballclub’s unpopular owner, to a degree even the record-setting contract extension with star Giancarlo Stanton is looked at warily by some.

As recently as one week ago nobody in baseball believed Stanton would re-sign long-term with Miami; the only question was when he’d be traded before becoming a free agent after two more seasons and bolting. But what once seemed impossible is happening. The $325 million, 13-year contract has now been agreed upon and we can expect a celebratory Marlins news conference later in the week.

Yet I continue to hear the “yeah, buts,” with so many fans in the populous anti-Loria camp still convinced Stanton may be traded while others scoff because an opt-out clause enabling him to leave after what is thought to be six more seasons makes it a 13-year deal in name only.

Look, Loria has earned much of the animus and mistrust. Years of unnecessarily penurious player payrolls, the 2012 fire sale of top players after only one season in the new ballpark and how Loria managed to get the stadium built all are reasons why many don’t like the guy, and might never.

I’m not declaring it’s time to forgive and go all-in believing because that will be an ongoing process. Trust is earned over time. It isn’t won like a prize. It cannot be bought, not even for $325 million.

It may at least, and at last, be time to reconsider Loria, though. The payrolls were too low and that’ll always be a damnable fact. But that big trade with Toronto that caused so much anger? In retrospect it has undeniably worked to Miami’s advantage. As for the stadium, Loria’s job as a businessman was to strike the best deal he could. The politicians’ job is to protect the public interest. So if taxpayers bore too much burden to see Marlins Park built, that’s on local government, not Loria.

Now, with the Stanton deal, the owner South Florida is loath to like has not only done what nobody thought he could – he also made smart comprises to get it done, things that could work to the Marlins’ benefit. (Include president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings in the credit here, although Loria is the guy signing the check with all of the commas).

The contractual opt-out that makes so many fans wary isn’t all bad. First, Stanton undoubtedly insisted on it as a prerequisite. Second, even if he were to opt-out and leave after the 2019 season, it means Miami would have had him for the heart of his dawning prime, ages 25 through 30.

So many long-term deals turn disadvantageous for the team toward the back end, when age, injury or general decline make players less valuable. (Think Alex Rodriguez). That won’t be the case here.

Besides, Stanton already has played here five seasons so he’d be an 11-year Marlin even if he opts out when he can. That’s a long time. To put that in perspective, they call Jeff Conine “Mr. Marlin” and he played eight total seasons here.

The no-trade clause Miami agreed to also could be a good thing. First, again, it was a concession the team had to make to strike this deal. Second, the teams to which Stanton would agree to a trade undoubtedly include the Dodgers and Angels (he’s from L.A.) and likely the usual big-spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox. The Marlins might have the flexibility, say, a year before he may opt-out, to invite an agreeable trade partner to sweeten the offer to get him one season early.

Bottom line: Stanton is the most exciting, best young pure home-run hitter in baseball, the best in the post-steroids era, and before this deal Miami was only assured of having him two more seasons, and possibly less. Now, Miami will have him at least six more seasons – and possibly much longer.

The Marlins also are working toward long-terms deals with left fielder Christian Yelich, 23 in December, and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, 25.

It will be harder to extend the contract of ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, who is represented by a notorious hardball agent, Scott Boras, who may seek Clayton Kershaw dollars. The anticipation of perhaps eventually losing Fernandez made the deal with Stanton that much more important, from both baseball and public-relations perspectives.

Fernandez, though, is Marlins property through the 2018 season. That means Miami has a nice window opening up to pursue a third franchise World Series title, with at least four more years of Fernandez before he could become a free agent and six more of Stanton before he could opt out.

The so-called 13-year contract Stanton is signing is likely for show, but the minimum of six years the Marlins are assured of having him is more than seemed possible.

Blame Jeffrey Loria when it’s due, and it has been, a lot.

But credit him for this.

The Marlins are on the rise, making the right kind of headlines, and now Giancarlo Stanton will be the face of that commitment for at least the rest of this decade.

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