Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria defends his decision to dismantle team
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JUPITER, Fla. -- One day after meeting with team beat reporters in Miami and two days after he took out full-page ads in all three major South Florida newspapers to address fans, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria continued his damage control tour, making his first appearance of the season at his team's spring training facility Tuesday.
Loria, 72, is under fire from fans and media for dismantling his high-salaried team of underachieving stars midway through the Marlins' first season in a publicly funded ballpark. The Marlins are expected to have a payroll below $45 million this season, lowest in the majors.
"I really do understand the disappointment. I'm disappointed," said Loria, a Manhattan-raised, Yale-educated art dealer who traded away Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante after the promise of last season's 31-23 start was wiped out by a 3-17 stretch under then-manager Ozzie Guillen. The late-season purge became a postseason fire sale with a trade that sent five players, including shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, to the Blue Jays.
The Marlins finished the season 69-93, 29 games behind the NL East champion Nationals.
"We thought, going into the new ballpark it would be terrific," Loria said. "That's why I said let's go out and produce this $100-million payroll. It didn't work. We had kind of a perfect storm. We stunk. We had to fix it and we had to do it quickly."
Loria said hanging on to some high-priced talent wasn't an option.
"I did not want to be like other teams in Major League Baseball and make one or two changes each year and they never have a winning season," he said. "I can't hit, I can't run and I can't throw anymore. I am responsible, so I guess the buck stops with me. However, it's time to look ahead. We have a bright future and I would like us to rally around that."
Although the spring training roster has one star in Giancarlo Stanton and is sprinkled with established players such as Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins, fans won't readily recognize many of the "16 or 17 terrific young players," Loria says make up the core of his franchise's future. He thinks outfielder Christian Yelich and righthander Jose Fernandez are among rookies who could impact the team this season.
Off the field, the stadium remains a bone of contention with fans, particularly those in the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, which is on the hook for $400 million it borrowed to finance stadium construction. Loria bristled when a reporter termed the deal to build the 37,500-seat retractable roof facility a "con job."
"First of all, the money isn't local taxpayer money. The money is tourist [tax] dollars," Loria said. "It is public money that's supposed to be used for facilities. [If] you want to be a major-league city and have a major-league baseball team, you need a major-league facility."
Although MLB announced attendance of 2,219,444 (27,400 per game) last season, team president David Samson told reporters Monday that figure was "tickets sold." Samson said "turnstile" attendance was more like 1.4 million as even projected sellouts, including games against the Red Sox in June, failed to materialize.
Players seem more willing to cut Loria some slack.
"It's always hard to see guys traded away," said John Maine, a 15-game winner for the Mets in 2007, trying to rebound from shoulder woes. "But they know what they're doing. They've won [the World Series] before and rebuilt."
First-year manager Mike Redmond said for young players and veterans, such as first baseman Casey Kotchman, with his seventh team in six years, this is the land of opportunity.
"Our former teammates will be missed, but it's part of the game," reliever Steve Cishek said. "Nothing we can do about it. You deal with it and move on."