Earlier today Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria agreed to sell the franchise to a group that includes former Major Leaguer Derek Jeter for $1.2 billion. The group is fronted by businessman Bruce Sherman and also includes former NBA star and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan. In this deal, Sherman will provide the majority of the money, with Jeter only contributing around $25 million, but Jeter will have control of the day-to-day operations. Loria has been rumored to be attempting to sell the Marlins since at least February when there was a deal supposedly in the works in which the team would be sold for $1.6 billion. That deal fell through and it has taken to this point for a confirmed transaction to develop.
Loria has developed a reputation as being one of the most hated owners in baseball and was especially so by Marlins fans. Since purchasing the team for $158.5 million in 2002, he has continuously made moves that confuse fans and seem to take the team further from the World Series. The year after he purchased the team, 2003, the Marlins won their second World Series but have not returned to the playoffs since. They went through a period where they increased payroll drastically prior to the 2012 season, their first in Marlins Park, and signed Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle for a total of $187 million over the life of the contracts. But by the beginning of the next season, Reyes and Buehrle were both in Toronto and the Marlins went through a fire sale. Loria has continuously kept the team to a low payroll, keeping their ability to contend in check, but was also the same owner who approved a 13 year, $325 million contract for Giancarlo Stanton, the largest contract ever given in any North American sport. Despite all of what appear to be efforts by Loria to tank the team, the value of the franchise rose 87% during his tenure as owner, largely the result of a new stadium (mostly publicly-funded) and the lucrative television and media deals that are all across MLB.
So, what happened to the Marlins to get them to this point where they are being sold once again?
- For one, the Marlins have struggled to draw fans since Loria took over as owner in 2002. In 11 of the past 12 seasons, the team has finished last in the National League in attendance. A big reason for this is that Loria has kept the team’s payrolls low despite being in a good market. Preventing the team from spending in free agency makes it difficult to consistently field a competitive team, especially when Stanton is due to make up nearly a third of the team’s payroll in coming seasons. Even this season, with the team setting a franchise record for payroll at just under $119 million, they still rank 20th in the league.
- Another reason that the Marlins have struggled to draw fans is the deal the team signed with Miami-Dade County to build their new stadium. With public money making up more than three-quarters of the total stadium cost of $634 million, the sentiment in the local community isn’t great. I also don’t think that it helps that Loria hasn’t done anything to generate a solid rapport with the largely Latino community in South Florida.
What does this sale mean for the Marlins and for baseball?
- For one, I look for the new ownership group, led by Derek Jeter, to lead the team in the correct direction. The franchise is likely on course for another rebuild given the state of their major league team and their farm system and Jeter is smart enough and savvy enough to guide the team through this. Given the successes of the Cubs, Royals, Astros, and Brewers franchises in recent seasons, it is obvious that the best way to turn a team from middling to successful is to tear down and rebuild. Despite not having much talent at the minor league levels, the Marlins do have value in the majors from which to trade for prospects. I think it is only a matter of time before Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Dee Gordon are moved.
- I also think that Jeter understands the importance of establishing a good relationship with the local community and fan base and will put a front office in place to grow that. South Florida is one of the most culturally-diverse regions in all of baseball and understanding that and building off that will be key to drawing more fans. I think that trying to sign more players of Latin descent and even putting people in decision-making roles who have Hispanic heritage would be smart decisions.
- I have faith in Derek Jeter to also understand his shortcomings in the baseball operations area and will surround himself with people who have experience and can help him.
This deal was the best move for the Marlins franchise, their fans, baseball, and for Loria himself, who was able to make an incredible profit despite misleading the franchise. Considering that the Marlins were the 25th most valuable franchise this year, as valued by Forbes, at $940 million, and that he was able to sell the team for nearly $300 million more, that was a great transaction for Loria. For the new owners, it seems that if they are able to run the franchise more effectively, they will certainly see the value of the franchise increase in future years. From 2016-17, the value of the franchise increased by 39%, despite having the second lowest revenue in the league last year. The Miami market is a great location for the sport of baseball and seeing the franchise get back to their winning ways will be good for the sport.
This sale has not been approved by MLB yet and receiving the final go ahead has to come from fellow team owners, a decision that likely won’t be made until October at the earliest.
*All stats and information came from MLB Trade Rumors, ESPN, Miami Herald, The Guardian, Forbes, Spotrac,