The recent fire sale of Marlins talent has many in South Florida howling. All the old insults such as "carpetbagger" have resurfaced and are being hurled at Jeffrey Loria, and with good reason. Now I have no reason to defend the guy but in trying to determine what his real motivations are I think it's important to remember some very relevant facts of some facts:
1. In 1999 Loria bought 24% of the Montreal Expos for $12 Million. He managed to acquire 94% of that team (which could barely be categorized as a Major League club) when the other shareholders didn't answer margin calls. Loria's seed capital came from dealing art, a nice business but not the same as being an entertainment mogul or auto dealership king. So this is a guy who become a major league owner with $12 million and change.
2. In 2002 he sold the Expos to MLB for $120 million. He didn't get to pocket the gain however as he then bought the Marlins for $158.5 million. If you do the math, you'll see he was $38.5 million short so Major Leage Baseball LENT him the money.
3. In 2003 he signed Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez for a one year/$10 million contract that was PAID OVER THREE YEARS. Paying a one year deal over three years is not something you see very frequently, in fact I've never seen it before or since.
4. In 2009 the deal for the construction of the new Marlins ballpark was finalized. The Marlins agreed to contribute $125.2 million (roughly 20% of the construction cost). In order to pay this money the Marlins BORROWED $35 million from the county.
All of these data points lead me to believe that Jeffrey Loria is "cash poor" when compared to other Major League owners. He's borrowed, mortgaged, deferred his way into owning a Major League club with a Major League ballpark to play in. To me all of the above instances suggest a guy who is playing in a high stakes game he can't really afford.
Does this mean he doesn't want to win? I don't know that you can draw that conclusion. I think he wants to be a baseball owner more than anything. And I think he'd like to win. I think he'd like the ballpark full so he can field a competitive team but let's face it; he gambled in 2012 and lost. The team underperformed on the field and at the box office (to the tune of 800,000 less fans through the turnstiles than projected).
Some have characterized this fire sale as Loria putting $100 million into his pocket but that assumes he has $100 million lying around. I'd say the reason for the fire sale is precisely because he doesn't have $100 million lying around and nothing in his history (as shown above) suggests that he has it lying around.
I believe Loria is simply trying to save his ownership stake in the team because he's leveraged to the hilt. Does it suck for us fans? Unequivocally, yes. Would it be better to have a deep-pocketed owner? Absolutely, yes. But we don't get to make that decision. Also we can look up the road at the Miami Dolphins who have had deep pocketed owners since Joe Robbie died and yet it hasn't translated into winning.
I'm just not ready to demonize Loria because he's juggling money trying to stay in the game as long as he can. I kind of empathize with him, imagining what it must be like to get this far and still be short of the kind of cash you need to really compete.
The fact is that he bought this team when nobody else wanted it. John Henry said he'd build a ballpark for the Marlins with his own money if he couldn't get it publicly financed. He lied and went on to greener pastures yet some are holding him up as a model owner today. Jeffrey Loria took some wild gambles like the aforementioned signing of Pudge, won a World Series and got the ballpark built in almost impossible political environment. All of this from little more than $12 million investment in the Montreal Expos. His luck ran out in 2012 and while I can't say for sure what's in his heart, on a certain level I have to admire him. Whether or not Loria is the owner for much longer, one thing is clear: baseball is going to stay in South Florida thanks to his efforts.