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Looking Back at Ten Years of Jeffrey Loria

Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times sent me an interesting blog post this morning about a very special event in Florida Marlins history: it turns out today is the ten-year anniversary of Jeffrey Loria's Marlins ownership.

10 years ago today, Jeff Loria officially became owner of the Marlins, as major league baseball approved of the sale. Few changes in ownership have garnered as much negative publicity as that one.

It was part of a game of musical owners. The Marlins owner went to Boston, Montreal’s owner (Loria) went to Florida, and baseball itself took over the Expos (a move that made it much easier to pull them out of Montreal and re-baptize them as the Washington Nationals.

Jaffe goes on to discuss the fates of both the Marlins and the Montreal Expos (soon to be Washington Nationals) and how they were embroiled in the ever-present threat of contraction. Of course, neither team underwent the dreaded "C" word, as the Nationals moved and the Marlins eventually got their wish of a new, state-of-the-art, retractable roof stadium built almost entirely from public funds.

This has not made Jeffrey Loria a popular character among Marlins fans and baseball fanhood in general, however. As Jaffe points out, the Marlins were next line for the contraction threat due to their comically low attendance records, so it was feared that Loria would profit from snagging two teams and selling them before contraction came to town. But it seemed that contraction was never a real threat, so Loria could not benefit as such. In addition, the Marlins did a little something that would have made such a move look hideous in comparison: they won the World Series in 2003.

How Much is the World Series Worth?

This is a question that needs to be discussed when it comes to looking back and evaluating our content with Jeffrey Loria. The wrongs of what he did with the franchise are evident, and their impact was palpable. The World Series win was not as obviously attributable to Loria's influences. While the team may have won during his ownership, the club itself was built during the time of John Henry's ownership. Indeed, none of the club's building actually could be attributed to the owners, as much of it was work done by the front office staff. Loria did have the presence of mind to hire Larry Beinfest as the general manager in 2002, but Beinfest's moves did not build the core of the team, but rather supplemented them with appropriate players.

If you take a look at the roster of the 2003 team, nine of the team's 16 or so contributing players arrived between 2002 and 2003 (if you count Miguel Cabrera's promotion as one of those moves; he was signed as an amateur free agent during the previous regime). So at best, we can attribute half of the credit to that winning club to moves by Beinfest (and by extension, Loria). But that still leaves a significant part of the team's core, including players like Derrek Lee, Luis Castillo, Josh Beckett, and Brad Penny, strictly on the pre-Loria Marlins side.

As far as maintaining that core, Jaffe incorrectly points out that the Marlins lost much of the 2003 core after the championship year. Of the starting lineup during the World Series, only Derrek Lee and Ivan Rodriguez were missing, and while they were integral parts of the team, they were not the be-all, end-all of that balanced team's chances. In the rotation, only Mark Redman left, and that was mitigated by the return of A.J. Burnett. The team actually remained mostly intact. That does not mean that Loria should necessarily be praised for keeping the team's core. The only position players that left were a free agent and a third-year arbitration player whom the Marlins "could not afford." The remaining players were still under team control, and only one of them (Mike Lowell) signed an extension beyond his team-control years.

Penny-pinching and Fire Sale-ing

The rest of the history of Loria's tenure is bleak in the eyes of Fish fans. Loria mandated the "market correction" that was the pre-2006 fire sale, and it was only by the grace of Larry Beinfest's talents that the Marlins came away with yet another strong core to start that era. The club's only major free agent signing after 2003 and before this year was Carlos Delgado, and the contract was so backloaded after the 2005 season that it was almost assured the Marlins would trade Delgado if a new stadium deal did not go through. The team was forced to trade Miguel Cabrera because it had no hope to retain him. Over the time period between 2004 and 2011, the Marlins have averaged the lowest payroll in baseball and ranked among the bottom in attendance.

But after the Cabrera deal, things actually began to change imperceptibly. The Marlins signed Hanley Ramirez to a long-term extension that bought out three free agent years. The team signed Josh Johnson to a four-year deal that bought two free agent seasons. Those two moves that were OK'd by Loria had to instill some confidence that the Marlins were getting past their penny-pinching ways. One of those moves, the Ramirez extension, occurred well before the new stadium's influence on the team's payroll (the Marlins expanded payroll in the 2010 and 2011 years in anticipation of revenue in 2012 from the new stadium). In that respect, Loria did begin to mend the wounds to the Marlins fan base. He committed to having Ramirez and Johnson stay past their typical expiration dates.

The Future

Finally, with the new stadium, it does seem as if Loria is now more willing to spend, so his ownership may ultimately be decided by his tenure as Miami Marlins owner. This offseason has shown him willing to spend, but the question will be whether he will hang onto some of these players and avoid a fire sale in the immediate future. But the history of his time as Florida Marlins manager is muddled at best. His part in the World Series victory was immediately nullified by the market correction of 2006, and much of the rest of his tenure has been mired by penny-pinching ways. Marlins fans will look back poorly on Loria, and I am fairly certain that the tenure as a whole has been unpleasant, but the future may still hold good things now that the new stadium is here. For now, I'll remain cautiously optimistic.