Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was defiant and continued to deflect any criticism of his team’s talent fire sale in the offseason during a Tuesday press conference at the team’s spring training facility in Jupiter.
“We had a $100 million payroll and it didn’t work. So what do you do go back again and lose more games?” Loria asked. “You can’t win without good players in your organization and we needed to do something to beef up the organization. Last year was a disaster and we had to push the restart button.”
Loria is on the defensive after his team sent most of its Major League-caliber talent to other teams in exchange for unproven minor league prospects. The team was expected to challenge last year for a playoff spot but came up woefully short.
One month after the 2012 season ended, the Marlins began unloading the large contracts on the team in exchange for prospects. However, the trade trumpeted by Loria over the last three days didn’t pull in any of the Blue Jays’ four top prospects.
“It’s not about payrolls, it’s about players,” Loria said. “For me, it’s never been about payrolls. We have some very exciting, young players here and we need to bring them along and bring in the stars while we develop our own stars.”
Loria took to pages of the Miami Herald and other South Florida newspapers on Sunday to justify his decision making in the offseason. However, the backlash against Loria’s statements came fast and furious from the media and fans.
Some in the media have accused the Marlins of having a roster better suited for Triple-A baseball rather than the Major League. It’s a point that Loria strongly disagrees with.
“It’s not a Triple-A ball club, I don’t know whose words those are, they may be your words, but they’re not mine. It’s a triple-a ball club, it’s a ball club with some pretty impressive players,” Loria said. “I will tell the fans now we have the core 16 or 17 terrific young players and they’re going to be here very quickly. Some of them will be here this year.”
And that was the underlying message Loria came back to again and again during his roughly 15 minute press conference, be patient we know what we’re doing. The problem for the Marlins and Loria is that fans are not planning on turning out to watch a losing team this year.
According to media reports, more than 12,000 season tickets were sold last season while less than 5,000 have been sold this year. Even when single-game tickets went on sale this year, there was no line and the buzz was not there for the upcoming season.
“Fans didn’t come last year after the team started losing. I can’t make them win or lose, but I can set the parameters and we put a team out there that we thought was good and it actually continued what was going on the year before,” Loria said. “I’m not here to be involved with losing baseball. I don’t think any of the fans accept losing, if you accept losing, you don’t come to the ballpark.”
So could the Marlins have started the massive rebuilding project undertaken in the offseason while keeping a few of the better players on the roster? Loria said absolutely not.
“It wouldn’t have worked,” Loria said. “If you know anything about the game, you know down the road you have your ideals about what your payroll is going to be and who the players are going to be. It doesn’t add up.”
Still, if Loria and his baseball men put together the minor league system that he said was ranked 28th in the Major Leagues and the roster that lost so many games, how can the fans trust that the talent acquired will be that much better?
Loria said over the weekend in his letter to fans that the buck stops with him, but he added many caveats to that and deflected much of the blame. Tuesday, he was still defiant and implied he did everything he could to put a winner on the field.
“Where does it (blame) fall on me? I don’t know. Maybe from last year and the year before thinking we could do it with what we had and it didn’t work,” Loria said. “I didn’t hesitate to putting a $100 million payroll out there but when that happens and nothing good happens on the field, I don’t know where the buck stops there because I can’t hit, I can’t run, and I can’t throw anymore. I’m responsible overall, so, I guess the buck stops with me.”
Nevertheless, Loria exuded confidence in his team and his decisions to completely overhaul last year’s roster, including hiring a new manager.
“We have the core and the makings of a championship caliber team,” Loria said. “I see us putting together all the pieces we have and putting together the championship caliber talent getting them to the major leagues quickly.”
Loria continued, “It’s time to look ahead. We have a very bright future and I’d like us to rally around that.”