By Murray Chass

November 15, 2012

The charges might not stick legally, but coming off his latest outrageous act, Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Miami Marlins, should face a series of charges all stemming from his fraudulent behavior:

  • By the Florida politicians and officeholders whom he conned into approving funds for his new $515 million personal playground;Jeffrey Loria6 225
  • By players whom he fraudulently induced to signing Marlins’ contracts with the idea that they would play for the Marlins;
  • By Florida fans, who against their better judgment have invested money and emotion into their support for the Marlins;
  • By Major League Baseball for fraudulently representing his team as a major league team;
  • By Major League Baseball for not acting in the best interests of baseball.

Loria, never a well-loved figure in Florida or in baseball, has outraged fans and baseball people alike by dismantling the Marlins once again, this time ridding the Marlins of three high-priced players, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

This is his second demolition in eight years. When he did it after the 2004 season, a year after the Marlins won the World Series for the second time in seven seasons, he talked as if he were proud of having waited a year before he did it.

He alluded to the first decimation of the Marlins by then owner H. Wayne Huizenga in 1997 immediately after they won that year’s World Series.

Loria did not return telephone calls to discuss his latest demolition derby.

This latest wrecking ball strikes the Marlins after not a championship but a failed strategy. Anticipating increased revenue from his new park, Loria signed expensive free agents last winter. The Marlins, however, finished in last place in the National League East and attracted a disappointing 27,401 fans a game.

Elias Sports Bureau said it was the lowest home attendance in the last 24 years for any of the 24 teams in their first season in a new park. It was the only team in a new park to average fewer than 29,000

In other words, the Marlins had already disillusioned their fans, and the disappointing revenue at the gate merged with the disappointing showing on the field prompted Loria to shred the team once more.

Having already jettisoned closer Heath Bell (3 years, $27 million) and traded Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, Loria shipped the rest of his roster, or so it seemed, to Toronto for a slew of young players, who won’t cost him anything.

In fact, Loria can use his revenue-sharing booty to pay his 25-man roster next season and have enough left to purchase a few paintings for his international art business.

In January 2010 the Marlins agreed under pressure from Major League and the Players Association to use their revenue-sharing money the way it was supposed to be used. The Marlins had been so outrageous in their defiance of the rules that the commissioner’s office agreed with the union to avoid a grievance fight.

There is a link to that episode in the Marlins’ mixed history with this week’s stunning development.

Days after the Marlins agreed to exercise proper revenue-sharing behavior, they took the first step in demonstrating their compliance. They signed Johnson, a top-flight pitcher, to a 4-year, $39 million contract. However, the Marlins included Johnson in the package forwarded to Toronto.

Marlins TradeMoving with Johnson were Reyes (6 years, $106 million), Buehrle (4 years, $58 million), John Buck (3 years, $18 million) and Emilio Bonifacio (eligible for salary arbitration coming off a $2.2 million salary).

Having signed with the Marlins only a year ago, Reyes and Buehrle expected to be in Florida for a while longer. Loria, however, saw a chance to shed more than $165 million and said, “Why not?”

A look at the Marlins’ payroll history may be instructive. The Marlins won the 2003 World Series with a $48 million payroll, which was the fifth lowest in the majors. Three years later, 2006, the payroll regressed to $15 million, the league’s lowest.

It remained among the smallest three payrolls in each of the next four seasons, but in 2011 Loria raised the payroll to $62 million, anticipating the coming of the new park, but the total was still the sixth lowest.

Then came the dawning of a new day, this year. New playground, new name, new uniforms, new players, new payroll. At the start of the season, the 2012 payroll was an astounding $118 million, seventh highest in the majors and highest in club history.

As the season plodded to the end, Loria was shedding dollars furiously. At the end, the payroll was down to $90 million, No. 18 in the payroll standings. Subtract the 2012 salaries of the five players Loria dumped, and the payroll comes to $58 million.

Add a few meager salaries for the rookies who would have replaced the traded players, and the Marlins would have had a subterranean payroll close to Oakland’s major league-low $59 million.

It’s highly unlikely that given his experience last winter, Loria will spend any money on free agents this winter. And based on that same experience, it’s unlikely that free agents would be lured by Loria. Many free agents go where the money is, but there’s no money there. Maybe I.O.U.’s, but no money.

A headline in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel suggested, “Time to ship Loria out of town, too,” and columnist Dave Hyde wrote, “In the end, you wonder why Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t just follow his players out of the country on Tuesday. He has no future here. Baseball has no future with him here.”

Is there anything that can be done to stop Loria’s runaway fraudulence and chicanery? Unlike some of his predecessors, Commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t like to become involved in a team’s business, certainly not where players are involved. Unless rules are being broken, that is.

Loria may not be breaking rules, but he has shattered the trust and the bond that have to exist between a team and its fans for the team to survive and flourish. That won’t happen in Miami because the fans have endured enough and will take no more. If they act on their feelings, Marlins Park will be empty next season. Loria deserves that much.

A couple of times in the past 10 years or so, I have proposed that Major League Baseball should lop Florida off its geographical map. I would like to amend that idea. Drop Loria and his ownership into the Atlantic Ocean and move the Tampa Bay Rays to Miami.

The Rays need a new park in St. Petersburg but can’t get it. The Rays ownership headed by Stu Sternberg has proved its ability to rescue a franchise from an abyss, which is where Vince Naimoli put the team while he owned it.

Sternberg and his crew have done a great job on the west coast of Florida, where the fans don’t appreciate the Rays. They could move to the east coast of Florida, where the fans would welcome and embrace a legitimate owner.

They could change the name of the park and change the team’s name, too. The Rays could become the Miami Rays of Sunshine.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.