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Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Loria: Marlins should make playoffs

Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. -- The sun kept peeking out from behind ominous clouds, and as Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria headed outside to watch a workout, he wavered regarding whether he needed his raincoat.

Concerning the coming season, there was no hesitation.

"I expect us to make the playoffs," Loria said, watching players file past. "We've got all the ammunition we need."

The pronouncement Wednesday was no surprise, because team president David Samson made similar comments last month. But it further ratcheted up expectations for a team that outscored opponents by six runs last season and didn't add a single player assured of making the roster.

With the smallest payroll in the majors a year ago, the Marlins won 87 games and finished six games behind eventual league champion Philadelphia in the NL East.

During a visit to watch the first full-squad workout of spring training, Loria said the 2009 Marlins underachieved.

"If we had won one more game each month, we would have won 93 games, and we would have been in the playoffs," he said. "I felt we should have been one of the eight. I was disappointed at the end of the season."

His unhappiness last October led to speculation manager Fredi Gonzalez might be fired, with former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine supposedly waiting in the wings.

Gonzalez enters his fourth season with the Marlins, and his 242 victories are a franchise record. Loria denied Gonzalez should be worried about his job security.

"Oh, please," Loria said. "I don't even want to talk about that. That's just ridiculous.

"I was very excited to see Fredi. I gave him the biggest hug. Fredi is the manager. He has been here. There has been a lot of continuity with that, and continuity is important."

Loria believes continuity will help the Marlins make the postseason for the first time since they won the 2003 World Series. Five members of the talented rookie class of 2006 are back for a fifth year, including All-Star right-hander Josh Johnson, NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez and slugging second baseman Dan Uggla.

"What's here is quite capable of doing what we need to get done," Loria said.

Prognosticators have slotted the Marlins anywhere from second to fifth in the NL East. But players have said it's reasonable to expect they'll reach the playoffs, and Gonzalez has said he feels no added pressure to win.

Payroll will be above $40 million for the first time since 2005. The Marlins gave Johnson a $39 million, four-year contract and took Uggla off the trading block, instead signing him to a $7.8 million, one-year deal.

Loria denied the spending was in reaction to complaints by the players' union about the Marlins' perennially tight budget.

"Nobody makes decisions for me or for us," he said.

The owner's mood brightened on the subject of the new stadium. He said he visited the site Tuesday and was impressed by the progress, with construction on schedule for the opening in two years.

"It's going to be something super special, beyond what you can imagine," Loria said. "People are going to come from all over the country to see this. It's going to be one of the most special ballparks in the country."