Jeffrey Loria defends trading stars

Updated: November 15, 2012, 9:29 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria became frustrated Wednesday when asked why he decided to dismantle most of the talent on his team such a short time after assembling it.

"We finished in last place. Figure it out," he told CBSSports.com from the owners' meetings in Chicago.

Sources told ESPN that the Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays have agreed to a blockbuster trade that would send shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buck and infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for prospects.

The trade could save Loria and the Marlins approximately $150 million, which prompted a backlash from South Floridians angered by the team's latest payroll purge.

"Everybody in the world wants to talk about the Marlins and the fact they're now a Triple-A team," said city commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who was an opponent of the team's new ballpark project. "The Marlins have lost pretty much all credibility with fans. Even if this trade is a positive move from a baseball standpoint, it won't be viewed by the general public as a positive move."

As part of the rebranding of the entire franchise and the move to the new ballpark, the Marlins were big players in free agency last offseason, signing Reyes and Buehrle to massive contracts. The Marlins also reportedly pursued Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

But after finishing last in the NL East, the Marlins fired controversial manager Ozzie Guillen last month. The Marlins also traded closer Heath Bell to the Diamondbacks, infielder Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers and pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to the Tigers since the trade deadline this past season.

Loria said Wednesday that dumping veteran players was the right response to how the season went.

"We have to get better,'' Loria said, according to CBSSports.com. "We can't finish in last place. We finished in last place. That's unacceptable. We have to take a new course.''

He was also asked if clearing the decks was a precursor to trying to sell the team.

"Absolutely not,'' Loria said, according to the website. "That's more stupidity.''

The Blue Jays are sending shortstop Yunel Escobar, right-hander Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis and prospects Jake Marisnick (OF), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS), Justin Nicolino (LHP) and Anthony DeSclafani (RHP) to the Marlins, sources told ESPN.

Baseball America, in rankings released last week, have Marisnick as Toronto's No. 2 prospect, Nicolino as No. 5 and Hechevarria as No. 8.

But the haul of prospects wasn't enough to mollify many Marlins fans. Radio talk show host Jeff DeForrest fielded calls from irate listeners shortly after news of the trade broke Tuesday.

"The next move obviously is to have Fidel Castro throw out the first pitch next year," DeForrest said. "That's the only way they could alienate the fans more than they have."

Castro became a source of acrimony last April, when Guillen's praise of the former Cuban leader infuriated team supporters. That was shortly after the new ballpark opened in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, and attendance never recovered from the tempest.

Management had projected the rebranded team would contend for a playoff berth and draw nearly 3 million fans, but instead the Marlins staggered to a last-place finish in the NL East and attendance barely topped 2.2 million.

With revenue falling short of projections, Loria decided to end the franchise's brief era of big spending. The players traded by the Marlins have combined guaranteed salaries of $163.75 million through 2018, including $96 million due Reyes. The deals he and Buehrle signed when they joined Miami a year ago were heavily backloaded.

Salaries for 2013 include $13.75 million for Johnson in the final year of his contract, $11 million for Buehrle and $10 million for Reyes. The net in guaranteed salaries coming off the Marlins' books is expected to be $154 million, which does not account for any cash that may be involved in the trade.

Three years ago, the Marlins reached an agreement with the players' union to increase spending in the wake of complaints team payroll had been so small as to violate baseball's revenue-sharing provisions. But the trade with Toronto leaves the Marlins with an estimated Opening Day payroll of $34 million, which would be their lowest since 2008. Oakland had the lowest payroll in the majors last year at $53 million.

Of the lineup that took the field for the festive first game in the new ballpark less than eight months ago, only two players remain -- Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison.

Stanton tweeted that he was angry about the trade and changed his Twitter photo in an apparent protest, swapping out his Marlins uniform for a black shirt.

"I'm not saying fans can't be upset," Morrison tweeted to his 123,000 followers. "I'm saying I'm not going to get upset. I can't control it. So don't expect me to be upset."

Fan ire was targeted primarily at Loria and team president David Samson.

"People are steamed," DeForrest said. "To dump the whole team is mind-boggling, but nothing is surprising with these two guys."

Many fan complaints involved the ballpark project, financed mostly with taxpayer money as Loria and Samson promised a new era with higher payrolls and more competitive teams.

The ballpark is state of the art, but the team has started looking like the same-old Marlins.

"This," Sarnoff said, "has taught many who voted for the stadium a lesson: When you go into a public-private partnership, know your partner."

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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