When the Miami Marlins sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and over $100 million in salaries to the Toronto Blue Jays in November, that would have been a good time for team owner Jeffrey Loria to speak up.
Loria owed Marlins fans an explanation. After enticing everyone with a brand new ballpark, a new image and a new team with a big payroll, he needed to explain why the organization had chosen to revert back to its old ways from the bad old days.
Instead, Loria has waited until now to speak. It's been three months since the big trade, and the start of the 2013 season is looming just a couple weeks away.
As for what he's had to say, well, let's just say it's hard to get a grip on. Loria's words are as slippery as an eel.
If you're just now catching up, Loria has been active getting his message out there over the last couple days. He started with an open letter to Marlins fans that was published in the Miami Herald and other publications, and he also spoke to reporters on Monday at Marlins Park. Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post was there to collect some key quotes.
Taken as a whole, Loria's letter to Marlins fans and his comments to reporters send mixed messages. That's not too surprising, as Loria appears to have warped notions about the very idea of communication.
He said in his letter to fans that communication is going to be a priority for the Marlins from now on. He wants fans to know that he gets it:
An organization is only as good as its connection with the community. We know we can do a better job communicating with our fans. That starts now. From this point forward we can ensure fans and the entire community that we will keep you abreast of our plan, rationale and motivations.
So you see, Loria gets that there's frustration about the direction the Marlins have chosen to go in, and he wants to make more of an effort to keep everyone on the same page going forward. That should be reassuring to Marlins fans.
But Marlins fans should be ticked off that Loria is just now saying that he wants to make communication a priority, and that he's just now saying that he wants fans to be aware of the club's rationale and motivations. Where was this desire to communicate back when Loria actually needed to explain himself after the big trade with the Blue Jays?
When he was asked on Monday why he didn't speak out back in November after the trade, Loria uttered a vague statement about wanting to wait to get the full lay of the land.
"It’s hard to stop a runaway train. I wanted to decompress, sit back and see what we needed to do," he said.
As far as the trade itself was concerned, it's not as if Loria needed to wait for a big picture to unfold. There were reasons the trade was made, and those reasons were the same after the fact as they were before it. He could have come out mere minutes after the trade was finalized and attempted to quell unrest.
The fact that there was unrest seems to have been what kept him from speaking. Maybe he wanted to wait until it was gone. Keep that in mind, Marlins fans, the next time you're looking for an explanation from Loria. He may only provide one if you're all calm and orderly.
Even then, the explanation you get probably isn't going to be entirely honest. That would require an honest perspective on the situation, and Loria has made it clear that he doesn't have one on the trade with the Blue Jays.
For starters, he wrote in his letter that it's basically a known fact that the trade with the Blue Jays was a good one for the Marlins:
The controversial trade we made with the Toronto Blue Jays was approved by Commissioner Bud Selig and has been almost universally celebrated by baseball experts outside of Miami for its value.
Sure, the trade had its defenders. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk, for example, wrote that the trade provided the Marlins with "pretty good value" and even suggested that the Marlins may have come out ahead.
Likewise, Richard Justice of MLB.com wrote that it was a "perfectly defensible" trade and praised the Marlins for "following the Billy Beane model." They looked at their roster and made a decision based on what they actually saw rather than what they wanted to see. Bravo.
But "universally celebrated by baseball experts" for its value? Not quite.
ESPN's Keith Law, for example, wrote in an ESPN Insider piece that only two of the players the Marlins got in the trade—outfielder Jake Marisnick and left-hander Justin Nicolino—are likely to be missed by the Blue Jays down the line.
The indication there is that the Marlins did not dump several of their star players for several star prospects, which means that not everyone agrees that it was a win for the Marlins from a strict baseball standpoint. And indeed, Law is an expert among experts. It doesn't look good for the Marlins that he looked at what they got and shrugged.
But was winning the trade from a baseball perspective even the point, or was the point to make a business decision? Were the Marlins looking to acquire young players, or were they simply looking to dump payroll?
Loria danced around questions such as these in both his letter to fans and his meeting with reporters at Marlins Park.
Case in point, the following passage in the letter suggested that the trade was a business decision:
Are we fiscally capable and responsible enough to fill the roster with talented players, invest in the daily demands of running a world-class organization and bring a World Series back to Miami? Absolutely! Is it sound business sense to witness an expensive roster with a terrible record and sit idly by doing nothing? No.
Reading between the lines here: We can afford a high-priced ballclub, but we don't see the point of paying a premium for a lousy product.
That's fine. But since it's his money, it's his decision. If the trade with the Blue Jays was a business decision, then he should be able to admit that it was his desire to dump the money and that he was the one who ultimately OK'd the trade. Like he said: "As the owner of the ballclub, the buck stops with me and I take my share of the blame where it's due."
But then he turned around and told reporters on Monday that the decision to blow up the team came after he "spoke to our guys and said what do we do and these are the suggestions that came forward." It was "the baseball people" who told him a major change was needed.
So it was the baseball people who wanted to blow up the team?
That's not far-fetched, but here's another case of Loria saying two different things out of different sides of his mouth. One second he's saying that the buck stops with him and that he's willing to take blame, and the next he's saying that he was just listening to his people. If fans are looking for someone to blame for the destruction of the Marlins, hey, it was their idea.
That's not going to satisfy Loria's critics, and there are plenty of those out there. While he's not entirely out of line wanting everyone to believe that the trade with the Blue Jays wasn't a bad baseball trade, he can't hope to convince everyone to disregard what was said about the general reality of it.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, who is probably Loria's loudest critic, wrote that the trade was a "baseball tragedy." Scott Miller of CBSSports.com wrote that, "even by Marlins standards," it was a "despicable disgrace." In his write-up about the trade, Keith Law called Loria and his cohorts the "greatest joke of all in this deal."
What does Loria think of all this negative feedback?
That's a trick question. In his letter, he cautioned against listening to "naysayers." But when he was asked on Monday about what he thought of all the negative feedback, he said:
I haven’t seen anything. I got a few silly phone calls. That was in November. It stopped. I’m hoping maybe we can just call a halt to it all and try and get behind the home team this next year.
Here we go again. It was "Don't listen to the naysayers" one day, and "What naysayers?" the next. He went from taking a stand against his critics to ignoring them in the blink of an eye.
It's too bad Jeff Passan wasn't there to ask Loria about what he had to say about Marlins Park in his letter to the fans. Then he would have had to answer for all the things that Passan picked up on as being grossly misleading about the stadium's financial situation. As much as Loria wants fans to believe that there's nothing sinister about Marlins Park, there's a lot about it that's sinister.
Par for the course. There's the truth, which is that the Marlins are a downtrodden team that plays in a boondoggle of a ballpark and is run by an owner with suspect motivations. Then there's Loria's version of the truth, which is that the Marlins are a team on the right track that plays in a beautiful ballpark and—and this is the really important part—is run by a man who absolutely deserves to be trusted.
It's up to you, Marlins fans, what you want to believe about Loria and the organization under his control. You're more than welcome to follow his lead, in which case you'll be optimistic about the team's future.
But one thing's become clear enough after all he's said in the last couple days, and that's that following his lead requires a pretty big leap of faith.
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