Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria on Monday night defended the front office's controversial November trade, urged fans to have patience as the club rebuilds and said he has no plans to sell the team.
"I love this ball club and I like what we've done now. It's a little painful for a lot of people, but, no pain, no gain,'' he said in his first remarks to South Florida media since trading five front-line players to Toronto.
The Marlins are trying to recover from a public-relations disaster after trading All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and two other players. Team executives said the move was necessary because the Marlins lost 93 games and finished last in the NL East in their first season at Marlins Park.
"We didn't break up the 1927 Yankees," Loria said in a 23-minute interview at the stadium's Diamond Club lounge. "We broke up a losing ball club that was going nowhere for two straight years."
"Frankly, we stunk and it was a disaster. I stood by and I just watched it and finally I spoke to our guys and said, 'What do we do?' And these are the suggestions that came forward. We've got to start again.''
The Marlins opened the 2012 season with a $111 million payroll, a spending spree made possible by their new, $515 million ballpark. Although the team drew 2.2 million fans (18th in the majors), Loria said the Marlins still "lost tens of millions of dollars last year.''
Team president David Samson said the actual turnstile count last year was 1.4 million, about 1 million less than what the Marlins expected. The 2.2 million figure refers to tickets sold, which is the number Major League Baseball uses.
The Marlins will open this season with a payroll of around $40 million, which will rank among the lowest in baseball. (The Houston Astros are expected to have a $30 million payroll.)
Still, Loria objects to critics who say the Marlins -- who also traded away Hanley Ramirez in July -- conducted a "fire sale."
"It's not a fire sale," he said. "It's called hit the restart button because it didn't damn work."
Loria hopes fans latch on to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, pitcher Henderson Alvarez and other young players the Marlins got back from the Blue Jays.
"We had to turn back the clock, push the restart button and get these young players in here,'' said Loria, who on Tuesday plans to attend his first Marlins game of the spring in Jupiter.
But the Marlins will be a tough sell to disillusioned fans who thought the club would continue to have a substantial payroll because the new stadium was heavily subsidized with public funds.
Samson said season-ticket sales are below 5,000 -- far below last season, when they were over 12,000.
"I'm sorry that we've built this amazing ballpark and fans are feeling the way they do, but we did this for a reason -- we weren't going anywhere and I think anybody who is a baseball person will realize that after two years that we had, we had to do something," Loria said. "We had to do something quickly and swiftly and bold.''
The Marlins lost 90 games in 2011, prompting them to hire manager Ozzie Guillen for 2012, but he was fired after the season.
Loria said he has no plans to sell the team. He said he personally has received feedback from fans who support his decisions.
"On Saturday, I was at the food and wine festival,'' he said. "I was probably approached by 20 or 30 people, all of whom congratulated me and said, 'You had to do what you did.' To a person."
As for angry 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.''
Reyes and Buehrle have criticized Loria, saying he traded them after assuring them that would not happen. In December 2011, Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million contract and Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million deal. Their contracts did not include no-trade clauses.
Loris said the team decided after the 2012 season that Buehrle "doesn't fit in" their long-term plans.
Loria disputed Reyes' contention two weeks ago that Loria told the shortstop a few days before the trade to buy a house in Miami.
"What you were told is inaccurate. I never told him to buy a house,'' Loria said.
Loria said he has no hard feelings toward right fielder Giancarlo Stanton for critical comments the slugger made after the trade.
"I know it was an immediate, knee-jerk reaction saying what he said. I don't hold that against him,'' said Loria. He said he and his wife had dinner with Stanton in October at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Although Loria envisions Stanton as the centerpiece of the franchise, he made no promises that he would not be traded.
"He will be here this year and I'm hopeful he will come here the next year,'' Loria said. "He's the young giant in the ball club, but you can't make promises in this game because strange things happen all the time.''
As for a long-term offer to Stanton, Loria said the Marlins would wait until after the 2013 season before considering one.
"I don't think this is the year to go to Giancarlo with an offer,'' he said. "We have to let him play it out, let him feel more comfortable.''
Loria described as "a smear campaign" the Miami Dolphins' efforts to distance themselves from the Marlins in their effort to get public money to renovate Sun Life Stadium.
"I'm sure it's their effort to get their deal done. I hope the Dolphins get their deal. I want every team to thrive in South Florida,'' he said. "It has nothing to do with us. We should not have been included.''
Loria said he waited until Monday to talk to reporters because "It's hard to stop a runaway train. I wanted to decompress, sit back and see what we needed to do.''
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