Jeffrey Loria has a “handshake agreement” to sell the Miami Marlins to an unnamed buyer for $1.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Loria has owned the team since paying $158 million in 2002, and he benefited from a new, $639 million taxpayer-funded ballpark, which certainly helped the value of the franchise.
There is a catch, according to Forbes, as the new prospective owner is an unnamed real estate developer from New York, whose assets are mostly tied up in real estate and not liquid. Major League Baseball has rules that prevent their owners from having too much debt, and they are historically skeptical of prospective owners who would need to leverage themselves substantially to purchase their new team.
If the deal goes through, it would probably be good news for baseball and bad news for the National League East. The Marlins play in the ninth-largest metropolitan area in baseball, larger than Boston, the Bay Area, Denver, and St. Louis put together. The Marlins often build their rosters as if they’re the 19th-largest metropolitan area, though, if not 29th. They receive revenue sharing. They get competitive-balance draft picks. There hasn’t been an owner in Miami who’s been entirely clear on what to do with the team.
The franchise’s story is worthy of its own Ken Burns documentary, but the team has struggled to take advantage of its market size since then-owner Wayne Huizenga began dismantling the 1997 World Series winners just a couple weeks after winning the championship. Another, smaller reloading happened after the 2003 World Series championship, and after Loria’s splashy attempt to build a winner for the new ballpark failed in 2012, there was yet another roster shakeup after that.
New owners could start treating the Miami market like the untapped reservoir of baseball potential it is. Of course, that’s been a theory for a couple decades, and different owners have cycled through, with the Marlins remaining the Marlins, so they’re a long way from being a big-market bully.
When you visit Fish Stripes today, however, my guess is that there won’t be a lot of “WHAT WILL WE DO NOW?” reactions. The Marlins are reportedly close to being sold, and the baseball landscape is about to be altered dramatically.