Wednesday afternoon, MLB owners unanimously approved the sale of the Miami Marlins to Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman, setting up the $1.2 billion sale to close on Monday, after the conclusion of the regular season. This is Rob Manfred’s wet dream, and the rest of us are just living it.
You’d expect the combination of 1) getting Jeffrey Loria the hell out of baseball and 2) beloved megastar Derek Jeter buying a major league franchise to carry more excitement, more emotion, more anything maybe. As for the first, this is not Frank and Jamie McCourt being forced to sell the Dodgers, with the historic club ultimately winding up in the hands of Magic Johnson and some wildly, wildly rich Guggenheim dudes. We didn’t get the pleasure of Loria being kicked out of the ownership club by a big rubber boot, metaphorically speaking. And he’s going out the door comically wealthier than he came in.
So it’s not only an unsatisfying end to Loria’s ownership, but will the Marlins really be that much better under Jeter? Sure, he’s Mr. Unobjectionable, but what does Derek Jeter mean to Marlins fans in any way that could rally or energize a beaten-down fanbase in Miami? Jeter and Sherman come into ownership with a lot of debt, and Jeter has already been reported to be intent on cutting payroll. Even before getting official run of the business, he’s begun cleaning house, from Loria’s son-in-law David Samson up at the top to guys like Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine, Tony Perez, and Jack McKeon for seemingly no other reason than to mark his territory.
Jeter seems intent on meddling in the baseball ops side of things, though he’s rumored to want to bring in Yankees VP of Player Development Gary Denbo, and is possibly keeping President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill. Jeter is certainly well-connected and should theoretically be able to recruit brighter, smarter people to Miami than Loria was able to, but even with a strong braintrust, he wants to be an involved owner, unlikely to be content sitting back and doing some corny tweets like Magic. Which is fine. But why should anyone trust he knows what the hell he’s doing? We know about Jeter’s playing credentials, but when exactly did he learn anything about payroll, roster construction, scouting philosophy, analytics, how to build an attractive overall product—all the things that actually matter when you’re sitting in the owners’ box instead of playing shortstop? This isn’t Steinbrenner’s Yankees, contented during Jeter’s stint to spend, spend, spend, and draw fans in through success and lore. Is there any way to set a DVR for the first time Jeter tries to negotiate with the Dave Dombrowskis and Andrew Friedmans of the world?
The Marlins don’t have the cachet of Jeter’s old team, or nearly any team in the league other than like, Tampa Bay. They’re a team that needs elbow grease (to say nothing of a ton of money). All things considered, Loria is leaving the team floating somewhere within the relative vicinity of a competitive roster, but it’s all but certain that Jeter’s gonna blow it up to get some of the bigger contracts off the books.
I asked a few (a scientifically significant sample size, clearly) Marlins fans about the sale of the team, and one thing a couple of them brought up independently that could be an easy, significant move for Jeter’s ownership and management would be to pursue a roster stacked with notable Hispanic/Latin American talent. They think Jeter’s tenure could do well to encourage the Hispanic baseball culture that should theoretically be represented in a Miami fanbase; I think that for fans tired of seeing photos of their empty, strange ballpark mocked nationally, the joy and excitement of the World Baseball Classic clicked some things into place.
There is one player on the 40-man roster from Cuba (reliever Odrisamer Despaigne), and none from the Miami area. Jeter’s certainly not going to lure in Manny “Mr. Miami” Machado in free agency, but if the team’s going to go through the slog of roster turnover, a fun, relatable guy or two is at least a good place to start while the pieces of a winning franchise come together. It’s not like fans are asking for an Estonian starter who throws six different pitches; guys with ties to Cuba (and other Latin American countries represented in Miami), and to the Miami area itself, are out there, at a variety of price points. It’s entirely achievable to build the first Marlins teams that feels like it represents Miami.
Taking control of the Marlins could be the first thing Jeter does in his career that really puts him outside his comfort zone (a metaphorical first step to his left, you might say). He’ll be vulnerable and he’ll be more scrutinized than most first-time owners. He can’t afford to be bland, even though bland is the only thing he’s ever been. Godspeed, Miami.