Will the Marlins' financial mess scare off Derek Jeter and other buyers?

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter, according to sources, has not placed a bid on the Marlins. (Getty Images)

The biggest question about Derek Jeter’s interest in the Miami Marlins isn’t whether he can round up the money to buy the club. Of course he can. He’s Derek Jeter. The ultra-wealthy would line up to partner with him.

No, it’s whether Jeter wants to be the person to wade into the muck and mire that is the Marlins’ financial situation, which multiple sources familiar with it deemed “toxic,” “a dumpster fire” and “worse than the Dodgers’ and Rangers’ when they went into bankruptcy.”

While much of the blame for the Marlins’ situation can be laid at the feet of owner Jeffrey Loria, whose constant mismanagement of the team has left the organization with barely any fan base and a paucity of local revenue, the sources praised Loria for dipping into his personal wealth to help offset the annual losses the Marlins are posting.

In past years, the Marlins’ self-described financial woes were fiction. They posted annual profits upward of $50 million, due to skinflint payrolls and minimal debt. Though their cost to use Marlins Park, their gleaming new stadium almost entirely paid for by taxpayers, is minimal, an increased payroll, cratering ticket sales, a bad television deal and other factors have left Loria vowing to sell.

How much he’ll get is the question. Jeter’s interest is real, as Fox Business first reported, though the parties involved believe he sees the Marlins as a poor-man’s version of the team that would best fit him: the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter, according to sources, has not placed a bid on the Marlins.

Where the first bid will land is of great interest to the parties involved, which also include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The $1.6 billion figure Loria desired is absurd with the Marlins’ finances what they are. Two sources suggested the over-under is around $1 billion – and one said he would take the over.

Because the Marlins are one of 30 teams, and not only is the cachet that comes with owning a major league team palpable, so has been the profit. Ownership of a major league team includes a 1/30th stake in Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the multibillion-dollar Internet arm of the league, in addition to a growing pool of shared revenues. Well over $100 million pours into the Marlins’ coffers annually from resources outside the organization.

They need it, too. Even deals that seemed like no-brainers for the Marlins have backfired. The organization, which paid the city $10 per parking spot in lots adjacent to the stadium, lost money on the arrangement last year, according to sources.

With a flagging season-ticket base – one source estimated it at less than 5,000 – turnstile attendance that may have been half the 1,712,417 fans the Marlins reported last season and a payroll that may end up in the $130 million range, the financial straits are real. The Dodgers and Rangers both fell into bankruptcy and went to auction to find new owners. Loria’s impetus behind keeping the Marlins solvent, sources said, is to reap the benefits of a sale.

Those who know Loria believe he wants to hold the Marlins at least through this summer’s All-Star Game in Miami, and one source suggested the sale may not happen until the offseason. Baseball would love Jeter’s presence in a front office, though he is considered a long shot. Another hope is for someone who could monetize the energy and excitement that permeated Miami during the World Baseball Classic this year – perhaps a Latino owner, or someone familiar enough with South Florida, to tap a market that many believe is rife with potential.

Ultimately, said another source close to the sale process, the Marlins will sell for more than most believe – and the rationale is near and dear to the heart of Loria, who made his first chunk of money as an art dealer before baseball made him truly wealthy.

“It’s like a piece of art,” the source said. “They’re worth what someone’s willing to pay for it.”

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