Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has received quite a lot of criticism since he and Bruce Sherman spearheaded a successful bid to acquire the organization from oft-criticized predecessor Jeffrey Loria. Payroll-trimming and rebuilding-oriented player transactions such as those the Marlins have undertaken do generally have a tendency to spur some harsh reactions, though surely there were a few other actions from the incoming leadership that also generated ill will.
In a must-read piece, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated takes an extended look at the past few months in Miami, centered upon discussions with Jeter and other key members of the organization. While the article ought to be digested in full, there are a few particularly relevant bits of information that are worthy of highlighting here.
For one thing, the story includes some differing perspective on the financial arrangement that Jeter has with the organization he runs. Some eyebrows were raised when Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported (as one part of a five-part series) that Jeter would earn a $5MM salary and could add additional bonuses for achieving profitability. “The speculation of what they say my salary is—$5 million?—that’s not true,” says Jeter, who also denies that his contract calls for him to receive bonuses based on the team’s profits. “And then I get a bonus based on what? … Not true. That’s not true.”
Additionally, some other reports had suggested Jeter’s investment level with the organization was $25MM, meaning he’d likely recoup his buy-in within five or less years, though the Herald and now Verducci suggest the real number is $37.9MM. “I keep hearing about my ‘modest’ investment,” Jeter tells Verducci. “I wish that were the case. One, it’s not small. And two, that’s not accurate, no.” Verducci says Jeter wouldn’t confirm the details, but did add that his stake is “higher than 25 [million].”
Beyond the questions surrounding his own finances, Jeter tells Verducci that the media has misrepresented ownership’s financial resources as well as its plans and attendance/revenue goals in future seasons by relying on an outdated investor prospective. The ongoing search for capital is about enhancing the local connections of the ownership group, he says. And while Jeter seemingly acknowledged that the Herald has in fact accurately represented a copy of the investors’ one-time business plan, titled Project Wolverine, he suggests things have changed quite a bit since the sale went through, with the team’s exact initiatives, milestones and objectives evolving in the past few months. (Jackson, in initially reporting the contents of Project Wolverine, did note that the copy he had obtained dated back to August.)
Jeter’s vision of a thriving, community-oriented organization both on and off the field seems uncontroversial, though many have doubted whether the plan — the apparent details of which have mostly been known through the Project Wolverine reporting — is in any way realistic. But Verducci writes that Jeter has been working hard, focusing especially on engaging the local business community, striving to find new revenue streams, and ultimately maximizing traditional revenue streams (tickets and TV) to put the organization on firmer footing.
Unquestionably, there’ll be an ongoing connection between the Marlins’ fortunes on and off the field. Jeter did not go much into specifics of the organization’s vision, beyond making clear that there will be high standards for all players at all levels and emphasizing that the organization won’t waver from its plans. He noted, too, that there’s an ongoing effort to boost the team’s analytics department.
The rookie CEO acknowledges the difficulties, but also says he won’t back down from a positive vision. “I’m not saying we don’t have lofty goals,” says Jeter. “People are so focused on the model from August. It’s changed. We’ve found out quite a bit since we got in here.” As for the idea that it’s unrealistic to expect major changes in the organization’s ability to earn, Jeter suggests he believes the fans will come if the team is run the right way. “I will never apologize for believing in the Miami market,” he adds.
There are loads of other interesting details to peruse. Verducci spends some time on how things went down with the Giancarlo Stanton trade, with president of baseball ops Michael Hill firmly defending the process as well as the package ultimately received. Relatedly, Jeter argued that the team had little choice but to blow up the roster to some extent. While he maintains that the team hoped to keep Stanton — a dubious proposition given just how expensive he was — Jeter says that even adding two high-end starters would not have made the roster into a winner. (“They still wouldn’t have won. So you just dig a bigger hole, and eventually you have to get out of it.”) The piece also goes into the variety of non-player personnel controversies that have arisen. In particular, Hill defends the controversial decision not to renew the contract of cancer-stricken scout Marty Scott and also suggests that Jeter had nothing to do with that matter.
None of the comments from Jeter and the rest of his front office cohort give much of an indication of how things will play out on the MLB roster in the near term. Catcher J.T. Realmuto, infielder Starlin Castro, starter Dan Straily, and a few other veterans still seem to be very realistic trade candidates, either before the start of the season or in the run-up to the trade deadline. With the team’s payroll pressures largely relieved — through the Stanton swap and three other highly significant trades this winter — perhaps there’s greater flexibility in weighing future moves. While on-field expectations will be exceedingly modest for 2018, the continued presence of potential trade chips means there’s still plenty of intrigue left for the Marlins front office over the coming weeks and months.