CHICAGO -- Based on the readout on my digital recorder, we just spent 27 minutes and 3 seconds talking with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria inside the visitor's dugout at Wrigley Field. Loria touched on a LOT of topics, including the need to improve the minor-league system and improving the lineup as the team moves forward to the opening of their new ballpark next season. Here's much of what Loria had to say:
How frustrating was that June for you?
Loria: "It wasn't a lot of fun to watch. But, we've passed that now, thank goodness. It's just the way we were losing games. I saw it in spring training. You all remember that I was upset...We weren't doing the things that baseball teams are supposed to be doing. This is a gifted, gifted bunch of players. I don't want to say I saw it coming, but when we were winning, we were winning in interesting ways. But we weren't doing what we were capable of doing and what we're doing now."
How do you see the second half shaping up?
Loria: "I see nothing but good things. It would be nice if J.J. were back and on the mound, and giving us the full complement of having an ace on the field. But it's a time issue, which we have no control over. We miss him."
On Hanley and the team's hitting woes:
Loria: "We know what Hanley is capable of. Hanley's capable of vying for the batting championship every single year that he plays. We had a different way of looking at hitting starting with the middle of last year (about the time John Mallee was hired as hitting coach). Frankly, I didn't really care for it. There was no direction given to approach. It was all technique. Technique is what you learn in the minor leagues. Approach is about what you do with your thoughts. Who's pitching? Having a plan. That wasn't part of the message that was coming from the hitting coach. He did us best, but it wasn't helping them - witness what happened.
Going into the new ballpark, what do you think needs to be done to get the team to the next level?
Loria: "We're going to sit down at the end of the year and address that. But we need to get a third baseman that's ready to play in the major leagues. We need some more starting pitching. We'll have to see what happens in the outfield. There are players that are capable of doing it. We just have to see if they can do it. It's unfortunate that Chris (Coghlan) got hurt. But he'll get himself back, I'm sure. And Mike Cameron is a breath of more than just fresh air, a real breath of professionalism. First thing I told him when I spoke to him was, 'I've been hoping to get you on my team for at least seven or eight years.' It's nice to see a real professional in that clubhouse who's been around."
Can talk more about a third baseman and more starting pitching?
Loria: "We have a third baseman (Matt Dominguez) highly touted. But we'll find out whether he's ready. We'll see at the end of the year where the situation is. Everybody needs pitching, more and more pitching.
What are your thoughts about the minor-league system, the development system, because you just didn't have many players (who could be brought up to fill in on the major league roster)?
Loria: "I will address the minor league system at the end of the season. You'll see. Wait and see. We need to improve that situation. When we needed some players, we didn't have them. Let me clairfy what I said. The top players in our minor league system are now here. So it leaves us a little thin down there. So we have a problem.....
Some injuries didn't help down there either, West and Sanabia.....
Loria: "West? He needs to get in gear. He has not been to where he needs to be for a while. He's a great talent, but the talent has to do the job. And he's capable of it. No one's giving up on him. But it would be nice after five years or six years down there to see him finally make that step forward, where he can help us. It's time to get going."
Do you think the team needs more veteran presence?
Loria: "That's one of the reasons we brought Mike in. One or two more guys like that, yeah. Veteran presence always helps. When you have the number of gifted young players that we have, they need to be surrounded by experience. I haven't counted us out yet. I know it looks tough. But what are we now -- four under? We still have 60 or 70 games left. Anything can happen. I would never bet against Jack McKeon. He's not a miracle worker, and he'll tell you that. But he certainly has a magic tough of getting players to want to work and succeed."
Do you think Jack will be back next year, or at least be considered?
Loria: "We'll see where we are at the end of the year. There will be a number of candidates. But, right now, Jack's the manager, and we'll see where it goes. There is a chance, of course. I'm not ruling anything out, but it will have to be somebody with experience. I'm not going to allow a repeat of what happened this year. It was all done with good intentions, but I think experience is important, in the clubhouse and on the coaching level. You always want to give your players the most you can give them, and that's what I want to do."
How much is the new ballpark going to help you be able to give the team what it needs in resources?
Loria: "That, of course, remains to be seen. But the history of going into new ballparks, additional revenues will be significantly helpful. It should be."
Have you spoken to Edwin Rodriguez since he resigned?
Loria: "I did. I spoke to him from abroad afterwards. I don't want to say anymore. I thanked him for his effort. But, obviously, he wasn't feeling good about what he was doing. Was I surprised? Absolutely. Did we have an immediate solution? As far as I was concerned, yes. It's a new ballgame here now. I didn't have any discussion about him leaving. I was out of the country. I was as surprised as everybody was. But, you know what they say, sometimes things work out for the best. I mean, Jack, let's face it. He's brilliant. And I don't care if he's 180 years old. He's got the hand on the pulse of this team, and everybody on it."
Is your view of how close this team is getting back to the playoffs changed from the start of the season?
Loria: "No, it hasn't. We're a pitcher or two away, probably. One hitter. Don't forget, the players who are out there performing every day, in one or two years, you won't even think needing anything else. Maybe next year we won't because they will have had that first year or two under their belt. Mike and Logan and Boni, I mean, they're just first-rate guys. Chris... and Hanley is alive again. He comes to the ballpark with renewed energy, which is great to see.
More on failures of June....
"After winning games you're supposed to win, and we were not winning those games you're supposed to win -- all those one-run games. Obviously, there was something not working. It's not any one person's fault. It just happened. And we're passed that now. Look at Boni...Boni has a gift that everybody would like to have in baseball, and he wasn't using it. Jack came in here and said, 'Boni, you're going to run.' Now, every time he's on base, he's exciting. he never took a chance, never tried to steal a base. It's not the kind of baseball like I see played. You've got to take some chances, put the game in motion. Playing station to station baseball is not fun for anybody."
On looking forward to rest of season....
Loria: "I never quit. I never give up. How many games do we have left? 70? So there's plenty of time. What does Jack say? The train's moving north. Get on it? I'm not expecting miracles but I think it's going to be very interesting the rest of the way. We want them all playing the way we want them to be playing going into the new stadium. We're playing the game the right way now. There's a lot more live, more leadership, and more direction. And (new hitting coach Eduardo Perez) is doing a great job, teaching approach, going deeper into counts."
Was Eduardo your idea?
Loria: "All you have to do is listen to him speak and know what a bright young man he is. Forget his background. He played the game, professionally, for 10 or 12 years. A real student of hitting."
How do you look at the trade deadline on the 31st? Do you have to be in it by that date?
Loria: "We're looking to improve the team always. Larry (Beinfest) says the same thing, to find a way to improve the team. There's no call being made here. We're watching them play. We've got another two weeks before that happens. We need to fill in a couple of spots if we're going forward next year. I want us to be better. We're very good. But I want us to be better."
Are you still happy with the job the front office is doing?
Loria: "Couldn't be happier. Larry and Michael and D.J. There are no issues for me. Just to be clear, no issues. Nobody saw this coming in June. I saw a little of it in spring training, and voiced my opinion. But I didn't think it would be that severe over three weeks. We're capable of doing the same thing in the other direction."
What are your thoughts about realignment?
Loria: "I don't have any. I really don't. I'm happy where we are."
What, specifically, can you say about changes to the minor league system?
Loria: "We need to find a way to improve our system. Other than that, I don't want to be specific. We've been very successful with some of our draft choices. It' s a crap shoot half the time. Sometimes you're fortunate. Other times you're not. But I'm going to address it, and we need to find solutions that will get us to where we're not struggling to find a player when we need somebody to fill in."
Was it not a point of emphasis at the end of last year to have experience on the coaching staff?
Loria: "It was a point, but people felt they wanted to continue, and I said it was all right, gave them the go-ahead to do that (re-hire Edwin Rodriguez). But I think, going into our new facility. I want to give us the most possible chances to succeed, and if it means looking at the coaching staff, we'll have to do that. If it means looking at some of the players, we'll have to do that. It's an excellent organization. We always find ways to get better and to improve and be successful. There's a reason why we've had winning seasons after winning seasons, and I hope this season is no different. If you stand still, stay pat, someone's going to run right by you. You can't be looking back."