SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent made a good point when he told me recently that Jeffrey Loria “is an odd owner in that he runs the club without regard to people who are paying the bills.”
Loria already has lost credibility with Marlins fans by slashing $60 million off his payroll, without explanation.
The obvious consequence of trading Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle – who both said Loria assured them they would not be – is that “players don’t trust him,” one prominent agent said. “Why would anyone ever take him at his word again?”
That loss of trust and the alienation of his fan base stand as Loria’s biggest impediments as he enters his 12th season as Marlins owner.
But there are other areas, too, where Loria would help his franchise by changing his approach. Among the points raised in conversations that Marlins beat writer Clark Spencer and I had with several agents, players and people close to the team’s front office:
### Loria’s meddling in personnel decisions is widely known, but it’s even worse than perceived. Besides suggesting or dictating free agent signings and players to trade, Loria has instructed his front office to demote several players.
The Marlins went without a third catcher in September because Loria was fed up with Brett Hayes. One player said word came down during a game that Chris Volstad would be demoted because of Loria’s unhappiness. “He had one bad start, and Loria was like, ‘He’s gone,’” another player said.
“Everyone knows he does it,” the player said of Loria demoting players. “It makes it hard to play. Every time you come into the clubhouse after a bad outing, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, [bleep]! Is Loria going to send me down because he’s [angry] tonight, just because Loria’s in an [expletive] mood?’
“So all these guys, with the exception of Giancarlo [Stanton], walk around on eggshells.”
We can list all of the Loria-driven bad decisions (Heath Bell, John Buck, etc.) and his enlightened ones (signing Pudge Rodriguez, advocating the Ugueth Urbina trade), but the broader question is this:
Why is the owner even involved to this extent with personnel? “If Larry Beinfest and Michael Hill were left alone and given autonomy, they would be much better off,” one agent said --- though Beinfest took bad advice from his scouting staff on a bunch of former No. 1 draft picks.
Another agent said he’s left with the impression that everything beyond minor moves must be run by Loria – different from how the Heat, Dolphins and Panthers do business.
“Jeffrey wants to be Jerry Jones and George Steinbrenner making personnel decisions, but Jones and Steinbrenner want to win,” one of the agents said. “Jeffrey wants to make money first. That’s the difference.”
### Marlins players notice when Loria shoots disgusted looks or throws up his hands when a player fails, or when he leaves early when the Marlins are losing. Some don’t like that he sits so close to the dugout.
“He’s always looking in the dugout,” one former Marlin said. “Mind your business! Watch the game! But he’s got the seat right there.”
### Though Loria can be generous (such as buying jewelry for Hanley Ramirez), his presence in the clubhouse irritates some players, according to a former Marlin. “You never see an owner in the clubhouse unless there’s a reason to be, and you wonder what the heck he’s doing in here,” another said.
### Another player criticized Loria for talking to the team as a group.
“This guy sits down with us in Boston last season and tries to give us an [expletive] speech, to inspire us,” the player said. “You listen to it and then everybody kind of looked at each other like, ‘What the [bleep] is that? Is this guy serious?’ It was unnecessary.”
### Another criticism from players: Loria’s penchant for bringing up the 2003 championship team. “It’s on the bulletin board all the time – 2003, 2003, 2003,” said a member of the 2012 team. Everybody just gets sick of it. Let it go. Nobody wants to hear about the 2003 team.”
### Four agents told me their players cannot trust that their injuries and rehabilitations will be handled correctly because of lack of confidence in the training staff -- a problem that a former Marlin attributes to Loria’s loyalty to trainer Sean Cunningham.
One agent said his client’s rehab “was [messed] up. Rehab schedules were incorrect.”
So will Loria ever do a self-evaluation and genuinely change? Those close to him say that’s doubtful. One of his joys of owning a team is helping pick the players, and doing what he wants, without regard to public reaction.
One Loria friend said: “He acts like a fan and that’s bad as an owner.”
Said a former Marlins player: “It’s not that Loria’s a bad guy. [But] we just don’t like the way he goes about things. He gets everybody annoyed… He wants the credit for all the good stuff and none of the bad.”
### People who spoke to the Dolphins’ front office say Miami is pessimistic about its chances of re-signing Jake Long but will keep working at it. Long, believed to be seeking at least $10 million a year, scoffed at Miami’s first offer during the season, according to a teammate.
### If Philadelphia -- which entered Friday three games behind the No. 8 playoff seed – makes the playoffs, the Heat will have a good pick in June’s draft, perhaps 15th or 16th. But if the 76ers miss the playoffs, Miami won’t have any first-round pick. That’s because the pick acquired from Philadelphia is lottery protected for three years, and Miami’s 2013 first-rounder is owned by Cleveland.
### Recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein said he believes Miami’s hiring of former FSU assistant James Coley as offensive coordinator has elevated UM from an underdog to the favorite to land Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas and offensive tackle Denver Kirkland, rated among the top 10 nationally at their positions. “Thomas’ best relationship is with Coley,” Fishbein said. Fishbein favors Arkansas in the battle for elite running back Alex Collins, but UM believes it has a strong chance.
### The UM basketball team’s defense has improved markedly since Jim Larranaga replaced Frank Haith, and people around the program view Larranaga’s philosophy and teaching skills as a big reason, combined with the staff’s ability to develop players.
Haith often was willing to concede open three-pointers (Larranaga isn’t) and played far more zone than Larranaga. Comparing Haith’s final UM team (2010-11) to this UM team, the difference is dramatic: UM has risen from 163rd to 30th in scoring defense this season (nine points a game less), 83rd to 8th in field-goal percentage allowed this season (an impressive 36.9) and 226th to 47th in three-point percentage defense.