The real All-Star Game drama took place in the box of seats behind home plate, near what most nights is the Marlins’ clubhouse. This is the owner’s box, and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria sat there with his wife, as usual, for most of Tuesday’s game.
But it was the owner’s box for another reason this night. Miami businessman Jorge Mas sat right behind Loria. They talked. They laughed at times. When Loria left in the seventh inning, Marlins team president David Samson then arrived to shake Mas’s hand and, later, give a hug.
“A fun night, exciting night,” Mas said as he stopped and talked on his way out of Marlins Park a few minutes later.
Is he buying the team?
“We’re working hard, working hard,” said Mas, chairman of both MasTec in Coral Gables and the Cuban American National Foundation. “We’ll see what happens. I’m hoping … I hope everything works out like we want.”
How close to a deal?
“We’re getting close, I think,” he said.
Nothing is finalized. Everything is in Loria’s unpredictable mind for now. Loria wants $1.2 billion. Mas has made a $1.17 billion offer. Will groups involving Derek Jeter or Tagg Romney be able to compete?
Other small hurdles remain. Mas’s financing and developed paperwork have to be completely vetted by Major League Baseball. But if nothing changes and things progress as expected, this deal could close for Mas “in a week or two,” a source said.
We’ll see. Timetables have come and gone with this sale. Nothing is certain until something is signed. But the signs point to this being the best possible result for the Marlins and baseball in South Florida.
A local owner? Who loves baseball enough to be a Marlins season-ticket holder? Who has enough money (net worth a reported $2 billion) to not need a long roster of investors? Who can pump new and needed energy into a franchise going through yet another difficult season under a disliked owner?
The question isn’t if Mas is the best prospective owner for the Marlins right now. The question, really, is if he has been the only realistic bidder all along in this long and oddly public affair.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said again this week that three groups are financially viable to purchase the Marlins and Loria will have a decision to make coming up on who the team’s next owner will be. This has been said for a while — even as those groups keep undergoing changes.
If Mas sitting next to Loria at Tuesday’s spectacle — or if him getting hugged by Samson — wasn’t evidence enough of where things stand, look at what the other prospective groups have done.
Jeter? He has been a national favorite for the simple reason he’s a known and popular baseball player. But he’s not putting up big money of his own to buy the team. He’s changed lead investors. He lost Jeb Bush. He also just added basketball’s Michael Jordan as a name more than an investor — if that moves anyone’s needle at all.
Romney? He’s had New York-based Wayne Rothbaum as a lead investor and got Bush from the Jeter camp. He also just added Miami rapper Pitbull this week — again, if that moves the needle of high finance any.
Maybe one of these groups sees Mas sitting with Loria, sees Samson hugging him, and ups the ante. We’ll see. But Mas isn’t playing this game of going around finding a Minority Celebrity Owner. He has a small group of two or three other investors, it seems. But he’d plan for it to be about business and baseball and the mix of the two in his hometown.
Mas should come into this deal with his eyes wide open as a local baseball fan. The Marlins’ image is a wreck. They’re probably due for a rebuild of some sort. Their minor-league system is a mess and, overall, they’re on the books to lose about $60 million this season. Of course, after revenue sharing, they’ll be fine.
But baseball owners are tired of bailing out the Marlins with tens of millions each year, as a source said during this All-Star break. They want a new owner in there who will do what Loria hasn’t been able to do. That, of course, sounds exactly what baseball fans have been saying for years around this team, too.
Loria left the All-Star Game after the seventh inning. Mas stayed a little longer in the owner’s box. Nothing is signed and delivered for that box to be his. But barring some surprise or big change of mind, it looks like Mas could be in the owner’s box for years to come.