The intriguing double-play combination of Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush took a major step Tuesday toward taking the reins of the Miami Marlins.
A group headlined by the future Hall of Fame shortstop and former Florida Governor have reached an agreement in principle to buy the team from Jeffrey Loria, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
The deal is pending approval from Major League Baseball and finalization of other details, which could take months to complete.
The agreed upon price is $1.3 billion, according to the Miami Herald, which also reports that Bush plans to be the Marlins' "control person" among a group that includes at least five investors.
Marlins president David Samson declined to comment, saying: "I have not commented on the process and plan to keep it that way."
MLB thoroughly vets each potential purchaser as well as the proposed structure of any transaction as part of the sale process. No purchase agreement can be executed without MLB signing off, and 75 percent of the teams must vote in favor of any deal.
"It's a complicated, long process to do any transaction like this," Samson said recently. "And there's not a guarantee that a transaction will happen."
But already the prospect of Jeter, a five-time World Series champion and one of the most admired figures in baseball, is being embraced as a successor to Loria, who has long been unpopular among fans.
In Philadelphia, where the Marlins are playing the Phillies this week, former teammates of Jeter, including outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, spoke in glowing terms about the long-time New York Yankees captain.
"Anybody that he comes in contact with, I think they're going to have great things to say about him and have great experiences," Ichiro said of Jeter.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said, "I believe this community is ready for new ownership of the Miami Marlins. Hopefully, if former Governor Bush and Derek Jeter get this franchise, I think it'll be a good thing for this city and this entire community."
It was business as usual Tuesday for the ballclub aside from the rain that postponed the game. Manager Don Mattingly declined to comment on Jeter, who he worked with during his playing and coaching days with the Yankees.
But David Phelps and Martin Prado joined Ichiro in offering endorsements for their former teammate becoming their new boss. Phelps noted, as others have, that Jeter talked during his career about one day owning a team.
"What was Jeter like?" said Phelps, repeating a question he gets often. "My answer has always been the best teammate I ever had. The guy just went about it the right way, day in and day out."
Loria, 76, has been among the most unpopular sports owners of any South Florida team, despite delivering a World Series title (2003) and getting a stadium built with a retractable roof that had eluded previous owners. Financing of the stadium, mainly through tourist taxes and other public funding sources, was controversial and led to some of the politicians who supported the deal being voted out of office.
Fans had previously soured on Loria for keeping the Marlins payroll near the bottom of the major leagues and the practice of trading away the team's best players before their salaries could escalate.
The biggest uproar came during and after the team's first season in Marlins Park, in 2012. After a flurry of free-agent signings pushed the payroll above $100 million, the Marlins began trading away high-salaried stars at midseason. The selloff culminated in a blockbuster 12-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in November 2012, after which many fans vowed to never return as long as Loria owned the team.
Gimenez famously went more than four years before attending his first game at Marlins Park after opposing the use of $370 million in borrowed county money to build the ballpark in Little Havana. He said Tuesday that he would plan to attend games at Marlins Park "a lot more often" under a new ownership, and he noted that he had spoken to Bush as recently as this past weekend about his bid for the team.
"The ex-governor and I play golf around the same time and we talked about it this past Sunday," Gimenez said. "I think he will be a very good owner. I know that he's very enthused about it. And I also know that Jeter, obviously a great baseball personality, a legend, and to have both of them together as the owners of the Marlins would be a good thing for Miami-Dade and this community."
The group involving Bush and Jeter was among at least three that had been identified as interested in bidding for team.
Last week, Bloomberg reported that Quogue Capital founder Wayne P. Rothbaum was among the final bidders. That story said bids were due earlier this month and came in between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion.
The third group reported in recent weeks to be heavily involved was headed by Mitt Romney's son Tagg and included Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine.
A group led by Joshua Kushner— the younger brother of President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — ended its bid for the team in February after Loria was raised as a candidate for U.S. ambassador to France.
Loria stands to turn a remarkable profit from a $12 million initial investment to purchase 24 percent of the Montreal Expos in December 1999. Through exercising his rights as managing partner to issue a series of cash calls, he was able to gain a 94-percent controlling interest in the struggling franchise within two years.
The New York art dealer gained control of the Marlins in early 2002 through a complex three-way franchise swap engineered by then-baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
Loria and his Canadian investors purchased the team from John Henry for $158.5 million, while Henry gained approval to buy the Boston Red Sox for $700 million and MLB took over operation of the Expos, who were later moved to Washington and became the Nationals.
Under the terms of the agreement, Loria received $120 million from Major League Baseball for the Expos and a $28.5 million loan to complete the purchase of the Marlins. He also retained his rights to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, which has been the Marlins' spring training base since then.
The Marlins have added to a talented core of players in recent years. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract in 2014 that was the largest in professional sports in the United States. More recently long-term contracts were awarded to pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, Dee Gordon and Martin Prado.
That led to a team-record payroll of more than $115 million this season, which has been viewed as a last attempt to return to the postseason before Loria sold the team.
New ownership will be confronted by a rapidly escalating payroll due to the structure of some of those contracts. Stanton's contract jumped from $14.5 million to $25 million next season. The club already has $95.3 million committed to eight players in 2018.
Bush, who served as Florida's governor from 1999 to 2007 and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in last year, would be following the path into baseball of older brother George W. Bush, who was managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994.
Bush, 64, has a home in Coral Gables. He and his wife, Columba, have been married since 1974 and have three children: George, Noelle, and John Ellis Jr. — also called "Jeb."
Jeter, 42, made his interest in owning a team known when he retired after 20 seasons with the Yankees after the 2014 season. His most visible venture since then has been launching The Players' Tribune, a website that gives athletes a public platform to speak candidly.
In discussing The Players' Tribune in February 2015 on Bloomberg TV, Jeter reiterated his interest in team ownership, saying, "Baseball is what I know … I don't like to be unprepared and I don't know enough about the other sports to own a team. You know, I'd like to call the shots, so therefore I'd like to know what I'm doing. So, no, I'll stick with what I know."
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said during a meeting last week with the Associated Press Sports Editors that he was in favor of Jeter getting back into baseball as an owner.
"I've talked to Derek privately about his desire to be an owner," Manfred said. "I think the idea of a former player being an owner is an appealing one for baseball, particularly a player like Derek. It would bring some diversity to our ownership group. I think that would be a good thing."
Jeter, who earned more than $265 million in salary and millions more in endorsements during his 20-year career with the Yankees, played on five World Series champions. He also lost two, including the 2003 Series to the Marlins, who were in their second year of Loria's ownership.
Jeter has a home in Tampa and he and his wife, supermodel Hannah Davis, are expecting their first child, a daughter, this year.
Spokespersons for Bush and Jeter could not be reached for comment.