Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria reportedly has a $1.6 billion "handshake agreement" to sell the team.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has a tentative agreement to sell the team to a New York City-based real estate developer for $1.6 billion, according to multiple reports.
Both Forbes and the Associated Press report that there are significant potential roadblocks to a deal being completed, but it's the latest in a series of increasingly serious signs that the art dealer-turned-professional sports franchise owner Loria is looking to get out of the baseball business.
Marlins president David Samson declined comment when reached by the Sun Sentinel on Thursday. Last week, at the MLB owners meetings in Palm Beach, Samson said Loria, 76, is "completely committed and engaged" with the Marlins.
"I would tell you that to me there is no difference today than there was yesterday. Or tomorrow," Samson said last week. "I don't know what tomorrow brings, but I know what yesterday and today bring."
ESPN and Bloomberg have reported that Charles Kushner — father of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser — is part of a group interested in buying the Marlins, though it is unclear whether he's part of this prospective deal.
The New York Times reports that the Kushner group interested in the Marlins is led by venture capitalist Joshua Kushner (Jared's younger brother) and Joseph Meyer, his brother-in-law. That report says they have pursued the Marlins for several months, and that Charles and Jared Kushner are not part of that effort.
Major League Baseball released a statement saying that it was not aware of any sale conversations involving Charles Kushner, who has served prison time for tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign contributions.
"Under Major League Baseball rules, the Commissioner's Office must be informed of any conversations about a potential sale," the statement said. "The Commissioner's Office has not heard directly or indirectly of any conversation involving Charles Kushner."
Forbes cited two unnamed sources who said Samson has acknowledged a "handshake agreement" between Loria and the interested buyer.
The Associated Press, also citing an unnamed source, added that the $1.6 billion price tag is merely a preliminary one, and the final cost could be significantly lower — if the parties complete the transaction at all.
The hang-up in the tentative deal is reportedly that the potential buyer's net worth is tied up in real estate and he therefore does not have the cash to make the purchase. Charles Kushner fits that description, according to ESPN.
Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross, who is a New York City real estate developer, is not the potential Marlins buyer, a source told the Sun Sentinel.
Thursday's reports are the latest in a series of indicators that Loria is looking to sell the Marlins. In November, the Boston Globe reported that a Boston-based investment firm headed by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney engaged Loria in negotiations that ultimately fell through.
A month later, Forbes reported that Loria had been floating a $1.7-billion asking price — about two and a half times the club's estimated worth of $675 million, per Forbes.
"We're not responding," Samson said at the time. "I've never reacted to Forbes, nor am I going to change my answer.
"There's a lot of people who want to own a Major League Baseball team around the country, so obviously over 17 years you hear from a lot of people. But nothing different than normal."
There have also been baseball-specific signs that Loria is not in it for the long-term. Traditionally a frugal franchise, especially during Loria's reign, the Marlins will have a club-record payroll in the neighborhood of $115 million in 2017 — with that number poised to climb in future seasons.
With backloaded contracts for Giancarlo Stanton, Wei-Yin Chen, Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich on the books, the Marlins are already on the hook for $95.3 million for eight players in 2018, according to Cot's Contracts.
For 2019, that number is $84 million for five players. In 2020, $74.3 million for four.
The Marlins have also made a series of trades that place more significance on the present than the future, trading minor leaguers for pieces they believed would help them in the near-term. Most significantly, the team sent top position-player prospect Josh Naylor to the San Diego Padres in July in the deal that brought pitcher Andrew Cashner to Miami for two months.
After years of small payrolls and trading popular players, Loria's reputation among fans is not a positive one.
The Marlins have not made the playoffs since winning the 2003 World Series, and they have finished under .500 seven seasons in a row. Despite playing in recent years at Marlins Park — the team's $639-million taxpayer-funded home that opened in 2012 — the team has had the lowest attendance in the National League in 11 of the past 12 seasons.
Loria, previously the owner of the Montreal Expos, bought the Marlins for $158 million in 2002. Buzz that he could be selling comes on the cusp of one of the biggest seasons in the history of the franchise.
The organization is still grieving the loss of ace Jose Fernandez, who died in a boat crash late last season. And the Marlins will host the All-Star Game in July for the first time.