MIAMI (AP) — Derek Jeter sat Tuesday night in the left field plaza at Marlins Park, facing the music with the downtown skyline behind him.
The former New York Yankees shortstop fielded questions from season-ticket holders, many upset about the direction of the team under a new ownership group led by Jeter.
He told them the Marlins traded major league home run champion Giancarlo Stanton, stolen base champ Dee Gordon and All-Star left fielder Marcell Ozuna for prospects because an affordable payroll and stronger farm system is the only path to sustained success.
Jeter calmly answered questions until there were no more, and after the 90-minute session, he said he appreciated the fans’ feedback — positive and negative.
“They’re passionate,” Jeter said. “That’s the thing that is most important, and that’s the thing that stood out. I would much rather have a situation where we’re answering questions from fans who are passionate, as opposed to everyone sitting there saying all positives. It shows me they care about the performance on the field and this team, and obviously they’ve been through a lot.”
Some 200 ticket-holders attended the town hall, the first in a series, and the seats arranged in the outfield plaza were nearly full — a refreshing change for the attendance-challenged franchise. Jeter opened his charm offensive by addressing the recent payroll purge.
“You’ve seen the Marlins make moves like this time and time again,” he said. “This is not the same old same old. We have a plan. This is not a project to break the team down and build it up just to break it down again. We have a path to be sustainable over time.”
The Marlins haven’t had a winning season since 2009 and went 77-85 this year, but several fans argued the team was only a couple of starting pitchers shy of contending, and Jeter’s group should have added talent instead of dismantling.
More spending wasn’t a long-term solution, Jeter responded. He said the franchise lost too many games and too much money under previous owner Jeffrey Loria, who left the farm system decimated.
“You can’t throw money at a problem and dig a bigger and bigger hole and not have any depth in the organization,” Jeter said. “You have to build from the bottom up.
“I hear your pain. I know you’ve been through a lot. But we’re trying to build something that is sustainable, and this is the only way to do it.”
Jeter’s plan had better work, one fan said.
“We have been the laughingstock of baseball for years,” she said. “If you have a shot at not killing baseball for good in Miami, this is it.”
Another fan fought back tears while discussing the departures of Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki.
“I appreciate your passion,” Jeter responded. “You are the true definition of a true die-hard baseball fan.”
Several fans said they may not renew their season-ticket package, with one noting the town hall was being held on the plaza where many of Stanton’s tape-measure homers landed.
“I don’t expect to see any more of that,” he said.
Many fans offered suggestions, from free tickets to Jeter replacing Stanton in right field.
“I’ve played my last game,” Jeter said.
The rookie owner disputed the impression his group is underfinanced after buying the team for $1.2 billion. One fan said the dismantling leaves that impression, and expressed frustration with Jeter’s talk about improving the spectator experience.
“You act like you ran out of money,” the fan said. “You’re not going to win here with dancing girls. You’re going to win with ballplayers who know how to win. The fans are alienated. They’re upset. That’s what you’re dealing with here.”
While Jeter has said he’ll oversee both baseball and business operations, it’s unclear to what degree he’ll be a hands-on owner. With Stanton gone, he becomes the face of the franchise by default, but has seemed reluctant to embrace that role.
When one fan told Jeter she emailed her complaints to him, he recoiled in alarm.
“You don’t have my email address,” he said.
After the town hall, he said meeting with center fielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto — who could form the core of the team next season — is not part of his job.
As to whether Yelich or Realmuto might be the next player traded, Jeter said: “I can’t say who will be playing for the Marlins in 2018, because we’re still looking to improve the organization.”
Jeter also disputed the impression the recent trades favored the other teams. He noted that in the Stanton deal, the Yankees took on $265 million of the $295 million owed to the slugger over the next 10 years.
“We gave a gift, right?” Jeter said. “I hope every gift I give returns $265 million.”
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