JUPITER, Fla. - A cluster of media stood outside the Miami Marlins clubhouse, awaiting the arrival of owner Jeffrey Loria when outfielder Bryan Petersen walked past.
"Somebody getting married?" Petersen said.
It was more like somebody trying to salvage a relationship. Loria's three-day public relations campaign to patch things up with angry fans brought him to spring training Tuesday for an interview session that included several testy exchanges before the owner cut it short.
Loria reiterated many of his previous comments regarding the 2012 payroll purge, saying it wasn't about money but about improving the farm system.
"If you know anything about the game, you know that down the road, you have your ideas about what your payroll's going to be and who your players are going to be," said Loria. "It's not about payroll. It's about players. It's about people. I said the same thing in 2003. For me, it's never been about payroll."
Ten minutes into the news conference, he bristled when Local 10 sports director Will Manso asked why fans should believe him.
"You've said that question in four different ways," Loria said. "My response to you is we have put together some championship-caliber young players, a large group of them, and we're going to field an excellent team in the next two or three years that you're going to be proud of."
Fans are upset that after only one season of big spending in a new ballpark built mostly with tax money, the Marlins have reverted to their tight budgets of the past. Loria was asked about trying to change the impression the ballpark project was "a con job."
"A con job? I'm not even going to answer that," Loria said.
Many project the Marlins to lose 100 games only a year after they were the talk of baseball and touted as playoff contenders. This year's payroll is expected to be less than $45 million, compared with $90 million in 2012.
"I have faith in my baseball people," said Loria. "It just isn't like 'I'll sign this star, this star, and that star.' We did that last year. It didn't work."
Loria denied he reneged on any promise, noting the Marlins finished last in the NL East with their biggest payroll ever.
"I fulfilled my promise in the new ballpark last year," he said. "It didn't work. So what do you do? Go back again and lose more games? We needed to do something to beef up the organization."
A blockbuster trade in November sent to Toronto three of the Marlins' highest-paid players — shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson.
In exchange, the Marlins received SS Adeiny Hechavarria, LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, RHP Henderson Alvarez, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, C Jeff Mathis, and INF Yunel Escobar. The Marlins also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Blue Jays in the deal.
"We have some very exciting young players here," Loria said. "We need to bring them along and develop our own stars, or else we're going to be a last-place team forever."
As he stepped away from the TV cameras after 15 minutes, a PR aide said the owner would take more questions. Instead, Loria disappeared through a clubhouse door and didn't return.
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