DALLAS – Jeffrey Loria watched the news conference from the second row, beaming like a proud parent as Heath Bell talked about his new love for the Miami Marlins and reuniting with Jose Reyes.
Trying to make a quick getaway, the owner was surrounded by reporters in the corridor who wanted to know who else would be migrating to South Florida: Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle?
Instead of trading away their stars, the Marlins have become the biggest player in the offseason market, the riches from their new ballpark a free-agent attraction.
“I want our team to be important,” Loria said Monday as the baseball winter meetings opened. “It’s an energy city, and I think that’s one of the things that brings the players there. They see the energy.”
Bell’s $27 million, three-year contract was finalized, giving the renamed Marlins an All-Star closer. Reyes’ $106 million, six-year deal is a satisfactory physical from conclusion.
Pujols, who already has toured the new ballpark, would join Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison in the batting order – if the three-time N.L. MVP is willing to leave the St. Louis Cardinals, the only team he’s played for in his major league career.
“One big hitter?” Loria said out loud, his 2003 World Series ring flashing on his hand. “Well, I don’t know about that, but there’s a possibility of another player or two we’re looking at.”
Morrison, among others, was wondering.
“Just out of surgery. Everything went well,” he wrote on Twitter after a minor knee operation, adding: “Have we signed Pujols yet??”
No longer watching players like Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera getting hooked by other teams, the Marlins now have the bait to attract baseball’s best. They drew a major league-low 1.52 million fans to Sun Life Stadium, also home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, last season. But Loria expects his team will draw 2.5 to 3 million at the new park.
But the Marlins are not without their problems. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating to see whether any federal securities laws have been broken in the $634 million stadium financing deal.