Jeb Bush says he is optimistic he can close a deal to buy the Miami Marlins despite stiff competition, and partner Derek Jeter would take charge of baseball operations.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says two groups remain in the mix. The second bid is led by Tagg Romney, son of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Bush spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time about his efforts to purchase the team from Jeffrey Loria.
“Given the interest we have inside Miami and among people that are potential partners, I’m really excited about it,” Bush said. “It’s a sport that has huge potential in Miami. I’m excited about the community aspects of this.”
The former Florida governor, who lives in Miami, made his comments during a discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.
Romney has yet to speak publicly about the bid by his group, which includes Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine.
“We have two very strong groups that we believe will have sufficient financial resources to complete the sale and run the team effectively,” Manfred said in a statement.
Jeter and Bush were part of rival efforts to buy the Marlins before joining forces. Jeter was a 14-time All-Star shortstop who retired in 2014 after 20 seasons with the Yankees.
“Derek Jeter is a phenomenal guy, a person of incredible integrity,” Bush said. “I get to meet famous people all the time, and sometimes they don’t match up to what their reputation is. Jeter is the exact opposite. He has this incredible, impeccable reputation he earned, and in person he’s maybe even better. He’s humble, really smart and totally focused on this.
“We have had to make some tough decisions that would require a little conflict. He has made them in a way that has made me feel really good to be his partner, so we’re really excited.”
Jeter has no front office experience, and he would be taking over a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003. Bush said they agree a free agent spending spree is not the best path forward.
“There is no correlation between high salaries and winning,” Bush said. “The sport is different maybe from others in that regard.”
Bush said he expects a decision regarding the sale “pretty soon,” but completion of any deal could take months and would require approval by at least 75 percent of the major league teams.
More than half of the winning bid could involve cash because of MLB’s debt service rule, meaning the Bush-Jeter group would need to raise a lot of money. Their bid is for $1.3 billion, Bloomberg reported.
It is not known who might be joining Bush and Jeter as partners. Bush said he wants to expand the reach of the franchise and MLB in Latin America.
Loria, 76, became unpopular in Miami in part because of the Marlins’ perennially small payrolls, and Bush didn’t sound as though he’ll be a big spender, either.
“Losing money along the way is not the plan,” Bush said. “Baseball doesn’t have a salary cap. You have to have the discipline to identify players the right way. Be patient about it, and use data and analytics the right way.
“Derek is going to be in charge of the baseball. He fully appreciates the need to do this in a patient way.”
Bush, 64, served two terms as governor from 1999-2007 and was an unsuccessful candidate last year for the Republican nomination for president. His brother, former President George W. Bush, was controlling owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 until he became governor of Texas in 1995.
Jeter, 42, lives in Tampa and has long talked of his desire to own a team.
Romney, 47, has been a businessman, venture capitalist and political adviser.