MIAMI — The Miami Marlins are for sale, and owner Jeffrey Loria may have a buyer.
Loria has a preliminary agreement to sell the team to a New York businessman, but the deal could fall through because the final purchase price hasn't been determined, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations said Thursday. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Marlins have not commented publicly on the negotiations.
The preliminary agreement was for a purchase price of about $1.6 billion, the person said, but added that was before the prospective buyer did due diligence. The final offer by the potential buyer could be much lower, the person said.
The person declined to identify the prospective buyer but said other parties are also interested in purchasing the team, and negotiations with them might eventually be reopened.
Forbes reported earlier Thursday, citing two unidentified sources, that Marlins President David Samson has said that there is a $1.6 billion handshake agreement for a sale.
Samson declined to comment to the AP and has been unwilling to say publicly whether the team is for sale.
Loria, 76, bought the Marlins for $158.5 million in 2002 from John Henry, part of the Boston Red Sox ownership group that has celebrated three World Series titles. The Marlins won the World Series in 2003 but haven't been the postseason since, and they haven't finished above .500 since 2009.
They've also finished last in the National League in attendance in 11 of the past 12 years despite moving into a new ballpark in 2012. The small crowds have been blamed in part on antipathy for Loria stemming from the team's perennially small payrolls and a financing agreement for the new ballpark widely viewed as unfair to taxpayers. Public money covered more than three-fourths of the project's $634 million cost.
Loria, a New York art dealer, has kept a low profile in Miami the past couple of seasons. But he approved increasing team payroll by one-third this season to about $100 million, which raised speculation he wanted a competitive team to make it more appealing to potential buyers.
The death of ace Jose Fernandez in a boat crash in September might be a factor in Loria's willingness to sell.
"Jeffrey was obviously impacted emotionally by the loss of Jose very significantly, like losing a child," Samson said last week. "But he continues to be motivated and interested and engaged."
Before purchasing the Marlins, Loria owned the Montreal Expos and became unpopular with their fans as well. He bought 24 percent of the team in 1999, and his share eventually rose to 92 percent. He failed to reverse the decline of the franchise, and it moved to Washington in 2005.
The Marlins' next owner will be their fourth. Wayne Huizenga founded the franchise in 1993.
Miami will host the All-Star Game for the first time in July. When Samson was asked last week if he anticipates that Loria will still own the team when this season ends, he said yes.