MIAMI (AP) – Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria says he expects a decision this weekend regarding the future of manager Jack McKeon, who has hinted that he won’t return in 2006.

“We’re waiting to hear what he wants to do,” Loria said Friday.

When asked about his preference regarding whether McKeon returns, Loria said, “He’s the guy who has to make the decision. … We’re continuing to talk about it over the next couple of days.”

Loria said the situation will be resolved before the end of the season Sunday, but the 74-year-old McKeon said he won’t announce his decision until after the season.

With a franchise-record $60 million payroll, the Marlins began the season with high hopes of repeating their 2003 run to the World Series title. They held a one-game lead in the NL wild-card race on Sept. 14, but a wave of injuries took a toll down the stretch, and the Marlins lost 12 of their next 14 games.

“It was not easy to watch,” said Loria, bemoaning injuries to second baseman Luis Castillo, shortstop Alex Gonzalez and others. “We had guys playing second and short who were in the minor leagues five days before they were our double-play combination. We had to scramble to put guys out there.”

Clubhouse grumbling about McKeon’s gruff style reached a peak down the stretch. Loria shook his head when asked if the manager was partly to blame for the disappointing season.

“That’s somebody else’s feelings, not mine,” Loria said. “Jack has been great. You’ve got a man who has been around for 50 years. He’s a valuable asset.”

The Marlins rank next to last in attendance and have made no progress toward the new ballpark they’ve long sought. Loria, who bought the franchise in 2002, declined to say how much money he lost this season.

“I’ve been doing this for four years,” he said. “It’s not pretty.”

He said he remains “extremely hopeful” that a deal can be reached on a new ballpark.

AP-ES-09-30-05 1932EDT

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