As 2019 Spring Training begins, teams from around Major League Baseball have a renewed sense of excitement. All thirty franchises have a clean slate and an opportunity to improve. While much time and attention will be spent focusing on the top contenders in baseball, this fresh start is most needed for the teams at the bottom of last season’s standings. There are many rebuilding teams that know their chances of competing for a World Series championship are slim. Yet, fans cling to the hope that the 2019 season will bring the possibility for change.
This is most true for the team many consider to be in the worst in baseball: the Miami Marlins. Not only are the Marlins projected to win less than seventy games, but the team has a major issue drawing local fans to their park. The team is also in the midst of a total rebuild under a new ownership group headlined by Derek Jeter. Let’s consider some of the issues they are facing.
Fixing the Miami Marlins Rebuild
Since their arrival in Florida in 1993, the team has had significant problems with attendance. Despite winning two recent World Series titles (1997 and 2003), the team has failed to connect with residents in south Florida. Part of the reason for this low following pertains to issues with past ownership groups. Twice in recent history, the team has alienated fans through harsh trades. The first, know as the 1997 Fire Sale, directly followed the team’s first championship. The team let go of stars like Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Jeff Conine and Edgar Renteria in an effort to save money.
The second major trade came in 2012. Miami added several star players to their roster and the city had just helped fund a new stadium for the team. For the first time in years, there was legitimate excitement around the Marlins. However, despite considerable interest among fans, a slow start by the team caused them to unexpectedly trade All-Stars Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle in another salary dump. After these two trades, the team has never been able to recapture the trust of their local fanbase.
While the two aforementioned deals were made for salary purposes, the Marlins also have a reputation for getting low value for their players. Just before the 2008 season, the team traded superstar Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers. Cabrera would become one of the most feared hitters in baseball during what will likely become a Hall of Fame career.
When Jeter and the new owners took over in 2017, they began yet another rebuilding process. The team would elect to trade reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees in exchange for minor league prospects. Miami would also trade power hitter Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals and outfielder Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first season in Milwaukee, Yelich would win the 2018 NL MVP. Additionally, the Marlins recently sent All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Philadelphia Phillies. While the team received a large quantity of young, minor league talent in exchange for these players, none of their prospects seems set for stardom.
Considering this bleak history, what can be done to turn the Marlins franchise around? Does the team have any hope of being legitimate contenders again soon?
Step #1: Hit on Your Prospects
This is the most obvious solution imaginable. It is also the most crucial. The team simply cannot afford to whiff on its current rebuild. There is speculation that another failure would lead to such outrage that the Marlins would have to move their franchise to another city to sell tickets. According to the Miami Herald, the team’s farm system is currently ranked 19th in MLB.
While having a minor league system ranking in the bottom half of baseball after trading two MVP winners seems bleak, there is some room for optimism. Before Jeter arrived, former owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson completely depleted the team’s prospects. They are slowly improving. Miami also found success recently by recruiting internationally. However, they must not fail.
Every team strives for excellent development programs. Miami may be the only city in the league who is at risk of losing their team if they are unsuccessful. All available resources should be poured into the development of their young prospects.
Step #2: Sign some Familiar Names
The Marlins are clearly in a rebuild. They are also going to great lengths to reduce payroll. However, if the team seriously wants fans to show interest in their product, the roster cannot be constructed of totally unknown players. No one is suggesting the team commit a nine-figure contact to Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. But the team must add a few players that fans can get excited about.
There are still a plethora of players that would make the 2019 season more intriguing in south Florida. Players like Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, Adam Jones, Carlos Gonzalez, Logan Morrison, Gio Gonzalez, or Evan Gattis would give the roster some name recognition without breaking the bank (especially if they sign on short contracts). These veteran players could also help mentor the next wave of players as they develop.
Step #3: Show a Change in Culture
Marlins fans have been hurt by the franchise’s recent history. A change in ownership gave fans hope that the pattern of unsuccessful rebuilds would stop. However, upon his arrival Jeter and Bruce Sherman immediately cut ties with fan favorites Stanton, Yelich, and Realmuto. This is especially hurtful considering that both Yelich and Realmuto were young enough to have remained with the team as staples of the rebuild.
The team must prove that this familiar strategy will yield different results under new leadership. Fans are hopeful that some of Jeter’s success as a player will translate into his new role in the front office. It is management’s responsibility to cast a clear vision and work tirelessly toward success.
As the season begins, the Marlins are fighting an uphill battle. No other team in baseball faces as many challenges on their path to relevance as Miami. There is, however, hope for the future. If the team practices the necessary patience and develops its young talent well, they may have an opportunity to contend in the coming years. As the other teams in the NL East sacrifice assets in an effort to win this season, the Marlins are carefully playing the long game. If they succeed, they will be poised to strike just as their competitors are beginning to decline.
What aspects of Miami’s rebuild do you feel are most important?
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