They were awful. They lost 102 games in 2008 and 103 games in 2009.
But — and this is where the path of two teams with many parallels diverges — they hit the lottery. The two No. 1 draft picks they got as a charity case became Strasburg and Harper, who are now franchise cornerstones and baseball rock stars.
“Great timing to get two of the premier guys in the draft,” Nolasco said wistfully. “They’re going to be around for awhile, and that’s good for the fan base.”
Since Mike Rizzo was hired as general manager in 2006, the Nationals have emphasized building from the bottom up with amateur talent. In 2007, Washington’s farm system ranked 30th, according to Baseball America. Last year, it ranked first.
The depth on his minor-league rosters allows Rizzo to acquire the complementary talent he needs. He got pitcher Gio Gonzalez from Oakland by parlaying his prospects in a six-player deal.
In 2012, the Nationals led Major League Baseball with 98 wins and were the second-youngest team to make the playoffs in the past decade.
The Nots have grown into the Nats. They exude “Natitude.”
Loria and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest have said they want to get back to the “Marlin way” of developing players, but has that truly ever been the philosophy of a franchise with two World Series spikes in 1997 and 2003 and many intervening troughs?
Loria and Beinfest can start to rebuild — a solid foundation and good faith — by signing Stanton to a contract that makes a statement about the Marlins’ future. The Giants signed Buster Posey (nine years, $167 million). The Mariners signed Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175 million). The Tigers signed Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million).
Demonstrate a commitment to Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich. Don’t tout them, then trade them. Develop — coach, teach — guys such as Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria. Make a wise choice with the No. 6 draft pick.
Loria has to stop bouncing around and find a payroll he can live with in the Miami market. Last season, the payroll was $100 million. This season it’s $35 million, the lowest in five years. In 2006, it was $15 million. Emulate the Braves and Cardinals and follow a consistent budget.
In their 20th season, the Marlins have been usurped by the likes of the Nats and the Tampa Rays, oddsmakers’ darlings for the World Series. Miami and Houston are viewed as the dregs.
But Opening Day is traditionally a day when hope springs eternal. As Pierre said, “It’s just one game, 161 to go.” The inconstant Marlins must look beyond their roster of temps, beyond October. Like their division betters, the Nats, they must make a plan and follow it.