They won more games. They scored more runs. They even attracted more fans.
While the Marlins failed to make the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season — the third-longest postseason drought in the majors — they provided clear signs this season that better days might not be far off.
The Marlins finished 77-85 — a 15-win improvement over their disastrous 100-loss season in 2013 — hung around on the periphery of the wild-card race until early September, and managed to avoid last place for the first time since 2010.
They did all that despite the absence of pitching ace Jose Fernandez for most of the season, and without star slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the final 21/2 weeks.
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“We made progress,’’ said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “But we still need to get better if we’re going to be one of the 10 [teams that play in the postseason].’’
To do that, the Marlins are prepared to increase payroll, going from $44 million in 2013 to about $60 million next year. A sizable percentage of that salary bump will be the direct result of raises given to existing players and, in particular, Stanton.
While the Marlins intend to soon offer Stanton a long-term contract that would keep him in Miami beyond the 2016 season, when he first becomes eligible for free agency, they’re not letting go of him even if he doesn’t accept. Instead, they would go through salary arbitration, a process in which Stanton stands to make as much as $13million next season.
“He’s on this team [in 2015] either way,’’ said Marlins president David Samson. “I can’t wait until after the season to sit down with Giancarlo and [agent] Joel Wolfe and talk about contract. We’re ready. We want him to be a Marlin well past his arbitration years.
“We hope that he believes in us and believes in Miami and believes in the direction of this team and recognizes that he has a chance to be the leader of a successful team for many years to come.’’
Even if Stanton and the Marlins don’t reach a long-term agreement, the team still intends to look for upgrades at other positions.
A first baseman and starting pitcher are the likely positions at the top of the team’s wish list.
The front office and coaching staff, while pleased with the overall improvement on offense, would still prefer more consistency throughout a lineup that finished with the third-highest strikeout total in the majors and grounded into more double plays than every team except for the Rangers.
Still, after finishing last in runs scored in 2013, the improved Marlins scored more runs this past season than either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox — two of the majors’ biggest spenders.
“We improved from a historically bad offense,’’ Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said. “There are still areas of improvement, things like our two-strike approach and grounding into double plays.
“There’s always ways to get better if you’re truly honest with yourself and your team.’’
The Marlins are also hopeful that a healthy Fernandez will return to the mound for them, perhaps as early as July of next season. Fernandez underwent elbow ligament-replacement surgery in May and is expected to begin his throwing program within the coming days.
While the Marlins are making advances on the field, Samson said progress is being made off it, as well.
Total recorded attendance at Marlins Park improved from 1.5 million in 2013 to about 1.7 million this season, the fourth-lowest figure in the majors.
But Samson said signs point to continued improvement in attendance.
Other than in 2012, the year the Marlins moved into their new ballpark, season-ticket renewals are the highest they have ever been since Jeffrey Loria became owner in 2002, Samson said.
“We wanted to have the business side and the baseball side improve at the same time, and that’s what’s happening,’’ Samson said.
Samson acknowledged that, in the past, the Marlins have operated erratically and unpredictably from one year to the next.
“We were always planning for the next thing,’’ Samson said. “We needed a new ballpark. We needed better young players. We needed better veterans. We always built the business after we had a good year. Or we didn’t have a good year in attendance, so we’d try to sign a big free agent to get better off the field. Now we’re in lockstep. We’ve got a team that’s building at the same time as the business, and I just feel we’ve never had that.”
Samson said those days are a thing of the past.
“All of the distractions of the past are really gone,’’ he said. “All of the insanity. And, for the first time since 1993 in my view, the Marlins are in a position to have stability and continuity. I always say that every team is either getting better or getting worse, and we’re a team that’s getting better right now. And that’s a nice feeling.’’