Only five MLB franchises have won two or more World Series championships in the time the Marlins have existed.
But two memorable World Series wins are brief highlights in 25 years of Marlins baseball mostly marred by roster overhauls and general instability.
On Thursday, when Jose Ureña throws the first pitch against the Chicago Cubs nearly a quarter-century after knuckleballer Charlie Hough inaugurated the franchise, the Marlins are hoping to wipe the slate clean.
“This is a white board that we just start off blank,” said Don Mattingly, who is entering his third season as the Marlins’ manager. “So guys that were here in the organization before, or the way things went or happened, or how things were handled, erase it, because this is the way it’s going to be moving forward.”
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The team has been reshaped yet again.
In the six months since baseball legend Derek Jeter and businessman Bruce Sherman bought the team from Jeffrey Loria, they proceeded to trade three of the team’s All-Stars — including league MVP Giancarlo Stanton — mostly for prospects in an attempt to reshape the Marlins from the ground up and build a stable foundation for future success.
But with an inexperienced young roster expected by many to finish among the worst teams in baseball, present-day expectations are bleak.
And only time will prove to the Marlins’ fan base whether the new ownership’s commitment to a long-term plan is real, and whether things have truly changed.
“I realize the trust of probably ownership and the Marlins organization is one that’s been [marked by] teardowns, teardowns, teardowns,” Mattingly said. “I think the only way truly to say to a fan is you’re going to have to trust us, and the only way we can prove it is over time. Words are cheap. I can tell the fans, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ And they’re probably, like, ‘OK, whatever.’ But until we prove it and it becomes that, then the fans will know that this is different.”
The Marlins have not finished with a winning record since 2009, the league’s longest drought, and haven’t made the playoffs since their 2003 World Series championship.
Neither of those streaks is expected to end this season.
The Marlins, who will play the Cubs, will include 13 players who are on an Opening Day roster for the first time.
They already have seven players including four projected starters — J.T. Realmuto, Dan Straily, Martin Prado and JT Riddle — on the disabled list with injuries that may force them to miss varying amounts of time early in the season.
The team’s starting rotation is spearheaded by Ureña, who battled just to make the roster a year ago before a solid first year as a full-time starter (14-7, 3.82 ERA). But with Straily, their most experienced starter, likely to miss at least the first couple of weeks, the rest of the rotation features Odrisamer Despaigne, who hasn’t been a full-time starter in the majors in two years, and unproven rookies Caleb Smith and Dillon Peters.
The lineup lost a combined 114 home runs and 337 RBI with the departures of Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. And with Realmuto also out, proven offensive sources are scarce outside of Justin Bour and Starlin Castro.
But this roster could look much different even within the next couple of months as it gets healthier and promising prospects such as pitcher Sandy Alcantara, outfielder Magneuris Sierra, second baseman Isan Diaz and others begin to make their way to the majors.
“I don’t know if I really want to set expectations for the whole season,” Mattingly said. “You never know where you’re going health-wise or what’s going to happen. But I expect us to be competitive. I expect that we should be a club that gets better as the season goes along with more experience.”
The Marlins are one of three teams along with the Tigers and Royals given 500-to-1 odds of winning the World Series and expected to finish with a league-worst 64 1/2 victories. SportsBettingDime.com goes even lower with 1,000-to-1 odds.
The grim outlook resembles the 1998 and 2006 Marlins seasons, each of which followed roster teardowns.
The 1998 squad, which had been gutted following the club’s first World Series championship, finished with the franchise’s worst record at 54-108.
But the 2006 squad defied the odds, soaring above .500 late that season before finishing 78-84 with then-manager Joe Girardi winning Manager of the Year honors.
Could rookies such as hometown favorite Lewis Brinson (an outfielder) and third baseman Brian Anderson and their crop of young athletes turn the corner quicker than expected?
“That’s our goal this year, to surprise some people,” Brinson said. “We have our own expectations in this locker room. Our goal is to go out there and win as many games as we can.”