Don Mattingly sees the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that is the 2019 Miami Marlins season.
He tries to stay optimistic, even though the Marlins are still on track for a historically bad season as they get into the heart of their rebuild under new the ownership group led by CEO Derek Jeter and majority owner Bruce Sherman.
He knows the situation isn’t ideal, an MLB worst 10-29 record as the first quarter of the season nears its end..
But Mattingly, just like everyone else in a position of power with the Marlins, sees a payoff coming in the future, even if he doesn’t know whether he’ll be there to see it happen.
“That’s a question for another time,” the Marlins’ manager, who is in the final year of his four-year contract, said about his job security. “Either or, I still think the organization is going to be in a good spot. The main thing is, I would love to see it through, but that is not my decision. No matter what happens with me, the organization is going in the right direction.”
In order to take those steps forward in the future, the Marlins took several steps back at the major-league level. Their top five offensive players in Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto traded away over the last two seasons primarily for prospects.
And it’s showing.
The Marlins remain last in the league with 105 runs scored. Their minus-91 run differential over the first 39 games of the season puts them on pace for a minus-378 run differential for the season, which would be the worst recorded in MLB history.
The team is also last in home runs (24), slugging (.310) and OPS (.592) and rank 28th in batting average (.219).
“Our biggest area that we haven’t been able to grow is being able to sustain any kind of steady offense,” Mattlingly said. “We have shown glimpses here and there, but we haven’t been generating runs. That’s been the toughest thing for us.”
But Mattingly still sees positives coming out of this year.
He looks at the young pitching staff, a group of five starters all 27 years old or younger that has gone through its lumps but is flashing potential with each start.
He sees the progression of Brian Anderson, who finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year and is playing both third base and right field this year.
He sees the progression in the farm system, which Baseball America ranked 14th in the preseason and now has three players in MLBPipeline’s top 100 in Sixto Sanchez, Victor Victor Mesa and Monte Harrison.
And while the Marlins’ struggles are going to the extreme through the first quarter of the season, it’s not like they’re the first to go through a rebuild over the last decade.
The Houston Astros are the prime example of how this strategy can be a success if all the parts come together. The Astros at their worst had three consecutive 100-loss seasons from 2011-2013 and averaged a minus-210 run differential over that span, including a minus-238 mark in 2013 when they went 50-111. Two years later, they made the playoffs. Two more years later, they won the World Series.
The Marlins are hoping for similar results.
“I don’t think anybody is happy with what is going on at the big-league level,” Mattingly said. “But we also know our system is getting better. The way we are going about our business down in the minors is getting better. I truly believe that in time, it will be the place to be. The organization is going to be sustainable as we get everything in place.”