Curtis Granderson surveyed the visitor’s clubhouse from his locker inside Citizens Bank Park. The Miami Marlins’ 2019 season was in its final days, and the roster looked much different than when the season started five months earlier.
The trials and tribulations of a 100-plus-loss season was nearing the end.
But even as this season — one in which the Marlins went 57-105 and finished with the third-worst record in baseball — progressed, Granderson, one of the elder statesmen of the club, saw no ill will festering from the team.
“I’ve been on teams that have had a lot of losses,” Granderson said, “and it hasn’t been pretty. There were a lot of disagreements. That hasn’t been the case here. Obviously you have ups and downs, but no one was ready to fight anyone.”
“You see guys continuing to want to get better.”
Granderson, a 16-year MLB veteran brought in on a one-year contract this offseason, played a part in keeping that status quo. So did Martin Prado. And Neil Walker. And Starlin Castro.
Four veterans who have been there and done that kept the young clubhouse from deteriorating into potential anarchy.
Those four very likely will not be with the Marlins next season as they transition into Year 3 of their rebuild under the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter ownership group. Prado, Granderson and Walker are free agents this offseason. The Marlins will likely invoke the $1 million buyout in Castro’s contract instead of paying him $16 million for his club option next season.
Young players such as Brian Anderson, Sandy Alcantara, Isan Diaz and Jorge Alfaro are expected to make a jump. Rising prospects are on the horizon in Miami’s farm system, which MLBPipeline has as one of the top five in baseball.
After two years of building from the ground up, the Marlins hope success is closer than it appears.
“In general for us, it’s been a couple years of taking our lumps but gaining experience for a lot of guys,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “We think it’s time for us to start turning the corner and being more competitive in all areas. Our system continues to get better. We’ve given guys experience. Our young pitching’s getting there.
The veterans knew how their potential fate would play out. They were told upfront what their roles would fluctuate as young players begun proving themselves.
But they never flinched.
That’s why Castro agreed to close out the season at third base when the Marlins called up second baseman Diaz. Castro, among others, spent the final two months mentoring the 23-year-old rookie as he went through growing pains.
“I’m not going to say this was the best season, but I think we have the guys here to compete,” Castro said. “Everybody is on the same page.”
That’s why Prado, Walker and Granderson spent most of the second half of the season as bench players. They helped players like Jon Berti, Harold Ramirez and Garrett Cooper — all in their first full major-league season — get acclimated to being everyday MLB starters.
“There’s a bright future,” Prado said. “You have the pieces. ... I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re going to put it together.”
And their value away from the field was not lost on their teammates. That’s why shortstop Miguel Rojas, the club’s new de-facto captain, started Granderson, Prado and Castro and subbed Walker in early when he served as player manager in Sunday’s 4-3 season-closing win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He wanted to give his teammates one last hurrah, one last thank you for what they did to help him and the team during their time with the Marlins.
“Hopefully, everybody has paid attention to what the veterans on this club showed them, even without saying anything,” said Rojas, the Marlins’ de-facto captain now who signed a two-year contract extension that keeps him with the Marlins through at least the 2021 season. “You always pay attention to how Starlin prepares for games. How Martin goes about his business. How Granderson and Walker lead by example. I hope every guy in this organization, and especially the younger guys getting their first opportunity of playing in the big leagues, pay attention to that stuff.”
As the offseason begins, the Marlins front office now has six weeks to figure out how to handle its 40-man roster, which has to be finalized by Nov. 18.
The club has six top prospects — pitchers Sixto Sanchez, Nick Neidert, Edward Cabrera and Will Stewart; shortstop Jazz Chisholm; and first baseman Lewin Diaz — who need to be added to the 40-man roster or else be subject to December’s Rule 5 draft.
Anderson and Drew Steckenrider need to be added back as well after ending the year on the 60-day injured list. Same possibly for JT Riddle, Chad Wallach and Julian Fernandez, so the number of spots needed is actually between eight and eleven — and that’s before adding any potential players in free agency.
Five players on the 40-man roster are set to become free agents this offseason: Granderson, Walker, Prado, Hector Noesi and Bryan Holaday.
A decision on Castro’s option — either keep him with a $16 million salary or buy him out for $1 million — is needed within five days after the conclusion of the World Series.
Two more — pitchers Adam Conley and Jose Urena — will go through arbitration this winter.