Greg Cote

Amid the thick smoke of another fire sale, the Marlins have a new reason for hope

Lewis Brinson of the Milwaukee Brewers and the U.S. Team looks on prior to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017.
Lewis Brinson of the Milwaukee Brewers and the U.S. Team looks on prior to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017. Getty Images

So a wink of hope presents itself to beleaguered Miami Marlins fans who could use some of that. It is a breath of oxygen amid the thick smoke of a fire sale. It is maybe a first indication that the new ownership led by Derek Jeter might know what it is doing, after all, or at least have a plan.

We are exercising benefit of doubt here. It is the most exercise we’ve had in months.

Less than three weeks from the start of spring training, after a payroll-gutting decimation that has seen the departures of Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, now Christian Yelich and perhaps soon J.T. Realmuto, the collection of prospects obtained in return now has a face, a player out front to hang your hopes on.

Less than three weeks from the start of spring training, after a payroll-gutting decimation that has seen the departures of Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, now Christian Yelich and perhaps soon J.T. Realmuto — a slashing that has led the MLB Players Association to complain to Commissioner Rob Manfred — the collection of prospects obtained in return AT LEAST now has a face, a player out front to hang your hope on.

Lewis Brinson, the foremost of four young players acquired from Milwaukee for Yelich, is a legit top-tier prospect — the best by far Miami has gotten to this point.

The Marlins gave away Stanton to jettison his huge contract, fleeced in the deal by the Yankees. Gordon to Seattle didn’t bring much. Ozuna to St. Louis was a little better for the Fish.

Brinson, an outfielder, is the first guy acquired who is seen as a future All-Star. He was the No. 1-rated Brewers prospect and No. 18 in all of MLB, according to Baseball America. He already is on Miami’s 40-man spring roster and will have a chance at age 23 to make the club and start this season. He has the range, speed and strength of arm to likely be the new center fielder, and his bat has caught up to his defensive skills. He hit .331 in Triple A last season, with a .962 OPS and 13 home runs in 299 at-bats.

And, unlike Yelich, who wanted out, Brinson is thrilled by the trade, thrilled to be a Marlin.

“I’m coming home!” he Tweeted, followed by a praying-hands emoji and three palm trees.

He was born in Tamarac, near Fort Lauderdale, played at Coral Springs High, grew up a big Marlins fan idolizing Juan Pierre, and now has a chance to be the Marlins’ first true homegrown star, and a cornerstone of whatever becomes of this tear-down and rebuild.

Mattingly talks about the direction of the franchise and the future of the Marlins during a press conference at the MLB Winter Meetings on Dec. 13, 2017.

“I’m super excited playing for my hometown team,” Brinson said on a conference call Friday. “It’s kind of crazy and surreal.”

Brinson would write what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up papers in elementary school about dreaming of playing for the Marlins. He sounded like a fan as much as perhaps the club’s next big star. He wants to be the reason fans start to believe in the Marlins again.

“Absolutely. I’m more than ready,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of [the rebuild]. We can’t wait to bring this organization back to where it once was. Obviously fans are a little hurt, but they have a lot to be excited for. I think we have a lot to offer. I’m excited and Marlins fans should be as well.”

Admittedly I am bending over backward, nearly doing the limbo, to try a positive spin here, because so much of what has happened since the Jeter group took over from Jeffrey Loria has been discouraging, putting Marlins fans through yet another wringer.

I get the need for Miami to restock what had become a barren farm system, a fundamental for any good organization. But I don’t get the complete tear-down. Even if you agree with the financial need to have gotten rid of Stanton’s onerous, back-loaded contract, why not keep Yelich and Ozuna (and Realmuto), who all had team-friendlier deals? The logic of former club president David Samson is fair when he says of the current fire sale, “It’s not like they’re breaking up the ’27 Yankees.” Indeed, eight seasons and 267 home runs from Stanton produced zero playoff appearances. A fresh start might be the answer even as it demands yet more patience of fans. But why not keep at least a small nucleus of your young, rising talent and build around that rather than completely reboot? The MLBPA obviously agrees in objecting to a payroll cut this drastic.

New York Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner is confident Derek Jeter would succeed in ownership role with Marlins despite "challenges."

Instead fans are being asked to trust Jeter’s start-all-over approach. To trust that someone who was great as a player will now prove great (with zero experience) at running a team. To trust that the grand plan has long-term baseball winning as its priority, not the short-term financial gain coming from the payroll slash.

“Trust us.” It is an awful lot to ask of Marlins fans by a franchise that has betrayed so much of that trust through the years.

But a reason to trust, to hope again, has to start somewhere, with somebody.

Lewis Brinson just raised his hand.

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