Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Trusting Marlins isn’t easy, but smart offseason and sense of direction create hope

New Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly poses with president of baseball operations Michael Hill, left, and team president David Samson on Monday, November 2, 2015.
New Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly poses with president of baseball operations Michael Hill, left, and team president David Samson on Monday, November 2, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

Dolphins fans would be well armed for the argument. Panthers hockey fans would have a solid case. Marlins fans also would have ample ammunition if the debate were which of them are most scarred and have the most right to not quite trust their team.

The Fins just finished a seventh consecutive year out of the postseason and last won a playoff game in 2000 as the latest new coach rides in to a wary reception.

“Ah, but we haven’t cheered a playoff series win since 1996!” a Cats fan might half crow/half weep, playing the drought like a trump card.

Marlins fans would then note every other franchise in baseball has had a winning season since the Fish last did in 2009, and that Miami’s last playoff appearance in 2003 marks the sport’s second-longest such current barren stretch to Seattle’s 2001.

“One other thing,” a Marlins fan might add, theatrically reaching for the ultimate pocket ace. “Our owner is Jeffrey Loria.”

“NO FAIR!” Dolphins and Panthers fans would cry in unison.

So here we are, one month from baseball spring training.

We are looking at what the 2016 Marlins might be and fully understand that the club’s recent track record creates a context that is the enemy of optimism.

The general mistrust and dislike of Loria serves as a natural a deterrent to hope. So does the history of low payrolls and fire sales and restarts. So does the raging instability embodied by eight different managers just since 2010.

The Marlins have too often been a circus heavy on the clowns.

But wait a minute.

Blink hard and try to look with new eyes.

The Marlins are doing good things. They have made strategic moves this offseason — not big loud ones, but smart ones. They finally seem serious about heading in a direction club president Davis Samson describes with the words “stability and sustainability” — things long missing.

It’s as if they finally get it.

The epiphany started in late 2014 with the blockbuster 13-year, $325 contract extension for young slugger Giancarlo Stanton, a thoroughly unexpected deal that ran so counter to Loria’s history of maddening frugality.

It continued in early 2015 with the seven-year, $49.5 million extension for rising young outfielder Christian Yelich – also unexpected because Yelich was coming off his first full season in the big leagues and it was so un-Marlins-like for this club to lock up its core talent with long-term deals.

And it hasn’t stopped: The spending, or the forward-looking approach.

This offseason the Marlins spent big to hire a proven winning manager in Don Mattingly, the former Dodgers skipper — an actual, bona fide manager in the wake of the massively ill-fated Dan Jennings experiment.

Adding Barry Bonds as hitting coach has a major potential upside.

They gave a five-year, $80 million contract to legitimate lefty starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who’ll be No. 2 in the rotation after Jose Fernandez.

They signed all-star second baseman Dee Gordon, the NL batting champion, to a five-year, $50 million extension.

“It says we want to win now, and in the future,” said Yelich. “I like the direction we are heading.”

Gordon and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria give Miami an excellent middle infield, with Martin Prado and Justin Bour on the corners and rising young J.T. Realmuto behind the plate. Stanton and Yelich are terrific corner outfielders, with hopes Marcell Ozuna in center can be who he was in 2014.

This potentially is a very good lineup.

“They have eight position players that, when you go to rank them in the National League, they are towards the top,” says agent Scott Boras, who represents Fernandez and three other Marlins.

Miami to me looks maybe one starting pitcher shy of being truly competitive, unless they can get career years out of Jarred Cosart and Tom Kohler. An available veteran like Tim Lincecum may have some life left. I might shop Ozuna in a trade for a better starter.

In any case, one month from the start of spring training, the Marlins at last seem committed to a positive direction toward that long-elusive stability and sustainability.

Full, healthy seasons from Stanton and Fernandez alone could make things exciting.

I know, I know. With this franchise, optimism and hope must be given cautiously. That has been a hard lesson oft repeated around here.

Look around, though.

The Marlins, by action not claim, gradually are earning back a bit of trust.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments