MIAMI — The outfield grass at Marlins Park was a worn-out mess on Saturday, with those who arrived for the team’s annual FanFest being greeted by signs reminding them that the turf will be replaced soon.
When it comes to the Marlins, many things are a work in progress.
Wearing new uniforms with the rebranded team logo, in a stadium that has gotten spruced up since last season ended, some of the 2019 Miami Marlins gathered for the first time to greet fans and start hyping the new season. Pitchers and catchers report to the team’s spring-training home in Jupiter, Florida, on Wednesday.
“I would tell our fans to just give us a chance,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “So many people have written off the Marlins and really haven’t taken an opportunity to take a deep look at what we’re building. When you have a lot to do, it’s going to take time and we understand where we’re at. But we’ve been able to add a tremendous amount of talent over the last 18 months.”
By Hill’s count, the Marlins have added 38 prospects and upper-level players since this new regime led by Derek Jeter took over after the 2017 season. That has gone a long way toward restocking a farm system that by Hill’s own description was “barren.”
“We know where we were,” he said. “We know where we’re going.”
The Marlins won 63 games last season, their ninth consecutive year under the .500 mark and the 15th consecutive time the team missed the postseason — the second-longest drought in baseball, topped only by Seattle’s run of 17 straight seasons without a playoff game. Attendance plummeted to a club record-low 811,104, and the team just traded away its best player, sending catcher J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia.
“Only one team gets to win the championship every year,” said right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, who started 56 games for the Marlins over the past two seasons. “I think every year, with every team in baseball, there’s a little bit of excitement for everybody to get going. There’s always that hope that this could be the year.”
The Marlins aren’t saying if 2019 is their year. Or 2020. Or 2021, for that matter.
They just believe their year is coming.
For Realmuto, the Marlins got catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart from the Phillies. Alfaro has above-average power and, the Marlins believe, even a better arm than Realmuto — whom they considered elite in that capacity. Sanchez has the arm to consistently reach the upper 90s on his fastball, while Stewart doesn’t throw as hard but has off-speed offerings that get him out of trouble.
It’s deals like that why the Marlins truly believe this rebuild — one of many by the franchise in the past 15 years — is the right one.
“They’re doing what they said: building the organization from the bottom up,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You keep acquiring talent. You keep marching down that road that gets you to the point where you are competing for a chance to win a world championship every year. That’s the plan. That’s the goal. I think anything less than that, you don’t accept it.”
There was a reason why the grass looked bad Saturday. Monster Jam — a show where five- or six-ton trucks with 66-inch tires will destroy anything in their path — is coming to Marlins Park next weekend. It’ll chew up the current turf quite nicely. From there, new sod goes down in time for opening day.
“It’ll look nothing like it does right now when we come back in six weeks,” Straily said.
The grass will be exactly what the team wants by then. The Marlins only hope the team is closer to Miami’s liking by then as well.