MIAMI — A long season ahead and high expectations, an infelicitous start wrought with injuries, the loss of two key players and a lagging offense, especially from star slugger Giancarlo Stanton, is not what the Marlins had bargained for with the lucrative contracts with its young players. The series opener against the Atlanta Braves, led by manager Fredi Gonzalez, former Fish skipper, at Marlins Park ended with a 3 – 0 sweep of Miami, followed by a 2 – 1 series win from American League opponent the Tampa Bay Rays at home. The Braves even took the first road trip game from the Marlins at Turner Field in Atlanta. The historically frugal ball club that invested millions into its young talent this year and seemed promising at spring training now appears to have a dubious future if things don’t turn around soon.
Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill said right before the regular season started that the talent is there but there are things that cannot be controlled. “There are things that you can’t control over the course of the season, injuries being one of them,” he said. “There is some luck involved when you’re talking about staying healthy.”
Miami was dealt some bad luck recently when two of their key players, catcher Jeff Mathis and infielder Don Kelly, both fractured their right ring fingers and will possibly be out for weeks. And Stanton, the $325 million man who hit 37 home runs last year before his season ending injury when he was hit by a fastball in the face September 11, has yet to hit a single home run. Some may say it’s cause for worry.
Hill said, however, if Stanton can stay healthy, and on pace that at 25-years-old, the young slugger will accomplish plenty and he still hasn’t reached his full potential. “When you look at his record, (Stanton) is 25 and he has 154 home runs,” he said. “If he stays on pace, who knows what will happen.”
Hill said baseball has the longest season in professional sports, from February to possibly October or November if the Marlins make it to the post-season, and it is a rigorous schedule. “It’s the mental part of it. It’s the physical part of it,” he said “It’s the on field part of it. It’s the spiritual part of it, because this is a very tough game. It’s a game of failures, a game of adversity.”
The Marlins have been criticize heavily in the past for trading players and have had to do a lot of work to repair that image, Hill said. This year they have secured ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, who signed a one year contract of an undisclosed amount and who the organization controls for the next four years. And outfielder Christian Yelich signed a $49.5 million, seven-year deal. Stanton made history when he signed a $325 million, 13 year contract extension.
Hill said that Stanton is one of the most prepared players that he has ever seen and he goes out on the field each time to be successful. “(Stanton) holds himself to a pretty high bar,” he said, “And that’s what we’ve tried to do as an organization to challenge our guys to hold themselves to the standard so that anything less than that is unacceptable.”
Hill said that the players have to be mentally tough to make it successfully through the long, grinding season. “You need to be mentally tough to not just survive but to excel,” he said.
Hill said that the ball club is doing everything to help the team succeed and win another championship including providing them with trainers at every level and promoting proper nutrition. “We have a nutritionist,” he said. “This year we’ll have a chef that is with us in Miami that’s providing menus to provide the players with the most energy when it’s pre-game and post-game, foods that promote recovery and muscle regeneration.”
And Stanton, who is arguably one of the best power hitters in the game, Hill said, is ready to finish the task he started last year. “(Stanton) came up short in the MVP last year and we came up short in that we didn’t make the playoffs,” he said. “And that’s his goal and that is the goal of everybody.” Time will tell if Miami will make it to the playoffs or win another championship but the organization seems hopeful.
Hill said the Marlins are trying to create and maintain a perennial winning team by holding onto its best players. “When I took over, that was really my focus, retaining our talent and growing with our talent and giving ourselves a chance to win every year,” he said. “That’s the goal and Stanton hopefully was the first domino in that whole process to show our fans and community that we are committed to build a perennial winner.”