During the offseason the Miami Marlins announced the addition of new concession menu items, including mushroom tacos, fries with mole sauce and bottomless popcorn and soda.
So much for the team’s 2019 upgrades. Marlins fans hungry for a winner will have to wait.
The woebegone franchise’s biggest offseason move came Thursday, when the Marlins traded All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Jorge Alfaro, two pitching prospects and international signing bonus pool money. The deal was the latest move in CEO Derek Jeter’s rebuilding effort, which began soon after he took over in late 2017 and could eventually transform the Marlins into contenders.
Not this year. Spring training will be devoted to sorting out a roster dominated by young players, including several who emerged last season and could provide a foundation for the future. That includes pitchers Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards, and third baseman-right fielder Brian Anderson.
“They’re going to be the core of our championships here,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said during a Marlins show on their flagship radio station, WINZ. “The young talent and what they were able to demonstrate last season is what makes us excited to get going.”
Some other things to know before pitchers and catchers hold their first workout Wednesday in Jupiter, Florida:
The Marlins are certain about their ace, catcher and second baseman. Everything else is up for grabs.
Right-hander Jose Urena is expected to get the opening day nod for the second year in a row. In 2018 he rebounded from an 0-7 start and overcame poor run support to finish 9-12 with a 3.98 ERA. He’s 23-19 over the past two seasons, while in other games over the stretch the Marlins have gone 117-164.
Alfaro, who will replace Realmuto behind the plate, hit .262 with 10 homers in his first full major league season last year. Second baseman Starlin Castro hit .278 in 154 games in his first season with Miami.
THEY’RE NOT SET
There will be a mad spring training scramble for other jobs in the rotation and lineup. Anderson will start at either third base or right field after batting .273 with 65 RBIs as a rookie last year. Lewis Brinson will get another chance in center field after batting .199 with 120 strikeouts in 109 games as a rookie. Veteran right-hander Dan Straily will be in the rotation unless he’s traded, and injury-plagued left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will be in the rotation if he’s healthy.
The Marlins head into spring training fully healthy. Among the players who recovered from injuries in the offseason are third baseman Martin Prado, first baseman Garrett Cooper, right-hander Lopez and left-hander Smith.
Spring training will provide a chance to see how much the farm system has improved since Jeter took over. The Marlins believe it’s a lot.
The trades that sent All-Stars Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon elsewhere netted a passel of prospects that dramatically improved the franchise’s long-term outlook, and that was the goal.
“We needed to layer talent from top to bottom,” Hill said. “That has been our focus over the last 18 months.”
The Marlins’ top six prospects were all acquired after Jeter’s group bought the team. All will get a look in spring training, and that includes 22-year-old Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, rated baseball’s top international prospect when he received a $5.25 million signing bonus from Miami in October.
An offseason rebranding included a new logo and new colors, part of Jeter’s effort to distance the franchise from the previous owner, Jeffrey Loria. Losing teams, frequent payroll purges and a favorable stadium deal for Loria made him wildly unpopular.
“We have to show our community this is a new day,” president of business operations Chip Bowers said on WINZ. “Our fans feel like scorned lovers. They’ve felt burned time and time again. We understand that and can appreciate that. We’re going to work diligently to earn that trust back and make them understand we’re the guy or girl they always wanted to love.”