COMMENTARY – As a friend of mine said to me on Friday, the Miami Marlins are the kid on the playground that keeps getting knocked down. The offseason hasn’t been the kindest to this organization as news about a potential sale has been in the news of late. Whether the current owner, Jeffrey Loria, can find a suitable group to buy the team is still an unanswered question.
Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria was linked to Cuban smuggling case. A Miami jury last week convicted a Florida sports agent and a baseball trainer on charges they smuggled Cuban baseball players to the U.S. in search of big profits from professional free-agent contracts.
The verdict came after jurors heard about six weeks of testimony in the trial of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, who were indicted on conspiracy and alien smuggling charges for an operation that began in 2009 and involved a number of high-profile Major League Baseball players.
The jury deliberated only about five hours before delivering the verdict. Prosecutors said Hernandez faces between three and 15 years in prison and that Estrada, who was convicted of more smuggling counts, faces between five and 35 years.
And if those two events weren’t enough, the news on Friday that former pitcher Jose Fernandez was piloting the boat that killed him and two others in September. The death of Fernandez, who was the ace of this pitching staff, has been a reminder all off season, for the organization, the fans and Major League Baseball.
Last week, manager Don Mattingly said he wasn’t worried about wins and losses in spring training and was more concerned with the progress his ball club made with each passing day. With all of the outside drama that has been linked to this team, starting the season in less than three weeks could serve to be a band aid, covering the wounds that will not heal.
There were 63 players in camp at the start of Spring Training. There will be 25 players on the opening day roster. Minor league assignments must be made. Decisions on non-roster players to be evaluated. This is not just about at-bats and strikeouts on the mound.
This is where the foundation is built for the 2017 season.
"Unfortunately, you don't get that many opportunities, so you are looking and judging and trying to make the best decisions on guys," Mattingly said when speaking to the media last week about the team’s progress.
It would be an even bigger story if Miami, through all this adversity, won enough games to make the post season – the first time that would happen since 2003.
The Marlins have also had to deal with injuries as Ichiro Suzuki, Jeff Locke and now Martin Prado have had to deal with time away from the lineup. Prado injured himself in the World Baseball Classic and will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of his right hamstring injury.
Even before the outside interference mushroomed this offseason, there was little room for error in south Florida. A new pitching staff was created to win. Two new starters were added to the rotation. The lineup remained the same and a smaller bench meant the eight every-day hitters would have to deliver immediately. If the team suffers long-term injuries to starters – like Giancarlo Stanton or Justin Bour – like last season, this year could be over before it begins.