2012-2013 was not a great time to be a Marlins fan. Of all the highs and lows this franchise has experienced, those two years may have been an all-time low. From the catastrophic disaster of 2012, to the continued constant losing pace in 2013. The team executives insisted this was all part of the plan and that sunny days were ahead in Miami.
Fans were skeptical, but the emergence of Jose Fernandez in 2013 brought a shimmering hope for Marlins fans. The team seemed to win every game he started. His energy was contagious and fans started showing up to watch him. “Jose’s Heroes” was a popular movement at the time, and his last start of the year due to a pre-determined innings limit left fans wanting more.
In the offseason going into 2014, the team retooled with cheap veterans who were supposed to bring leadership to the locker room, and guide the young players. Nothing more was expected of the likes of Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. 2014 was viewed as another rebuilding year, with the team at least two years away from being competitive. But then, something incredible happened.
The Marlins opening day game was nationally televised on ESPN, and Jose Fernandez certainly provided the entertainment. He dazzled under the spotlight, and the Marlins blew out the Rockies 10-1. The Fish went on to win 5 of their first 6 games, and they weren’t going away.
Fast forward to May 13th, and the collective hearts of Marlins’ fans everywhere were obliterated in an instant. “Jose Fernandez out for the year, scheduled for Tommy John surgery” was a headline nobody in baseball ever wanted to see. The team’s brightest young star, our only hope, was gone. But, we forgot about a certain Giancarlo Stanton. That man carried the team to 75 wins, before being hit in the face by a Mike Fiers fastball on September 11th that ended his season a bit too early.
That 15 game improvement has been the driving force behind the suddenly emboldened Marlins front office. A series of moves has netted Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, Michael Morse, and Martin Prado. These new faces came at the cost of the minor league inventory, losing Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Nathan Eovaldi, and Enrique Hernandez among others.
Local hero Casey McGehee, known for his ground ball singles, clutch hitting, and inning-ending double plays, was traded to the Giants on Friday. Garrett Jones was sent to the Yankees as a part of the Prado deal, leaving the team without several of their key “veteran leaders” from a season ago.
Now, the team must once again find a new identity, with their sights set on the playoffs and beyond in 2015. Jose Fernandez will be returning sometime around mid season, and if all goes according to plan he will help the team pitch their way into October baseball for the first time since 2003. A starved fan-base is growing, the need to win now is certainly there. The new-look Marlins have their share of exciting players, and young guys looking to build on their improvements from last season. The question remains, will it be enough? Time will tell if these guys can handle the pressure better than the 2012 version did.