Busy offseason has expectations rising for Marlins

Busy offseason has expectations rising for Marlins

MIAMI -- A taste of winning in 2014 has the Marlins hungry for more. So much so that the organization has made a series of bold moves that have converted the club into a contender in the National League East.

The drive to rapidly improve comes two years after the organization labored through a 62-100 record as well as a public perception problem in 2013.

Now, coming out of the Winter Meetings, the Marlins showed they mean business. They're striving to contend in 2015, which many not long ago felt would be another rebuilding season. The renewed optimism stems from an encouraging 2014, when the club improved to 77-85.

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"When you lose 100 games, you've got a lot of work to do," president of baseball operations Michael HIll said. "We made a lot of strides in 2014, but as we've said, we still have more to do and further to go, because we still aren't playing into October, and that's the ultimate goal. We wanted to continue to build upon the assets that we have."

The offseason plan was set in motion with the record-setting signing of two-time All-Star Giancarlo Stanton, who is now locked up to a 13-year, $325 million deal. Since the record-setting contract was finalized on Nov. 19, the Marlins have made four trades, with three coming last week at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

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The roster has reshaped with the additions of second baseman Dee Gordon, right-handers Mat Latos and Dan Haren and relievers Aaron Crow and Andre Rienzo. Miguel Rojas has a chance to make the club as a utility infielder, and Rule 5 pick, Andrew McKirahan, will compete for a lefty setup role.

To make these additions, the Marlins took a big chunk out of their Minor League system, dealing nine players who were either prospects or had some MLB experience. To receive, Miami had to give. The club did so, parting with Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Hatcher, Dan Jennings, Austin Barnes, Brian Flynn, Reid Redman and Chad Wallach. Of the group, only Barnes, Redman and Wallach didn't spend any time on the big league roster last year.

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Miami felt the time was right to make a serious push largely because it improved by 15 games in 2014, while staying in the Wild Card chase until mid-September.

"We feel like we've got good, young players, and we want to surround them with players who give us the opportunity to win games," Hill said. "I think we're on our way into doing that. We're trying to make our club better and address needs we've identified to help us improve."

The industry has taken notice.

Since Hill took over as president of baseball operations, and Dan Jennings was promoted to general manager, the organization has undergone a philosophical change. It was shown in the Stanton contract, which includes the first no-trade clause given since Jeffrey Loria assumed ownership in 2002.

The creative deal also has an opt-out clause Stanton could exercise after six seasons.

In the past, Miami was unbudging when it came to no-trade or opt-out clauses.

The Marlins also are open to offering contract extensions to four core players who have yet to reach their arbitration years. Again, this is new territory for the franchise, which has a history of resisting long-term deals.

Miami has already reached out to right-hander Jose Fernandez, left fielder Christian Yelich, center fielder Marcell Ozuna and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria about long-term deals. With the Winter Meetings concluded, the club may soon turn its focus to locking up its young talent.

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Fernandez and Ozuna are represented by Scott Boras, who traditionally advises his clients to pursue free agency.

But at the Winter Meetings, Boras remained open to at least talking.

"With each negotiation, we appreciate anything that they do," Boras said. "We have to evaluate it economically. Both players have four or five years where they are going to remain in play there. We have plenty of time to look at this and determine what is best for both."

Boras also praised the Marlins for signing Stanton.

"The idea of it is, good for the Marlins, good for the community, good for Loria that they did this," Boras said. "It creates a platform that gives the game an identity that we need because our star players need to tender notice of who they are and why they are who they are. I think the Marlins got a great deal."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.