MIAMI -- If you had to describe the Marlins' 2021 mantra in one word, it would be progress. It was a word often brought up during principal owner Bruce Sherman and CEO Derek Jeter's Zoom call on Monday afternoon, as the pair fielded questions from local media for more than 45 minutes.
The Marlins, who reached the postseason for the first time in 17 years in 2020, will look to build off that momentum in the highly competitive National League East. Off the diamond, they expect fans back in the stands and a new TV deal. Through it all, one thing remains consistent: ownership's plan entering Year 4.
"I think what you like to see is progress every single year," Jeter said. "And that's progress on the baseball operations side, it's progress on the business operations side. I think one thing that was a little bit disappointing last year obviously going through the pandemic is, you hear about the excitement from our fan base, but they weren't able to come to games. I would love to see what that would look like."
This offseason has been a juggling act of improving the 40-man roster while also keeping in mind the continued development of a top five farm system. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the Minor League season, meant young players lost out on game at-bats and innings. So the organization focused on bolstering the beleaguered bullpen, signing Anthony Bass and Ross Detwiler while acquiring Dylan Floro and Adam Cimber via trades. Aside from Detwiler, all of these additions are under team control for multiple years. And though the move has not been officially announced by the team, slugging outfielder Adam Duvall will join veterans Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte in the outfield.
Despite complementing a young pitching staff with veteran position players, no jobs will be a given come spring. Just because a top prospect might start the season in the Minors doesn't mean there won't be available reps over the course of 162 games.
"We have to make sure that we give our young guys an opportunity, and we don't want to block them, and we need them to continue to develop," Jeter said. "I know we got a taste of the postseason last year, and our goal every year is to get back to the postseason, but at the same time, we have to look at the big picture and make sure that the young guys get an opportunity to play and they get an opportunity to compete for jobs. We have a lot of guys that are close, so they're knocking on the door, but they get to continue to develop."
Below are some other topics discussed:
"We hope that those numbers increase throughout the course of the season, but I will say the most important thing for us is to make sure that everyone is healthy and everyone is safe, and that includes the players, the coaches, the front office, but the fans as well," Jeter said.
In order to give attendees peace of mind, the organization expects to introduce enhanced safety measures next week. Marlins Park also has the luxury of a retractable roof and sliding glass panels in left field.
What's the latest on the TV deal?
Expect a conclusion soon. According to Sherman, "tremendous progress" has been made, and the gains put the franchise in a "good spot." He even alluded to the renaming of the network (FOX Sports Florida to Bally Sports Florida). When asked whether the new deal would double the rights fee ($20 million in 2020), Sherman implied it would exceed that.
"Well clearly we wouldn't be satisfied at your level [double the rights fee], and we will no longer have the worst deal in Major League Baseball, as you correctly assumed," he said. "We're excited to be competitive with the other teams, and we're in a very good market in terms of population, so I think that says a lot."
As to whether any Spring Training games will be broadcast, there is no word yet. The revised Grapefruit League schedule was released on Friday.
Will there be some variation of FanFest?
In a normal year, FanFest would be held about a week before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. That didn't happen in 2021, but the Marlins continue to brainstorm the most effective and safest way to build excitement leading up to the season.
"We are thinking about different ways that we can get some fans into the ballpark spread out, obviously so that when we get to Opening Day, it's not the first time that we're introducing and welcoming fans into the park," Jeter said. "So more to come on that."
Did the pandemic affect payroll? What about moving forward?
"I would say from a payroll standpoint that wasn't a part of our conversations this year," Jeter said. "We didn't say, 'Hey, look, we're going through a pandemic, let's cut back on payroll.' That was never a conversation. The conversations that we had even prior to going through a pandemic -- because you look two, three, four or five years down the road. And the point of building a great Minor League system is to give those guys a chance. That's why you build it.
"And I said it to you guys I think in Spring Training before we started last year, we have to give these guys an opportunity. That's why you go through the exercise of building an organization. So payroll has nothing to do with anything that we're doing this year. Moving forward, hopefully we can get a full Minor League season in and we can get a full Major League season in, and then you sit down and you say, 'OK, look, this is the group that we're rolling with, and these are the positions that we have filled internally.' And then we'll figure out where we can add externally if needed."