Marlins have Jeter's vision on fast-track

October 3rd, 2020

In the biggest game the Marlins played since Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, back when a 23-year-old Josh Beckett shut out the Yankees in the Bronx with one of his strikeout victims being Derek Jeter, Miami gave the ball to a 22-year-old named at Wrigley Field on Friday. The Marlins acquired Sanchez in a trade for J.T. Realmuto. By then Jeter, the Marlins' CEO, and Michael Hill, his president of baseball operations, had already traded Giancarlo Stanton, who had hit 59 homers and won the National League MVP Award for the Marlins in 2017, and Christian Yelich, who would become the NL MVP Award winner for the Brewers in '18.

It is also worth pointing out that Jeter’s first major move in December of 2017 wasn’t just trading Stanton and most of what was left on his 13-year, $325 million contract to the Yankees, but trading him to the Yankees. So Jeter didn’t exactly have Marlins fans at hello.

“We’re trying to fix something that is broken,” Jeter said at the time.

First, the only MVP Award winner the Marlins had ever had was gone in the beginning of Jeter’s rebuild. Then a future MVP Award winner. Then the best catcher in baseball. After all that, in Jeter’s second season on the job? The Marlins lost 105 games.

Now here the Marlins are, three years from when Bruce Sherman became the principal owner of the team and put Jeter in charge of it. So many things happened in the first Wild Card week in baseball history. More than anything, the Miami Marlins happened, knocking off the Cubs in two straight games in Wrigley Field. It ended on Friday afternoon after Sanchez, who started the game for manager Don Mattingly, struck out six over five shutout innings, while allowing just four hits.

This all starts at the top of the order, same as it did when Jeter was still playing. It has only taken Jeter and his front office and Mattingly three seasons to start making things right in Miami. Jeter, the greatest winner of his time as a player, now gets ready to watch the Marlins go up against the Braves, the first-place team in the NL East, in a year when everybody thought the Marlins would finish last in the division again.

Then, right out of the gate, the Marlins got hit hard by COVID-19 after just the first week of the short season, with 17 members of the team testing positive. So, yeah, here they are, still playing in the first week of October after they had to stop playing for a week in the first week of August. This is what has happened after the teardown in South Florida. Fast.

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“I believe in what Derek is doing,” Don Mattingly told me in his first spring working for Jeter, and then went on to talk about his great belief in what they were doing, starting all over again.

Maybe neither one of them thought it would happen like this, and this fast, for the Marlins. No one was sure they would even be allowed to finish the season after playing just five games -- they were 3-2 at the time -- and having to go into lockdown in Philadelphia. They would eventually have more than 60 players on the roster in the 60-game season. Now they give the Cubs, the first place team in the NL Central, one run in two games in that Wild Card series and get to go play the Braves in the NLDS at Minute Maid Park.

Of course everybody knows by now that former Phillies pitcher Ricky Bottalico, now working for NBC Sports Philadelphia, called the Marlins “bottom feeders” after the Marlins beat the Phillies the first week of the season.

"I think that's a group that believes in one another," said Cubs manager David Ross when it was over on Friday.

So Ross talked about a belief a couple of years after Mattingly, one former Yankees captain, talked about his belief in what Jeter, another Yankee captain, was trying to do in Miami. Marlins fans had seen teardowns before. But those had come after the Marlins had won their World Series. The only history Jeter had with those fans was the history he had made with the Yankees.

Perhaps it is fitting then, that someone who once belonged to the Yankees, Garrett Cooper, made the biggest swing of the game at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon, hitting a home run to left field when the game was still 0-0. Acquiring Cooper from the Yankees in November of 2017 was one of the first trades made on Jeter’s watch. There would be a lot of them after that, really starting with Stanton. Nobody liked it at the time. There were headlines, the nicer ones, about Jeter being out of his depth. But he had a vision of the team he wanted to build and the kind of smart, tough baseball he wanted it to play. Right now, the Marlins sure are playing it.

There was something else Jeter said after he traded Stanton and got out from under that contract.

“We’re not going to turn this organization around overnight,” Jeter said. “It’s going to take some time.”

Not so much.