The Marlins have one of the best young lineups in the Major Leagues, and with the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming on July 31, manager Don Mattingly is hoping upper management will keep the team together.That's the next big hurdle. Mattingly knows rumors will be rampant in the clubhouse for the
The Marlins have one of the best young lineups in the Major Leagues, and with the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming on July 31, manager Don Mattingly is hoping upper management will keep the team together.
That's the next big hurdle. Mattingly knows rumors will be rampant in the clubhouse for the next two weeks, and his job is help the players maintain their focus.
"I've been through this a number of times already, and it affects every club this time of year," Mattingly said. "But it's something we'll definitely talk about. We have a number of things up in the air with our organization."
• MLB Buzz: Trade talk, deals and rumors
The Marlins could be sold soon. On top of that, after being swept at home by the rampaging Dodgers this past weekend, Miami is eight games under .500 and 10 games behind Colorado for the National League's second Wild Card spot.
That certainly complicates matters.
The possible sale of the team?
"It's been pretty much a non-issue, I think," Mattingly said. "Since we've been dealing with it since spring, it's something we know is there. But we also know that our only control is to go out and play."
Mattingly has plenty of experience with all of that. He learned to cope with outside influences as an All-Star first baseman for George Steinbrenner's Yankees, and as a manager when the Dodgers were up for sale.
"Yeah, I've been through a few things," Mattingly said with a laugh.
Block it all out, Mattingly learned from his mentor Joe Torre. Mattingly was the hitting coach and later bench coach under the Hall of Fame manager with New York and Los Angeles.
No one was better than blocking out distractions from above than Torre, now MLB's chief baseball officer.
"It's really the same as the Trade Deadline and all that," Mattingly said. "It's just asking guys not to worry about the distractions and/or any of the talk. Make sure we're focused on playing good baseball, being prepared to play each night and then go from there."
Mattingly took over the Marlins last season after leading the Dodgers to three first-place finishes in the NL West. In his seventh season as a big league manager, he has a .534 winning percentage.
Miami has been a work in progress since Mattingly's arrival, playing well into last August when the club lost 32 of its last 56 games to drop out of the NL Wild Card race. This season, a 10-18 May was followed by a 20-18 correction.
The Marlins won five out of their past six, including a three-game sweep of the Giants in San Francisco before the All-Star break. They then ran into Mattingly's old friends, the Dodgers, who have been a 49-17 juggernaut since May 1.
The 30-60 Phillies are at Marlins Park this week for a three-game set, so it's a good time to regroup.
"You realize as a player that there are plenty of things you can't control," Mattingly said. "The one thing you can control is what's happening on that diamond and how you prepare to play. That, to me, is the simplest and easiest way to deal with it all. Really keep your focus right here on the diamond and get ready to play. All the other stuff is out of your hands."
And what a player Mattingly was, his career streaking like a comet across the Bronx sky over the old Yankee Stadium in what seemed like a nanosecond. He led the American League in batting average once, base hits twice, doubles three times and RBIs and slugging percentage once.
Mattingly won the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 1985, and he was a six-time AL All-Star, his 14-year career ending suddenly in '94 because of a back injury and family issues. Along the way, Mattingly was nicknamed "Donnie Baseball," and that moniker was well-earned.
Mattingly knows talent and when he looks around the diamond at the Marlins, this is what he sees:
Justin Bour, 29, at first base; Dee Gordon, also 29, at second; JT Riddle, 25, at short; J.T. Realmuto, 26, behind the plate; Christian Yelich, 25, in center field; Marcell Ozuna, 26, in left; and the bug guy, Giancarlo Stanton, 27, in right. Martin Prado, 33 and at third base, is the steady veteran presence.
It's a team that's built for the long term, and if substantiated with some starting pitching, this club has the chance to do some damage. The $115.4 million payroll is by far the tops in the club's 25-year history. The manager has two more seasons after this one on his four-year contract, and he would like to see it through.
The first departure occurred on June 26 when slick fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria was traded to the Rays for two Minor Leaguers. That opened the spot for Riddle.
"Look, Hechy is a great fielder," Mattingly said. "But we don't lose much of that with JT. He can play."
Yelich and Stanton were already pretty formidable players when Mattingly arrived, but Ozuna was on the radar for both the new manager and his then-hitting coach, Barry Bonds.
"He was my project when I went there," Bonds said last weekend. "[Owner] Jeffrey Loria put his bobblehead in my locker and said, 'He's yours.' I said, 'I guarantee you he won't get worse.'"
Bonds was right. Since then, Ozuna has been a two-time All-Star.
All of this has a chance to only get better, Mattingly knows, if the Marlins keep this talented young gang together in the next few weeks.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.