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Stanton ready to assume role as face of Marlins

MLB.com @philgrogers

MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton was smiling on Wednesday morning as he sat alongside Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to announce the biggest contract in the history of American sports. But he hardly wore the look of somebody who had beat the system.

The 13-year, $325 million deal is intriguing -- both for the numbers in it and, especially, the implications they carry. But there's one simple message that Stanton hopes won't get overlooked.

MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton was smiling on Wednesday morning as he sat alongside Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to announce the biggest contract in the history of American sports. But he hardly wore the look of somebody who had beat the system.

The 13-year, $325 million deal is intriguing -- both for the numbers in it and, especially, the implications they carry. But there's one simple message that Stanton hopes won't get overlooked.

"This isn't like a lottery ticket that's 'Peace, out,'" Stanton said. "People are thinking of it like that. You win the lottery, you quit your job, you go live where you want to live and call it a day. This is the start of new work in a new job for the city. It's a huge responsibility, and one I'm willing to take. … I know I have a lot of expectations to live [up] to, which I need to do and I'm willing to do."

It's hard to see beyond the money in a precedent-setting contract. Beyond the Stanton family, the Marlins and their fans, there probably won't be too many people who celebrate this deal. But if it plays out as it is designed, if the Marlins can take advantage of the mulligan they're being given to start packing their brightly colored three-year-old palace in Little Havana, it will be more than a turning point for Loria's franchise.

Video: Stanton, Marlins complete $325 million deal

It will be a great thing for Major League Baseball.

Rather than take his prodigious power and hitting skills to the Yankees, Dodgers or another of baseball's big-revenue franchises, the 25-year-old Stanton is committing himself to winning with his original franchise, the one that took him with the 76th overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He believes he can win alongside teammates like Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Marcell Ozuna and Adeiny Hechavarria, and there's nothing he wants more.

That's why Stanton chose to sign a massive long-term contract -- albeit one that includes an opt-out clause after six years and $107 million -- rather than seek a trade and a chance to escape an ownership group that two years ago generated outrage by blowing up its roster almost as soon as it had settled into Marlins Park.

"You guys can think whatever you want, but it was not the money fueling this," Stanton said. "If it was, I would have just said, 'Here you go, this is the offer, and I'm in.' But this was the toughest decision of my life. This is 13 years. I didn't even go to school 13 years. I wanted to really make sure that this was what I wanted to do in terms of just making a name for this team, changing things around here. … It's going to be fun. It's going to be good."

Throughout their 22-year history, the Marlins have been MLB's biggest outlier. Ownership has rarely invested heavily in payroll, yet the Marlins won two World Series while sharing a stadium with the Miami Dolphins along the Florida Turnpike. Players baked before a sea of empty seats on hot summer nights.

"It was brutal," said Jeff Conine, a member of the expansion Marlins in 1993 who now serves as a special assistant to team president David Samson. "It was the most brutal place to play in the big leagues, as far as physically. You don't have a lot of support from the fans, because there weren't a lot of people there."

Marlins Park, a publicly financed art deco masterpiece built at a cost of $634 million, was seen as a new day for the franchise. But there was little buzz in 2012, the team's initial season. Manager Ozzie Guillen and a roster built around infielders Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, along with imported starters Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, fell flat, and Loria was vilified when he traded Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to the Blue Jays as soon as the season ended.

Video: Stanton finishes second in NL MVP voting

Thanks to Stanton's commitment, following his near-MVP season in 2014, the Marlins are getting a second chance to gain a foothold in Miami. The approach on the contract came together when Loria, Samson, president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings met immediately following a 77-85 season.

Loria said he wanted "to start fresh with this team," and by hanging onto Stanton, he gets that chance.

"In 2012, we were opening a new ballpark," Loria said. "We wanted to do something special for the community. Frankly, it didn't work. None of us wanted us to be in the position that some other clubs have been in with 20 years without success. I pushed the reset button. It wasn't popular, and I didn't care.

"I knew we had some talent that would come and grow with us, that we would bring them along and surround them with other talent. And that we had to start all over again. Those players, it wasn't working. Management had to change, and I did that. Now it seems everything is in the right direction."

Video: Justice on Stanton's record deal with the Marlins

Stanton seemed heartbroken after the teardown that came exactly two years ago, but he healed watching Fernandez win the National League Rookie of the Year Award as a 20-year-old in the Marlins' rotation in 2013. As Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter in '13 and three shutouts in '14 and more players filtered up from a farm system that remained productive behind Jennings and his scouts, Stanton began to believe that he could be the centerpiece of winning teams in Miami, where he loves living.

Now it's time for Loria and Samson, arguably the faces of the franchise for most of the last decade, to step aside and let Stanton work his magic. He just turned 25, but he already has 154 home runs and 399 RBIs to go along with a .271 batting average and .903 OPS over five big league seasons, and you can't help but wonder how great he'll be when he hits his prime years.

Jennings tips his cap to Los Angeles area scout Tim McDonald for seeing Stanton's potential as a hitter at a time when most expected him to play on USC's football team. He got a glimpse of Stanton's ambition during a visit to Class A Greensboro in 2008, when the slugger was 18.

"He had great bat speed, tremendous athletic ability, but there was so much about hitting he did not know," Jennings said. "I can remember watching this kid. He's in the batting cage, hitting off a slider machine and his comment was, 'I want to be the best player in the Major Leagues when I get there.' Not good and get there, but 'the best.' He had a self-starting motor that drove him. His work ethic was unbelievable. There's a level of accomplishment he wants to achieve that separates him from a lot of guys."

Conine says Stanton's studious nature was almost as obvious as his power when he arrived in Miami in 2010, as a 20-year-old who skipped Triple-A entirely.

"He's an otherworldly player," Conine said. "On an everyday basis, when you've got the other team showing up early to watch you take batting practice, you know you've got something nobody else has. In my years in baseball, I don't think I've ever seen anybody hit the ball so hard. He's the total package. That was recognizable from the first start. I remember in his first Spring Training, I saw him in the dugout in a folding chair, studying what was going on on the field. Instead of hanging with everybody else on the bench, he was by himself, observing."

Stanton's studies have never ended. He has paid as close of attention to the Marlins as anyone over the last two years, and -- like Loria -- he believes they can give Miami a team that wins and then sustains its success. He welcomes the chance to become the face of his team and to work in the community.

"He's very modest," Loria said. "He will not tell you, but I will tell you. He is one of the brightest young men I've come across in baseball. He's extremely curious and he thinks a great deal. He doesn't just snap-judge. That's the kind of thing you have to respect. He's extremely mature."

You also have to respect a guy who doesn't take the easy way out. It might have taken two years of finagling to get there, but Stanton could have gone anywhere he wanted and set his price as a free agent. Instead, he has decided to roll up his sleeves and keep working for his franchise and his adopted hometown.

"The tough part of my decision was the uncertainty of the past, but you can't always think about the past," Stanton said. "You've got to look at [where you are], what can be ahead of you. And it looks good to my eyes -- to my conclusions, it looks good."

Almost brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Miami Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton