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LaRoche pursuit a fantastic follow-up for Fish

Veteran slugger would provide lineup protection for Stanton, complement Marlins' young core
MLB.com @philgrogers

MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton made Wednesday one of the best days in the wild history of the Marlins. But the first day in the rest of the franchise's life didn't look too bad either.

Thanks to the steady commitment to player development and scouting that was instilled long ago by Dave Dombrowski and renewed with the hiring of Dan Jennings in 2013, the Marlins are positioned to consider something they've never done -- winning 85-plus games on a consistent basis.

MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton made Wednesday one of the best days in the wild history of the Marlins. But the first day in the rest of the franchise's life didn't look too bad either.

Thanks to the steady commitment to player development and scouting that was instilled long ago by Dave Dombrowski and renewed with the hiring of Dan Jennings in 2013, the Marlins are positioned to consider something they've never done -- winning 85-plus games on a consistent basis.

Video: Marlins discuss Stanton's record-setting contract

Who knows? In the next few years -- and, yes, maybe as early as 2015 -- they might actually get to lose a postseason series. They're the only one of MLB's 30 teams that has never felt that particular pain, rolling to World Series championships the only two years they've made the playoffs (1997 and 2003).

They were a National League Wild Card team both of those seasons, so an NL East title would be another first. But after compiling a .432 winning percentage the last four seasons, they don't have to overtake the Nationals to be rewarded. The challenge is to consistently win 85-plus games, making October baseball an annual possibility.

That would lead to improved attendance, increased local television revenue -- the current deal pays a reported $13 million-$18 million annually, according to the Miami Herald, which ranks near the bottom for MLB -- and, perhaps, at least the establishment of a mid-altitude base camp on the franchise's climb back up the baseball mountain.

The Marlins are positioned to do that, and maybe a lot more.

The first order of business is to improve on a 77-win season in which Stanton finished as the runner-up to Clayton Kershaw in voting for the NL MVP Award, but 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jose Fernandez was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery after making only eight starts.

Video: Stanton finishes second in NL MVP voting

"We like the improvement we made in one season [and] feel like with the way our guys continue to improve, we'll get better next year," manager Mike Redmond said. "How many games? Who knows? But the most important thing is we have [Stanton] hitting in the middle of the order, which we realize is very important and makes us better."

Stanton is a pure power hitter in an era when scoring is down throughout baseball. As a 24-year-old, he led the NL with 37 home runs in 2014 despite missing the last 17 games after getting beaned in the face. MLB Network analyst Mark DeRosa says Stanton is only now starting to come into his prime as he gains experience along with his knowledge of hitting.

"Everyone wants to say we play in this gigantic ballpark, but it doesn't bother him," Jennings said. "He's a special talent. The character of the player, his personality and his mindset of team-first winning made it easy for us to extend this commitment."

With Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones hitting behind him this past season, Stanton was pitched to very carefully. The slugger expanded his strike zone at times, leading to 170 strikeouts to go with 94 walks.

Jennings, who was promoted to replace Larry Beinfest as the general manager a year ago, would love to add left-handed-hitting free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, who would give the Marlins a No. 3-4 combination in the lineup that hit .276 with 63 homers and 197 RBIs in 2014. That would get a pitcher's attention.

Signing LaRoche is the exact kind of move that owner Jeffrey Loria sold Stanton on his strategy -- both immediate and long-term -- before they agreed on the 13-year, $325 million contract, in which Stanton will play for below market price in 2015 and '16.

Video: Rogers breaks down Stanton's deal with Marlins

"We're going to add pieces around me," Stanton said. "It's built that way to do so financially. That's what we have to trust. We have to trust we're all in it to win it."

The team's payroll was $45.8 million this past season, with Stanton earning $6.5 million, and media estimates have it increasing to at least $60 million for 2015, when Stanton's salary stays the same. That leaves about $20 million for additional players, although that margin could increase if the team trades Jones (due $5 million) or cuts ties with any of its five arbitration-eligible players. The latter option seems unlikely, however, as they all seem essential.

Stanton's salary jumps to $25 million in 2017, which is expected to be the first year of a new TV contract for the Marlins. To avoid having Stanton taking up 25 percent of overall player cost -- historically an untenable situation for a contender -- the payroll will have to grow beyond $100 million.

But Jennings knows that winning is about having talented players, not just highly paid players. He helped lay the foundation for the Rays' cost-effective success in a seven-year stint in St. Petersburg, and he knows that the Marlins had only a $45 million payroll at the start of 2003, which ended with them knocking off the Yankees in the World Series and the Sammy Sosa-Kerry Wood-Mark Prior Cubs in the NL Championship Series.

"We won the '03 World Series against a team that had three times our payroll," Jennings said. "Payroll does not equate to winning."

Talent does. In addition to having Stanton for at least six years (his contract contains an opt-out clause after 2020), the Marlins have Fernandez, fellow starter Tom Koehler and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria under control for four years, and No. 2 starter Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi and closer Steve Cishek for three years. Outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, who had breakout seasons in 2014, are under control for five years. That's an impressive core.

Redmond, a backup catcher throughout a 13-year Major League career, was an inspired choice as manager. He's helped create a positive environment in his two years on the job after spending two years as a Minor League manager.

Video: Mike Redmond joins Rose and Millar

"We think the makeup of this group is special," Jennings said. "There's a respect factor they have with one other. They roamed the Minor Leagues together. I can remember the old Minnesota Twins in the late '80s, early '90s -- same thing. John Hart did it in Cleveland. You look at the great Yankee teams."

All three of the teams that Jennings referenced played in at least two World Series behind a core of homegrown players who developed on similar timelines. It's a long way there from here, but the Marlins have declared their intent, with Stanton signed on to lead them.

"I think we all feel like we're working hard to build something, and it's something special," Redmond said. "To be a part of that is fun. Knowing that when we get this thing done, get to the playoffs and win a World Series, how satisfying that is going to be. It's not like you're just signing on with a team that's already good and going to the World Series and winning a ring. This thing has really been started from the ground up."

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Miami Marlins, Adam LaRoche