Marlins full of intrigue after roster reshaping
Michael Morse does two things for the Miami Marlins, both significant. First, he continues the momentum that began with the signing of Giancarlo Stanton. Second, Morse adds to a team that already looked capable of contending for a postseason berth in 2015.
At the time of the Stanton signing, the Marlins promised there would be more to come, that they intended to upgrade the talent level up and down the roster. That they have done, first with the trades for Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Mat Latos and now with Morse agreeing to a two-year deal.
If you're a baseball fan in South Florida, you're loving life. You have a spectacularly beautiful ballpark. You have one of the five best players in baseball agreeing to be part of a bright and shiny future. You also have some of baseball's best young talent, from Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich to Tom Koehler and Marcell Ozuna.
The Marlins were a joy to watch last summer as those kids figured things out on the fly and gradually realized that, yes, they did belong. It wasn't just that the Marlins improved by 15 games over 2013. It was a nucleus of young players that figures to grow together and get better.
The Marlins were within a game of .500 as late as Sept. 9. They were also within 3 1/2 games of a National League Wild Card berth on that day. When the season ended, there was a feeling that the best was yet to come.
First, though, the Marlins had to convince Stanton to stay. They did that with a breathtaking 13-year, $325 million contract. They also promised him that it wouldn't be just about him, that the franchise was going to do other things to remain competitive.
The Marlins have pursued talent here, there and everywhere. When they acquired Gordon and his 64 stolen bases from the Dodgers, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria happily texted Stanton with the news.
"He's happy, too," Loria said of Stanton.
Loria could have passed for the happiest man on earth. He had good foresight when he blew up his roster two years ago, trading Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers and Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson to the Blue Jays. Loria also fired manager Ozzie Guillen.
Loria's reasoning was simple. It wasn't working, so why stay the course? He knew he'd take some hits, but he was prepared for that.
This isn't Loria's first rodeo. He has been in baseball since buying the Oklahoma City Minor League franchise in 1989. That's the thing some people miss: Loria knows the game, and he knows scouts, coaches, etc.
During one of his first meetings in Oklahoma, Loria walked into a room and saw Allie Reynolds sitting at a table.
"One of my boyhood heroes," he said.
Loria's earliest baseball memories are of his father taking him to Yankee Stadium, and the heroes of that era -- like Reynolds, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto -- still resonate in his heart and mind. Anyway, Loria has been around the game long enough to have a sense for what's going to work and what won't.
Loria's breaking up of the Marlins in 2012 coincided with a time in which he had lost faith in some of his baseball staff. So when the reconstruction of the Marlins began, some reshuffling of the front office took place, too, most notably the promotions of Michael Hill to president of baseball operations and Dan Jennings to general manager.
Looking back on it, Loria was right to change things in 2012. The Marlins who have emerged from that time are better across the board, from Stanton agreeing to stay to all the young talent acquired in those deals to manager Mike Redmond.
Those trades brought the Marlins Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jacob Turner. Plenty more -- like Yelich, Ozuna and Koehler -- were homegrown players.
The Washington Nationals remain the consensus favorite to win the NL East, but the Marlins appear to be in the mix. Gordon and Yelich should be a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup in front of Stanton, and in Morse, they've added a power bat for the spot behind him.
If Haren agrees to play another year, he and Latos would add a veteran presence to go along with Alvarez, Koehler and the other young pitchers. If Fernandez is able to return from Tommy John surgery for the second half of the season, he could make an interesting rotation even better.
With so many young players, there will still be some adjustment time. But it's impossible not to be excited about what the Marlins built last season, and what this offseason has brought.
No team has improved more than Miami. No team will be more interesting on Opening Day.