Happy Thanksgiving, Marlins fans!
With another holiday season about to begin, it had me thinking about everything that happened this year, which for the Marlins and their fans, was quite a lot. Not since Marlins Park opened in 2012 has there been this much change and excitement around our team.
Many will point to the subtractions the team underwent as the defining moments for the organization. After all, they did trade away last year’s MVP Giancarlo Stanton and this year’s MVP Christian Yelich, in addition to the rest of a solid core in Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, and presumably J.T. Realmuto in the coming weeks. The team also finished this season with 98 losses—their worst finish since the 2013 season. While the expectations for last year’s team were very low, losing that many games is still never easy for a team’s players or its fans.
Despite the setbacks that the team endured during this year, the Sherman/Jeter-led Marlins have still given fans many reasons to be thankful for their team, and excited for its future.
The first, and in my opinion most apparent reason to give thanks, is that fans finally have a team that listens to them. The team made this intention immediately clear to their fan base, from the town hall meeting before the season, to their increased social media presence and targeted marketing efforts to their city, to their Dímelo campaign that captured the voice of the fans and led to all kinds of improvements in many different areas. Many fans were skeptical that their voice would actually be heard, and rightfully so—previous team leaders generally served their own interests.
But the Marlins took those concerns and put them to rest in a whirlwind of incoming changes to the stadium amenities and aesthetics that seemed to come straight from Marlins fans’ mouths and put directly into action. Wanted the tacky home run sculpture and lime green walls out of there? They’re taking care of that. Wanted more variety in stadium concessions and more options in your stadium experience? They’ve got you covered there too, with new areas to socialize throughout the park, and the promise of a more diverse and exciting food and beverage experience.
The Marlins put a tremendous amount of effort into building excitement and creating a buzz around #OurColores, both on social media and with a series of murals and events around the city. Their new logos and uniforms were met with overwhelming positivity, and truthfully, I can’t remember a more successful marketing effort in all of South Florida sports (the Lebron-era Heat notwithstanding).
This wave of newfound involvement in the community is also very refreshing. That isn’t to say that previous regimes never gave back. I particularly remember their annual trips overseas to support our troops, and numerous marathons for charity. But I never remember their efforts feeling quite this...local.
The captain himself, Derek Jeter, was out on the streets of Little Havana passing out turkeys and thanksgiving meals to families in the neighborhood. Several Marlins players and executives were out and about to show off the new uniforms and meet their fans in intimate settings.
Big crowd today at Marlins Park for the Thanksgiving meal distribution. pic.twitter.com/omphit1CRT— Luis Davila (@luisrdavi) November 16, 2018
The following Monday, they kicked off a new tee-ball initiative, where they will be providing rebranded Marlins uniforms to the little leaguers, as well as breaking ground on new baseball fields in Tropical Park. As president of business operations Chip Bowers said, “It’s important to us that we create leaders at a very early age.”
The biggest and best reason to be thankful, of course, is the team’s on-field plan. The first and most important thing to note is that there actually is a plan, something else Marlins fans aren’t necessarily used to.
Right off the bat, Jeter and his team put an emphasis on bringing in some of the most respected people in the industry into this organization. Namely, Gary Denbo to lead the baseball side along with Jeter, and Bowers to lead the business and marketing side. Both have already made huge strides in advancing the organization and setting it up for the future with an entirely new structure in place. The team has poured more resources than ever before into scouting and development, creating a detailed plan and a path to success for every player in the organization.
We’ve also seen a revamped draft strategy that has already returned early results. A willingness to pay over slot value to land the players they want, followed by an aggressive approach to promoting players who are performing well, represents a stark change in philosophy from the past approach. While it is still too early to judge the fruits of last year’s draft, their aggressive approach to drafting toolsy, high-ceiling athletes should allow for a steady flow of talent through the pipeline. Some will become major league Marlins, while others could help the march to contention as trade assets when the time comes to target veterans from other clubs.
The team has also shown a renewed interest in the international market. The signings of Cuban stars Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa, Jr. signaled the beginning of yet another encouraging change that will ensure the presence of more talent in the Marlins system. The previous regime was notoriously inactive on this front, ignoring an important avenue for small-market teams to acquire difference-makers.
The team’s increased focus on analytics represents the dawn of a new day, in many ways. Aside from a new approach to in-game decisions and roster construction, a bolstered analytics department has given the Marlins front office a new approach to talent acquisition, particularly in trades.
For example, the high spin rate on Jordan Yamamoto’s fastball and curveball likely led to the team targeting him as the fourth piece in the Christian Yelich deal, as it has shown to be an important indicator for success. To this point, Yamamoto has arguably had the most success of anyone included in that deal. While relying solely on the data can never guarantee success, it does provide a more solid foundation for the team to build on, and advances them more in line with the way most successful organizations are now operating.
From the team’s look to their philosophy to the on-field product, on the field and in the community, 2018 has been a year of change for the Marlins organization, and has provided Marlins fans with one main reason to be thankful—hope. Real, sustainable hope for the future. Fans finally have a lot to be thankful for.