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Baseball / Sports

Marlins' baseball returns with positive vibe

JUPITER, Fla. -- Television cameras and tape recorders reflected off the orange lenses of manager Mike Redmond's wrap-around sunglasses Sunday. As Miami Marlins' pitchers and catchers stretched in advance of their first official workout, Redmond told the semicircle of gathered media he sensed "a buzz" about the 2014 team.

At this time last year, Marlins' spring training generated more of a collective groan.

In advance of the inaugural 2012 season at Marlins Park, the club went on an uncharacteristic spending spree. They signed several high profile free agents to contracts totaling $191 million. Those dollars did not translate into wins, and before season's end the dismantling had begun.

It continued into the offseason, producing a disgruntled fan base whose disgust was evident in attendance figures. On average, the Marlins drew 7,817 fewer fans in 2013.

Most of the gloom and doom outlook proved prophetic as the Marlins in Redmond's first year as manager lost 100 games. All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton before last season expressed his unhappiness via Twitter over what club officials termed "a reset."

"Last year I'd say there was some bitterness around it and too much focus on that nonsense," Stanton said. "Now you have to keep it forward and keep pushing...Last year was, 'What do we do now?' Now it's just like, 'OK, we're going to be alright. Just keep looking forward.' "

Although the Marlins fielded a historically bad offensive team in 2013, the season did offer glimmers of hope. Right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez at age 20 earned National League Rookie of the Year honors and finished third in balloting for the NL Cy Young Award, given annually to the circuit's best pitcher.

He will spearhead a young, talented starting rotation that on most nights in 2013 deserved a better fate that it received. The Marlins totaled a league-low 513 runs. The other 14 NL teams averaged 658.

"They made a couple of big moves, especially offensively to help out Stanton," closer Steve Cishek said. "I think a lot of optimism from the fan standpoint comes from that, and the same with us. We're excited to see the offense perform this year because last year was kind of tough."

The Marlins made one "big" move, signing free agent catcher and Royal Palm Beach product Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million deal. The rest of their major offensive upgrades -- first baseman Garrett Jones, second baseman Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey McGehee -- are short-term fixes.

"There's no reason in the world why we can't have a very successful season," McGehee said. "I think we're going to sneak up on some people."

On paper, the Marlins don't appear to have the wherewithal to sneak up on the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, the favorites to win the NL East pennant. President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill hopes the aforementioned acquisitions not only help increase last year's win total, but assist the club's young core take a collective step forward.

"I couldn't be happier with the offseason we were able to have," Hill said. "I think (the fans) like what we've been able to do this offseason. Obviously, we need to win more games. That's always the cure-all, to win as many games as possible. People have been open and receptive, and are excited for the upcoming season. I'm with them.

"We're just trying to make sound baseball decisions. Splashes (to excite the fan base), all that stuff, if you make sound baseball decisions the splash is you win more games. As we well know, we don't win pennants in the offseason. You have to do it on the field and you do that by putting together a good team. You don't win it through press releases or TV clips. You do it on the field. If we do our jobs and bring in the right players then you'll see more 'Ws.' That's what makes everyone feel good."

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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