By STEVEN WINE
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Even the Miami Marlins can be optimistic at the start of spring training, which is why president of baseball operations Michael Hill stood facing the practice fields before the first full-squad workout Monday and didn’t flinch at what’s to come.
“This is a camp where there is as much talent as I’ve ever seen,” he said.
That’s only modest praise given that the Marlins have endured 10 consecutive losing seasons, all with Hill in the front office. After losing 105 times in 2019, they could be much improved and still finish last in the NL East.
But the Marlins do believe they’re finally on the upswing in Year 3 of the Derek Jeter regime.
“It’s time,” manager Don Mattingly said.
“There’s a lot more talent; there’s a lot more veteran talent,” Hill said. “You can look at a deeper pitching staff, a better bullpen, a deeper lineup. The expectation to win more games comes with that.”
Among those with loftier expectations is majority owner Bruce Sherman, part of Jeter’s group that bought the long-suffering franchise in late 2017.
“We’re going to put a championship-type quality team on the field that can do wonderful things,” Sherman said.
Sherman has lived in Florida for 40 years and has been a Marlins fans since their first game in 1993. He cheered World Series championships in 1997 and 2003, and endured the other 26 seasons, which all ended without a postseason berth.
He and Jeter have repeatedly said the goal is not just winning, but sustained winning year after year.
“I don’t want to have up and downs,” Sherman said. “It’s a silly way to run a baseball club.”
But winning, sustained or otherwise, might be at least another year away. The payroll still ranks among baseball’s smallest, and the most prognosticators expect Miami to win around 70 games.
Hill wisely declined to predict a victory total.
“We don’t put limitations on our guys,” he said. “Talent plays. There’s a ton of talent in this camp. There are no limitations when you have that kind of talent of what the future may hold.”
This season will be the best chance yet to determine how well Jeter and his staff have evaluated and developed the players they’ve acquired, including prospects obtained in exchange for All-Stars as part of payroll purging.
There are at least signs of a foundation for winning, thanks to a much-improved farm system and an abundance of pitching prospects who appear on the cusp of breaking into the majors.
Miami finished last in the majors in runs in 2018-19, but should score more this year following the acquisition of veterans Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson and Jesús Aguilar.
But the Marlins may be overselling the roster, which is low on star power even by their standards. The team couldn’t win even when it had Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto, and now the face of the franchise — aside from Jeter — is probably Brian Anderson, a .267 career hitter who has yet to make an All-Star team.
Fifth-year manager Mattingly might not be thrilled to have his boss hyping the Marlins as a “championship-type quality team.” But it serves a purpose to raise expectations, Mattingly said.
“We want a club that starts to exude confidence and show a little swagger and have a little push-back when we’re not playing well,” Mattingly said. “We have to have an expectation of where we’re going.”
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: HERE