MIAMI (AP) — Derek Jeter played on a winning team in each of his 20 seasons as a shortstop, which made his first year as an owner a test of patience.
He admits he failed.
Jeter’s Miami Marlins went 63-98 — a new, humbling experience for him, but nothing new for the troubled franchise. By finishing with the worst record in the National League, the Marlins endured their ninth consecutive losing season, the longest such streak in the majors.
Their playoff drought is now at 15 years.
“I’ve been preaching patience, and finding out I don’t have much of it,” Jeter said. “It’s an organization that had been broken, and we have to fix that. I’d like that to happen overnight. But we have a lot we need to improve on.”
There were signs of progress. Jeter said the most positive development was the improvement made by prospects, and initial showings by 2018 draft picks.
Several young major leaguers took steps toward becoming part of the long-term rebuilding plan, including pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith, third baseman-right fielder Brian Anderson and center fielder Magneuris Sierra.
But contention still seems a long way away, and nothing on the field could stir South Florida from its longstanding apathy toward the Marlins. They finished last in the NL in attendance for the 13th time in the past 14 years, and the home average of 10,013 was the lowest in the majors since the Expos’ final season in Montreal in 2004.
Jeter, who has become a hands-on owner in every aspect of the organization, wants to create a more festive environment at Marlins Park. With that goal in mind, the franchise will invite fans to bring musical instruments, bells, whistles and flags to a designated section next season.
Better food is promised as well.
“We’re trying to capture the energy, the culture, the diversity of Miami, and bring it into the park, which is not easy to do,” Jeter said. “When our fans come, we want it look like Miami, smell like Miami, taste like Miami.”
The 2018 season was none too appetizing, however. And with payrolls expected to remain modest for the foreseeable future, any progress will likely come slowly.
Don Mattingly, for one, remains optimistic. He’ll return for a fourth year as manager in 2019, and he praised Jeter for consistency in his approach to rebuilding the franchise from the farm system up.
“Our first meeting was, `Donnie, we’ve got a plan, and we’re going to stick to it,”‘ Mattingly said. “And nothing has moved away from that.”
Here are things to know about how that plan is taking shape:
The Marlins want to discuss a long-term contract with All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. A deal would send a signal that the roster might no longer be a revolving door as players depart when they become too expensive.
“We’d love to keep all the good players,” Jeter said. “J.T. and his representatives are very aware of how we feel about him.”
Jeter likely traded away two NL MVPs last offseason in the Marlins’ latest payroll purge. Giancarlo Stanton went to the Yankees shortly after winning the 2017 award, and Christian Yelich is the front-runner for this year’s honor after being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Christian is a great player,” Jeter said. “Everyone will tell you that. Look, we’re happy with the four players we got back. We feel they’re going to play big roles in the future of this organization.”
The most heralded prospect acquired in the Yelich deal, center fielder Lewis Brinson, batted only .199 in 109 games.
“He’s obviously got to get better,” Mattingly said.
The manager was more enthusiastic about the speedy, 22-year-old Sierra, who batted .190 in 54 games.
“The kid’s going to be good,” Mattingly said.
Several youngsters displayed potential as everyday starters in 2018, and reports from the minors were encouraging, too.
“We’re excited about some of the pitchers we have,” Jeter said. “Some of the pitching prospects are closer to Miami than some of the position players.”
Injury-plagued left-hander Wei-Yin Chen showed he might be part of the plan going forward, which would be nice since the Marlins owe him $58 million over the next three seasons.
Chen had one of baseball’s more bizarre splits: 5-3 with a 1.62 ERA at home, and 1-9 with a 9.27 ERA on the road.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said.
Figuring it out will be one more job for Jeter.
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