On Friday morning, the Miami Marlins announced that they agreed to a two-year extension with manager Don Mattingly, and them doing so sends the right message to their fan base and Major League Baseball.
It has been another rough season for the Marlins. They’re poised to finish in last place in the National League East for a second consecutive season, continue to be mocked by the baseball world, and are last in the sport in attendance (9,895 people per game). It’s a triple whammy. You’d think the manager’s departure wouldn’t be far off.
At the same time, while perhaps not to this drastic extent, this is what happens when you endure a full-fledged rebuild, which the Marlins have done since Derek Jeter took over as CEO in 2017. In trading Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, J.T. Realmuto, and Zac Gallen, they received several top-tier prospects, and some of them have received a great deal of playing time at the big-league level.
Sandy Alcantara, who was acquired in the Ozuna trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, is having an encouraging season, sporting a 4.00 ERA, pitching deep into games, and exhibiting a consistent five-pitch arsenal (four seamer, sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball). Jorge Alfaro, who was acquired in the Realmuto trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, has been the Marlins everyday catcher this season and is building camaraderie with a young, budding starting rotation.
Despite being a whopping 54-101, the Marlins have some individuals showcasing the potential to be fixtures moving forward, mostly in their rotation. Whether it be Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, Jordan Yamamoto, 0r Robert Dugger, the Marlins have several pitchers who have found success this season. Collectively, their rotation went into Sunday seventh in MLB in opponent batting average (.238), 11th in strikeouts (776), and 16th in ERA (4.54).
Now, outside of their rotation, there’s little for the Marlins to boast about on their big-league roster. Sure, Garrett Cooper has some pop in his bat, Miguel Rojas is a reliable fielder and contact hitter, and Brian Anderson continues to be steady at the hot corner. Simultaneously, their offense, as a whole, is arguably the worst unit in baseball; the Marlins offense went into Sunday 26th in MLB in batting average (.241), 29th in runs (580), and 30th in total bases (1,935) and OPS (.670).
Great managers get the most out of their players, specifically their pitching staffs. Is Mattingly in the upper echelon of MLB managers? No, but he has probably been involved in the game, whether it be playing or coaching, for the bulk of your life, has found some success as a manager, is working with a young roster, and has expressed enthusiasm and defended the Marlins’ future on a handful of occasions.
Before the 2018 season Mattingly expressed some displeasure with then-Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper‘s criticism of the organization’s offseason fire sale by way of the Miami Herald‘s Clark Spencer.
“Take care of your business and we’ll take care of ours,” Mattingly said.
“It’s not really his place to comment on us,” Mattingly said. “He doesn’t really know what goes on over here. He may think he does, but he doesn’t know what’s going on over here, what the discussions are. He doesn’t know our players that we know.”
In spring training Mattingly showed support for Jeter and the Marlins organization by way of The Palm Beach Post‘s Tom D’Angelo.
“Derek is pretty clear, he has to have a plan that he sticks with and that is going to be best for the organization over the long haul,” Mattingly said.
“He’s talked about building the organization from the ground up with a solid foundation to get to a point we’re able to compete for a championship every year.”
Asked if he wants to return despite the pain of a rebuilding process, Mattingly said: “Well that’s a different question. That’s something to talk about now, and not really something to talk about publicly. That’s something you keep behind closed doors and have discussions with people. I do like the thought of young guys getting better.”
Perhaps Mattingly defended the Marlins to keep his job, as it’s uncertain how he’d fare on the streets. On the other hand, how many former players who have coached in excess of 10 years are vying to manage a team that’s years away from competing for the postseason and getting scrutinized on a weekly basis? How about anybody for that matter?
When you’re going through a dragging process that’s going to take at least five years to produce positive results, you need people around you who trust the process and look for the positives; Mattingly has exhibited both qualities.
His managerial career is highlighted by continually hitting a postseason wall with the Los Angeles Dodgers and being a part of the Marlins extensive rebuild — which has featured four losing seasons with him at the helm. But by extending the skipper, the Marlins are giving off the plausible vibe that they’re looking to build through continuity by having a consistent braintrust and coaching staff.
Firing Mattingly would’ve accomplished nothing. Bringing in a first-year manager or someone who got jettisoned isn’t going to change anything in the short or long-term. The Marlins are a young team whose roster will inevitably improve and garner some consistency. Plus, for the kids they bring up to the big leagues, they’re going to want to know that the ones guiding them, whether it be veteran players or coaches, are going to be with them as they grow up through the organization. Through at least 2021, that’ll be the case in South Florida.
While the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies are playoff-caliber teams and will be as such next season, three of the four have uncertain managerial futures. Meanwhile, Mattingly is the longest tenured manager in the National League East.
It’s a long road to relevance for the Marlins, but they’ve shown that they’re going to continue to approach the challenge by sticking with their young core and familiar faces, rather than getting rid of people for the sake of making headlines; it’s the sensible thing to do for an organization seeking stability.