Everything is not great in the Sunshine State, where uncertainty and distress are at the forefront of change and progressive thought. The Miami Marlins, a franchise riddled with high expectations and renewed optimism, experienced adverse results during the first 40 games of the 2015 season. Consistently inconsistent for much of the period, the Marlins sputtered out of the gate, dropping their first three games to the Atlanta Braves at home. A 1-6 start to the season bred rumors of manager Mike Redmond‘s dismissal with distractions abound. Undaunted, the Marlins would slowly build momentum with timely hitting and strong effort, taking fourteen of their next twenty-four to inch closer to respectability, but another sweep by the Braves last weekend, highlighted by a near no-hitter from Shelby Miller, cost Redmond his job. Despite recent struggles, the move would be met with much criticism and scrutiny, intensifying after the Marlins announced that General Manager Dan Jennings would be handed the reigns of the club despite no prior coaching experience at any level.
Two decades before joining the Marlins front office, Jennings attended the University of Alabama, aspiring to achieve the dream of countless others as a professional baseball player. After one spring training as an undrafted free agent in the Yankees organization, Jennings logged a brief stint during the mid-1980s as a high school coach in Mobile, Alabama, his lone managerial credential. Jennings would ultimately discover his forte in scouting, working his way through the ranks, recommending the likes of Carl Crawford, Josh Hamilton, and Rocco Baldelli during his time with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Jennings would proceed to a celebrated career in the scouting ranks, culminating with an induction into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in 2012. Similar success in the Marlins front office proved fleeting during his tenure. After capturing a World Series championship in 2003, featuring pieces inherited from the previous regime, the Marlins floundered around mediocrity for much of the decade, trading homegrown standouts Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Hanley Ramirez. Stability could not be found in the manager’s office as five skippers would come and go between the tenures of 2006 NL Manager of the Year Joe Girardi and Jennings. The revolving door of both players and coaches negatively impacted potential prosperity, with former managers Redmond and Ozzie Guillen still under contract and being paid by the club. Unconventional wisdom became the foundation of owner Jeffrey Loria’s tenure in Miami and dominant team philosophy.
Against seemingly arduous odds, all hope is not lost in South Florida. The Marlins, thanks to their deft evaluation of young talent, decided to buck their own trends last winter and invest their assets in youth. Anticipation for a blockbuster trade of prized outfielder Giancarlo Stanton waned when the 25-year-old outfielder agreed to a 13-year contract in excess of $325 million, with six of those years guaranteed. A seven-year extension to fellow outfielder Christian Yelich followed and a three-way deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for second baseman Dee Gordon and pitcher Dan Haren provided some much-needed veteran leadership.
The Marlins would continue to stockpile players with proven pedigree to compliment their young core. Former Yankees Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado, and David Phelps were also added to the mix, inflating expectations. Redmond had signed a two-year contract extension last September, taking his pact through the 2017 season.
Optimism and hope turned grim late in games despite the upgrades, as the Marlins’ bullpen suddenly failed to hold leads, blowing eight of their last twelve save opportunities and costing Steve Cishek his closer role. A pedestrian 2-for-29 start at the plate led to the release of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with untested rookie J.T. Realmuto in his stead. Starting pitchers Mat Latos and Tom Koehler combined for an earned run average north of six, adding more additional headaches to a unit expected to be the strength of the club.
Dismal early results negated the contributions of Stanton, who successfully returned from a broken jaw suffered last September in Milwaukee. The middle infield duo of Adeiny Hechavarria and Gordon would combine to hit for a .350 average, with the latter leading the league in hitting with a mark above the elusive .400 plateau. Forty-one-year-old Ichiro played more than expected in the early going, achieving an on-base percentage higher than Stanton, filling in for the injured Yelich. In the starting rotation, Haren and Phelps would prove to be the team’s most consistently starters, deftly adapting to the massive confines of Marlins Park.
Despite positive gains made by many of the new additions, none were able to save Redmond’s job. Failure to live up to the new contract and a 3-11 start proved to be the primary culprits for dismissal. Getting just three starts out of Henderson Alvarez, along with the absences of Yelich and Jose Fernandez, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, could put any skipper at a disadvantage. Adding insult to injury, bullpen troubles and erratic efforts from Latos and Koehler were also contributing factors. In most cases a manager such as Redmond would have the luxury of working though the early season foibles with the trust of the front office. The Miami Marlins historically are reactionary when it comes to decision making. The prospect of narrowly avoiding being no hit at home by Miller and the Atlanta Braves in the midst of a three-game sweep made a manager swap a controversial finality.
At the present time, the Marlins employ a field manager with the least amount of experience in the major leagues. Prior to Jennings, the last general manager to serve concurrently as skipper was Hall of Famer Bobby Cox for the Atlanta Braves. Both would quickly cede their positions in the front office to serve exclusively in the dugout. After making his managerial debut on Monday in the Marlins thirteen-inning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jennings became the first skipper since the infamous one-game stint of Ted Turner in 1977 to manage in the major leagues without possessing any credentials in professional baseball in that capacity.
The lack of any prior playing background can create dissonance in the clubhouse for Jennings. Former Marlins manager John Boles was criticized by reliever Dan Miceli in 2001 for never playing in the major leagues, shortly before being dismissed from the dugout. Communication is at the essence of a relationship between a player and manager, and for an individual who spent his career outside of the clubhouse, building a working rapport is an unenviable task. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is the lone exception to the rule, managing the club by proxy based on statistical analysis from the GM’s office, understanding his players due to his own playing background. The absence of any connection to those surroundings, outside of bench coach Mike Goff, makes Jennings’ task a laborious one with few alternatives. It has been said that all conventional wisdom contains an element of element of truth. For the Miami Marlins, the truth continues to escape them in an endless search for clarity.