In November, after Stanton won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, he said he hoped the Marlins would invest in pitching. The team had never recovered from the September 2016 death of its ace, Jose Fernandez, in a boating accident, and ended the year with just two established starters.
But Jeter said the Marlins had no chance to win as constructed, and no two pitchers could have helped.
“The group that was together, for whatever reason, they just didn’t win,” Jeter said. “You’ve got to move in another direction. It was funny because we had a town-hall meeting and someone asked me, ‘Could you imagine George Steinbrenner trading me, Andy, Mariano and Jorge?’ Yeah! If we didn’t win? Yeah. In my mind, it’s simple: we are here to win, right? We’re here to win.”
Yes, but couldn’t the Marlins have tried to win more right now?
“More?” Jeter replied. “What does that mean?”
Seventy-eight wins would be one more than last season.
“What does that do?” Jeter said, all but stifling a groan. “You win a championship. You don’t go into a season saying, ‘Let’s win 78 games this year.’ You don’t do that. Why? It wasn’t acceptable when I was a player, why would it be acceptable now? Yeah, let’s be part of an ownership group and let’s win 78 games. What does that do? Nothing.”
Jeter knows this seems strange, asking fans for patience, the very last thing he possessed as a Yankee. He won the World Series as a rookie, in 1996, and then perpetuated the Steinbrenner doctrine more than any other player. If the Yankees did not win the championship, Jeter would say, the season was a failure.
For owners, though, patience is the magic word. Convince fans of the curative powers of a teardown, and you might buy a few years of good will. Jeter knows he must earn the trust of the skeptical fans in Miami, but he also knows they have not supported the team he broke up. The Marlins have ranked last in N.L. attendance in each of the last five seasons.
Jeter has been seeking other investors from the business community, and the trades have chopped some $40 million from the payroll. Yet he insists that propping up an unpopular, losing team simply made no sense. Most of the remaining players seem to understand.
“People are freaking out about rebuilding, but I wouldn’t be so worried about it when Jeter is leading the way,” said Martin Prado, a veteran third baseman, who played with Jeter in 2014. “I don’t think he’s going to mess with his reputation just because he wants to be in this position. He’s got a challenge, but I think he knows what he’s doing, and we have to respect that.”
Jeter let go of several popular Marlins ambassadors — Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Jack McKeon and Tony Perez — and does not know if he will keep the whimsical home run sculpture Loria commissioned at Marlins Park. But he did retain Manager Don Mattingly, his friend and former teammate, and Michael Hill, the president of baseball operations. This week he hired Chip Bowers from the Golden State Warriors as president of business operations.
“He has every intention of hiring the best and the brightest people to come to the Marlins’ organization and work,” said Gary Denbo, the new vice president for scouting and player development, who was Jeter’s first manager in pro ball and later helped oversee the Yankees’ farm system.
New regimes always brim with optimism, emphasizing player development and scouting as the lifeblood of a winner. Jeter even promises to spend more on analytics, following Hill and Denbo’s lead. But if every team has the same idea — and many more teams, like the Yankees, have more money — what will separate Jeter’s Marlins?
It could be people like Denbo, Jeter said, who share his thirst for competition and commitment to playing the game right. However it all unfolds, this fickle franchise will enhance or tarnish a legacy that could have stayed spotless.
Jeter rushed to get here, and now he just wants a little time.
“We’ve been criticized quite a bit and we haven’t played a game yet,” he said. “Everyone’s said all our decisions have been wrong — how do you know? It takes time to know if we made the right decisions. There’s been other organizations and other people that have been given opportunities to prove that they’re making the right decisions. Give us an opportunity. Today is our first day of spring training.”
And the first day of the rest of his new baseball life.