When Derek Jeter captained the New York Yankees he was a model of consistency. His mood never wavered. His expression never seemed to change.
After games, he understood his duty. He’d stand in front of his locker, in good times and bad, and answer questions, valid or stupid. Or course, he never really said anything of great import. But he never ducked or deked and rarely, if ever, lost his patience.
So image how surprising it was hear Jeter admit this week he’s not really an easygoing guy. With spring training about to begin, the CEO of the Miami Marlins offered his state of the franchise and it’s clear he is tired of losing.
“You never put a timeframe on it,” said Jeter. “If you come out and say it’s going to take us five years, 10 years, 15 years — you’re saying it’s okay to lose. But that’s not the case. I have no patience. I have zero patience. I’ve been preaching it. I don’t have it.”
In his first year on the job, Jeter presided over the worst team in the National League. His team sucked, hitting just 128 homeruns and scoring only 589 runs. And attendance at the Marlins beautiful ballpark dipped to embarrassingly low level (811,104, barely over 10,000 per game).
There was a very good reason for this. Jeter supervised the demolition of what once was a pretty decent club, but one that hadn’t had a winning season in nine years. He traded his second baseman Dee Gordon, his entire outfield, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Osuna, and later in the year moved first baseman Justin Bour.
In 2017, Stanton, Yelich, Osuna and Bour combined to hit 139 homers. Dealing them was tantamount to ripping the spark plugs out of an engine. But Jeter did it with a cold heart. He did it to save money, an austerity program designed to strip the club bare before rebuilding it with younger and cheaper players.
So what now, other than taking down the Home Run Sculpture, giving Billy the Marlin a facelift and changing up logo and team colors?
“Patience is something that you have to learn,” Jeter said. “But I’m fine with not being patient. It’s like I say: When you’re at the major-league level, you’re here for a reason, because these players have been better than most other players in this country and in other countries as well. And if you’re here, you have an opportunity to win. I can’t preach that enough.”
There is little chance Miami will win this season. They rent in the NL East, now perhaps the most competitive division in the Major Leagues. The Marlins have to deal the young and talented Atlanta Braves, the high-spending Philadelphia Phillies, the rebuilding New York Mets and always competitive Washington Nationals. One metric predicted they might win only 65 games.
“I would take that as a slap in the face, if I were a player,” said Jeter. “You have to go out there and try to prove people wrong.”
Any chance they might have had for at least incremental improvement was dashed this offseason when utilityman Derek Dietrich was designated for assignment, righthanded reliever Kyle Barraclough was dealt to Washington and one last pillar, catcher J.T. Realmuto, was shipped to the Phillies.
As of Tuesday, the Marlins entire payroll for its current 40-man roster is $62.7 million and three players, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen ($20 million) and infielders Martin Prado ($15 million) and Starlin Castro ($11 million) account for 74 percent of it.
There is nothing unusual about building teams through the draft and by acquiring prospects by trading veteran players. This is what the Marlins have done and will continue to do.
You can even find success, as Oakland and Tampa Bay did last season. But its another thing to demand a high level of achievement from a group just trying to establish itself as Major League players.
When he says he has no patience, Jeter is plying reverse psychology. Think about it: If he publicly admitted he doesn’t expect much in 2019, he’d deliver the wrong message. By admitting h’s expecting too much, he’s telling his players and field staff he has confidence in them.
One of the great oddities about the Marlins is that manager Don Mattingly was also a great Yankees captain. Now he is in the position to be fired by the guy who succeeded him.
To prepare for 2019, Jeter has brought in two key veterans, second baseman Neil Walker and outfielder Curtis Granderson. Both are quality individuals who will lend a touch of professionalism and class to the Marlins clubhouse. He acquired catcher Jorge Alfano in the Realmuto trade.”Derek’s not going to be patient with not playing the game right, not getting after it every day, not competing,” said Mattingly. “He knows where we’re at. In a sense you have to have some patience. But you don’t have patience if a guy’s not playing the game right, if he’s not trying to get better every day, if he’s not working. That’s where he’s not going to have patience.”
An honest evaluation of the roster reveals there might be only three jobs not up for grabs – catcher, second base (Castro), third base (Prado), right field (Brian Anderson) and No. 1 starter (Jose Urena). Everything else is subject to debate.
“We need to see improvement,” Jeter said. “We need to see improvement from some of our younger guys that got an opportunity to play last year. That’s how you get better. We can sit and talk about minor-league systems all you want, but it gets to a point when you’re in Miami that you have to develop and improve year in and year out. That’s how you become a great team.”