Few spectators, lots of losses likely for Marlins
Rain delays are a thing of the past, but otherwise, Marlins home games this season will be a lot like the old days.
That means no waiting for hot dogs, modest competition for foul balls and lots of appeal for folks who like to be by themselves.
As the Miami Marlins begin their second year in a futuristic, retractable-roof stadium that was supposed to transform the franchise, they're returning to the past. A small payroll will likely ensure a familiar combination: few spectators and plenty of losses.
The latest roster sell-off angered fans who expected the team to be more competitive financially in its new home. Instead, after a brief spending splurge, owner Jeffrey Loria ordered the payroll reduced this year to about $40 million - second-smallest in the majors - from $90 million in 2012.
As a result, the roster is a mix of young, unproven players and thirtysomething veterans trying to stave off retirement, such as outfielder Juan Pierre. He was with the Marlins when they won the 2003 World Series and subsequently dismantled, so he has performed for swaths of empty seats before.
''The front office, whatever they did with the fans, that's something they're going to have to mend,'' Pierre said. ''And I know how it goes in Florida. If you win, fans will come out. Usually.
''All we can do is control how we go about our business on the field, and hopefully the city will get behind us, especially a bunch of young guys going out and busting their butt every day.''
The best of the young guys do bear watching. There's Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning NL slugging champion at age 23. Donovan Solano, 25, and Adeiny Hechavarria, 23, form a promising double play combination. Closer Steve Cishek, 26, won raves for his pitching in the World Baseball Classic. Starting pitchers Jacob Turner, 21, Henderson Alvarez, 22, and Nathan Eovaldi, 23, are touted as potential fixtures for years to come.
And then there's right-hander Jose Fernandez, 20, and outfielder Christian Yelich, 21, who will begin the season in Double-A but are top prospects likely to join the Marlins by summer.
That might not be enough to prevent a 100-loss season, though.
Last year, the additions of manager Ozzie Guillen and All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell made the Marlins the buzz of baseball. Then the team went 69-93 and finished last in the NL East.
Reyes, Buehrle, Bell and Guillen are all gone, as are 2009 NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez and 2010 NL ERA leader Josh Johnson.
''It kind of stinks for fans,'' Pierre said, ''because you do get attached to a player, and they trade him away for business purposes. Fans don't want to hear that. But these guys who own the team are businessmen first.''
Loria waged a brief, widely mocked public relations campaign at the start of spring training, saying the Marlins needed to hit the restart button, so he ordered the breakup of a losing team going nowhere.
A year ago, the Marlins' baseball people thought they had assembled a playoff-caliber team. What do they anticipate in 2013?
''They're 0 for their last 1, because they said we weren't going to lose 93 games last year,'' team president David Samson said. ''Last year they said, `Here are the five things that have to happen and we're a very good team.' Those five things didn't happen.
''This year my guess is that there are 15 things that have to happen. If we go 15 for 15, maybe we're Oakland. If we go 10 for 15, maybe we're in the race. If we go 0 for 15, we lose 100 games.''
Ricky Nolasco is the ace of a rotation thin on experience, and because his $11.5 million salary makes him by far the team's highest-paid player, he's widely expected to be dealt away before the midseason trade deadline.
Nolasco dismisses the notion this will be a rocky year.
''That doesn't go through your mind at all,'' he said. ''You look around here and see all the talent and only think of the best. You don't think of the bad stuff. Otherwise it's going to be bad for everybody. You stay positive. That's going to be part of being a professional.''
Nolasco will start on opening day, when Stanton will be the lone holdover in the lineup from the first game of 2012. Logan Morrison is expected to start the season on the disabled list because of a knee injury, and the seven other starters have since been traded.
''You've got to turn the page,'' outfielder Chris Coghlan said. ''They're not with us. They won't be with us. So we've just got to move on.''
He was talking about former teammates, not former Marlins fans.