JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Giancarlo Stanton arrived at spring training in the same old Maserati he drove last year. It didn’t even sport a vanity plate.
”I haven’t changed at all,” Stanton said Tuesday.
The Miami Marlins hope not. They signed their All-Star right fielder in November to a record $325 million, 13-year contract, and all they want for their investment is more of the same.
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But much was different as the Marlins held their first full-squad workout of spring training. There were more fans and more media, because of both Stanton and Ichiro Suzuki, who was acquired in the offseason and reported to camp tailed by his usual entourage of Japanese reporters.
There were more expectations, too. While the Marlins haven’t been to the postseason since 2003, a productive winter allowed players to talk about contending without sounding silly.
Stanton hedged, however, when asked if the Marlins are a playoff team.
”Yes,” he said, before quickly adding, ”We’ll see. … We have the caliber and talent to be there, of course. What we are going to do come August and September, that’s up to us.”
Stanton said he’s fully recovered from the September beaning that ended his 2014 season and took him out of contention for the NL most valuable player award. Despite missing the final 17 games, he led the league with 37 home runs, increasing his career total to 154. And he’s only 25.
”He has unfinished business, because before that pitch he was my MVP,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. ”That injury sort of robbed him of that opportunity. And he has unfinished business with this team. He’s the face of our team and wants to lead us.”
That face shows no lingering sign of the beaning, which broke Stanton’s orbital bone and damaged five teeth. He said his eyesight his fine, and he has no pain or fear about facing live pitching.
”What happened to me isn’t one of my focuses to get past,” he said. ”I’m just looking at this as a normal spring training.”
However, he does plan to try out a face guard to protect his left cheek.
”As long as it doesn’t alter playing or seeing low balls, high balls, whatever, I plan to wear it,” he said. ”We’ll just see how the games go.”
Stanton will face pitchers for the first time Thursday. He wore his cap when he took batting practice Tuesday, and hit a 450-foot homer that drew appreciative smiles from teammates.
”That guy is a monster, man,” Marlins newcomer Michael Morse said. ”I’ve noticed that everything he does so far, he’s the best at it. I mean, when he ran the shuttle, he beat everybody. And his career is just taking off. I’m glad to be on his side now.”
Stanton is part of an outfield touted as perhaps the best in baseball, with 23-year-old Gold Glove winner Christian Yelich in left and 24-year-old Marcell Ozuna coming off a 23-homer season in center.
And then there’s Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star who signed a $2 million, one-year contract. He’s back for another season at age 41.
”Hopefully it won’t look like I’m using a bat as a cane,” he said through a translator.
Suzuki’s not about to assume he’ll be on the bench much of this year as Miami’s fourth outfielder, even though that’s the plan.
”I’ll understand and accept that role,” Suzuki said. ”But if you look at last year, I was the fifth outfielder. So we’ll see how it goes.”
He finished 2014 with 359 at-bats and hit .284 for the Yankees.
Stanton said the signing of Suzuki was one of the many positive offseason moves by the historically thrifty Marlins, who pledged in their negotiations with him to build a competitive team. Given the franchise’s direction, Stanton said, he’s 100 percent comfortable with his decision to sign a long-term deal, which happened to be the most lucrative contract for an American athlete.
Facing a cluster of cameras and notepads, he was asked how he’ll guard against pressing.
”That’s all your guys’ job, and everyone else’s – to put the weight on,” he said. ”It’s my job to disperse it.”