Stanton deal could signal new beginning for Marlins franchise
MIAMI -- Though the Marlins began in 1993, one could argue Wednesday morning marks the start of the baseball franchise South Florida always envisioned with the signing of slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million extension.
Twenty-one years ago, the Marlins played at a football stadium. They would capture two World Series and become the envy of older fan bases around the country, but they didn't have a place to call their own.
That dream became a reality in 2012 when Marlins Park opened on national TV with a retractable roof to keep away Miami's weather. The rebranded organization -- Miami Marlins instead of Florida Marlins and now located in Little Havana rather than Miami Gardens -- sported new uniforms and superstars in the infield.
All-Stars Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson had signed long-term contracts -- at least by Marlins standards. But neither developed into the franchise face it sought. Ramirez wasn't up for the task, and Johnson became injury-prone.
So a reboot took place after five months of subpar baseball. Established players like Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Anibal Sanchez were swapped for promising prospects, but that meant waiting longer for a winner.
Disenchantment resurfaced, even moreso than the previous fire sales after 1997 and 2003 World Series victories. It appeared to be the final straw.
Two years later, it's the Marlins right fielder from that 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the new stadium's debut leading the charge for change.
Stanton is a generational talent with unmatched power in the current baseball scene. The lone position player left over from the Florida regime can bridge that previous heartbreak and mend it with hope of the near future.
"Giancarlo Stanton is a unique player whose natural gifts and talents are unparalleled in this sport," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said Wednesday. "Over the past five years he's given so much to the Marlins organization, to the city of Miami and especially to his adoring fans. He's been committed to our community."
Shouldn't his decision to go by "Giancarlo" rather than "Mike" have tipped us off to his potential for greatness?
The guy who could've followed Pete Carroll at USC rather than sign with the Marlins when he was selected in the second round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft is now the owner of North America's richest sports contract.
Stanton provides stability to an organization that has let talent come and go. A player still not yet in his prime has now put a franchise on his broad shoulders.
While Ramirez didn't exactly embrace the idea of moving to third for Reyes, Stanton purposely backloaded the $325 million contract so the team could pursue free agents to support him.
"I wanted to really make sure that this was what I wanted to do in terms of just making a name for this team," Stanton said. "Changing things around here. It was very tough for me. I'm glad we came to agreement. It's going to be good, it's going to be fun."
That mentality has been missing with this organization -- the superstar who wants to win and sticks around long enough to see it through. Some, like Miguel Cabrera, were traded. Some, like Ramirez, proved to be too much trouble.
The Los Angeles Angels have it in center fielder Mike Trout. The Los Angeles Dodgers have it in ace Clayton Kershaw. The Detroit Tigers have it in Cabrera.
"From our standpoint when we talk about our franchise and the Miami Marlins and what Jeffrey's done when we came here in 2002, it's hard to come to a place where a previous owner it hasn't worked out and there was no new ballpark and no future," Marlins president David Samson said.
"I know that (we will have) obvious bumps in the road, and we talked about it with Giancarlo: When there are bumps in the road, what do you do with that and how do you make things positive? You do that one step at a time, and that's what we have done. The timing here of Giancarlo, which is so exciting, we're not trying to do anything other than win games.
"Now we have stability and sustainability, which is something this franchise has not had in the past. When you look at the people on this stage you're looking at the people responsible for that through good days and bad days. It's time for some good days in a row. Having Giancarlo as the centerpiece of that is just natural. It's a natural feeling for him to be the face of that franchise and the face for what it means going forward."
Stanton, who wowed fans at Target Field during the Home Run Derby last July, makes the team more relevant nationally. Disagree? TMZ was already reporting on his partying at a South Beach club Monday night. Jimmy Fallon made a joke during Tuesday night's monologue on "The Tonight Show."
Just like that, Stanton, whose jersey wasn't a top seller in 2014, has become one of Major League Baseball's faces. He already has respect from his peers, as evidenced by the National League Most Outstanding Player honor he received at the Players Choice Awards last month.
He, like LeBron James did with the Miami Heat for four seasons, makes the Marlins an event to see at least 81 games a year. Light up that home-run sculpture, baby. He wants to be more than just a face in a jersey and promises to be involved in the community. Stanton presented the Marlins RBI championship team with their rings prior to the presser.
His contract extension doesn't take away from the poor decisions of the past, but it's a step in the right direction.
This is the beginning of rebuilding trust between the organization and the community.
This is the beginning of investing time into building a consistent contender and winner.
Most importantly, this is the beginning of Miami as the baseball town it always wanted to be.
"No one's had that opportunity to do so, which is another thing that I wanted to make clear, which is why I wanted a lifetime contract because I didn't want the few years and then, 'Hey, see you later!'" Stanton said. "Miami doesn't need that. They don't deserve that. They need a person to look to to get this in the right direction. That's what I wanted to make a main focus for this team moving forward."