Derek Jeter's blueprint begins to take shape at Marlins camp
By STEVEN WINE
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) At 6-foot-3, Miami Marlins outfield prospect Monte Harrison was surprised he stood eye to eye with new CEO Derek Jeter the first time they met last week.
"I was expecting him to be a little shorter. I can see why he played 20 years," Harrison said. "I never get star-struck, but when I saw him I was like, `Wow, this is the real deal.'"
The impact of Jeter's formidable presence was on full display Monday when the Marlins took the field for their first full-squad spring training workout. Of the 68 players in camp, 29 are new to the organization following a flurry of offseason trades Jeter swung to reduce payroll and rebuild a weak farm system.
The heavy roster turnover transformed the start of camp into a meet and greet. Holdover shortstop Miguel Rojas said he arrived a week early to get a jump on introductory handshakes.
Absent was half of last year's everyday lineup, including National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. While Jeter and his players are anxious to turn the page, questions persist about whether he broke up a team on the cusp of contending after going 77-85 in 2017.
Down the road at the Washington Nationals camp, slugger Bryce Harper said Monday he was shocked the Marlins traded their entire outfield, perhaps the best in the majors.
"I thought they were a great team," Harper said. "They just had to add a couple more pitchers and they would have been pretty damn good."
Instead of spending more, Jeter cut payroll by about $50 million to less than $70 million. And so the Marlins - who have endured a succession of dismantlings since their most recent playoff season in 2003 - begin yet another makeover.
New majority owner Bruce Sherman joined Jeter to watch the first full-squad workout. Speaking publicly for the first time since the sale of the team in October, Sherman fully endorsed the new direction.
"From my perspective, I think the management team has made all the right moves," Sherman said. "I've been involved in every decision. I support every decision. I know our partners support every decision.
"I realize the fans are disappointed at some of the trades we made. But I've seen a change. People understand we're building something for the future that is sustainable."
Jeter met with the team before the workout and said his message was that the Marlins are creating a first-class organization, and that starts with the players.
"We're going to have the right people on the field who understand it's a privilege to wear a major league uniform, a privilege to wear a Marlins uniform," Jeter said. "This is something we're building. It's going to take a lot of work. Today is the beginning."
Veteran players who weren't part of the offseason exodus expressed support for Jeter's reboot.
"I feel we're building something here," Rojas said. "It's something we needed to do, and I'm all in."
Newcomer Starlin Castro, whose contract made him a subject of trade speculation after Miami acquired him, said he wants to be part of the long-term plan. Castro was with the Chicago Cubs when they improved from 61 wins to 97 in a three-year span.
He is owed $10 million this year and $11 million in 2019, and his deal includes a $16 million team option for 2020 with a $1 million buyout.
"I'm not going to be a negative guy, a bad guy on the team," Castro said. "In Chicago they came fast. The same thing I feel can happen here, faster than people think."
There was even more enthusiasm among the young newcomers in the clubhouse. Outfielder Lewis Brinson, acquired in the trade that sent outfielder Christian Yelich to Milwaukee, grew up in South Florida a Marlins fan and was excited to be assigned the uniform number of his favorite player, retired outfielder Juan Pierre.
"My jersey was in my locker, and it looked good," Brinson said before the workout. "I'm about to go take a picture of it now."
Brinson has a strong chance to make the opening day lineup after hitting .331 with 13 homers in 2017 for Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Harrison, also acquired in the Yelich trade, might be a year or more away - as reflected by his uniform number 93. But when he first met the new CEO last week, Harrison was encouraged to discover he's on Jeter's radar.
"He said, `Hey, Monte, how you doing?'" Harrison said with a laugh. "I'm like, `Oh, you know my name? I feel special.'"
AP freelance writer Chuck King in West Palm Beach contributed to this report.
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Updated February 19, 2018