Coming off another last-place finish, the Miami Marlins opened their 2014 spring camp with plenty of optimism.
"You know on the darkest days, it's only going to get better," manager Mike Redmond said.
The Marlins went 62-100 in 2013. Even after a busy offseason, questions still abound. Right-hander Jose Fernandez and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton are Miami's undisputed marquee stars, but the Marlins will need much-improved performances from everyone on the team if they hope to avoid another year of triple-digit losses.
At the very least, the Marlins will get a fresh start with a revamped roster featuring new and experienced faces in the lineup and bullpen. Among veterans acquired: catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones, second baseman Rafael Furcal, third baseman Casey McGehee, infielder Jeff Baker and reliever Carlos Marmol.
"We felt we needed a cultural change in the clubhouse, and we made it a point to sit face-to-face with these guys before we brought them on board," general manager Dan Jennings said. "There was a common denominator in each guy we brought in. That was 'team first.'"
After a front-office shake up that saw long-time GM Larry Beinfest part ways, new baseball operations president Mike Hill is counting on the new position players to take advantage of the spacious gaps at Marlins Park.
Miami will once again rely on starting pitching. The question is whether those starters will get ample run support. Last year, Miami scored 513 runs -- 136 fewer than the NL average.
The Marlins also are assuming Fernandez will at least come close to duplicating his 2013 season, when he went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA. He earned the National League Rookie of the Year award and finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting.
That will be a tough performance to repeat, but Fernandez said he expects better endurance after riding his bike this winter at least 500 miles per week.
Stanton needs to have a better year if the Marlins want to sniff anywhere above last place. He hopes the new lineup will lead to him seeing better pitches to hit.
Furcal participated in the playoffs in 12 of his 14 seasons, so the team hopes his leadership rubs off on younger players.
Redmond, a former catcher, hopes his players use last year's rough season as incentive to achieve in 2014. He will remind them of how he won a World Series ring with the Marlins in 2003, a few years after he and other players endured a stretch that included 206 losses in 1998-99.
"As tough as it is at times, that experience is going to help a lot of players down the road," he said. "It will. Sometimes it's hard to convince people of that but I've already been through it. I've seen the success come at the end of it."
--RHP Carlos Marmol signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Marlins, a move the team hopes will bolster the back of the bullpen. To make room on the 40-man roster, Miami designated RHP Chris Hatcher for assignment.
Marmol, 31, recorded 117 saves over parts of eight seasons with the Cubs. He was traded to the Dodgers last year, and between the two teams, he went 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA in 2013. He has battled control problems, too. He issued 95 walks in 104 1/3 innings over the past two seasons.
--INF Jeff Baker signed a two-year deal with Miami less than two weeks before the start of camp. He offers versatility: He plays first, second and third base along with the corner outfield spots, and he is a right-handed bat off the bench. He has a lifetime .298 batting average against left-handed pitchers and a .236 average against right-handers.
"We are very excited to add such an experienced player in Jeff Baker," said Mike Hill, Miami's president of baseball operations. "Offensively and defensively, we like the options that his versatility will provide (manager) Mike Redmond."
--INF Casey McGehee signed with the Marlins, who plan to start him at third base. Ty Wigginton is a candidate to step in, but he signed a minor league contract and has to win a roster spot. Wigginton's experience is a clear advantage to at least winning a bench spot.
--1B Garrett Jones offers Miami something it sought but lacked for years -- a left-handed power threat who plays first base. However, he must show he can hit left-handed pitching. If he struggles, he will platoon -- a role he held for Pittsburgh in 2013, when he batted .233/.289/.419 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs in 144 games.
--LHP Mike Dunn got an early start on spring training by working out earlier in February with troops at the Fort Bragg Army post in North Carolina. Dunn, Miami's setup man, took part in military exercises, including a controlled 34-foot tower jump.
--The Marlins have a special interest in the new season of "Survivor," which premiers on CBS on Feb. 26. Team president David Samson is starring in the upcoming season of the endurance-contest reality show.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You know on the darkest days, it's only going to get better." --Manager Mike Redmond, on reminding his players that he won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003, just a few years after the team lingered at the bottom of the division.