JUPITER — To Giancarlo Stanton, the spring of 2012 was a “circus.”
For Mike Dunn, the jolting journey from then to now has been a “wild ride.”
For just about everyone involved, the past two years for the Miami Marlins has been a fright ride, a most terrifying and unpleasant plummet, from the highest of expectations when Ozzie Guillen was manager and the roster was sprinkled with high-priced stars, to the rock-bottom trough that comes with 100 losses.
Turbulence with a capital T.
Turnover to the hilt.
Think of the transformation. Of the 25 players introduced before the inaugural game at Marlins Park, not two full calendar years ago, only four remain: Stanton, Dunn, Steve Cishek and Greg Dobbs.
Just four. An outfielder, two relievers and a backup infielder.
“When you hear it put that way, it puts it into perspective of what wasn’t right,” said new general manager Dan Jennings who, with president of baseball operations Michael Hill, is trying to put the Marlins back on track (they haven’t had a winning season since 2009).
But as the survivors of the carnage look about them inside the Marlins’ clubhouse, they are beginning to see the unmistakable signs of optimism, stability and hope that perhaps the worst is over.
“It’s taken a while,” Dobbs said. “Yes, there were some tumultuous times. Yes, there was some turnover. But it was because they were searching. They were searching for an answer. These things don’t happen overnight.”
Rebuilding jobs typically don’t.
The 22nd edition of the Marlins is as unlike the 21st as the 21st was the 20th. Five players — a full 20 percent of the roster — who were Marlins on Opening Day a year ago are now out of baseball, or at least not in any team’s spring training camp: Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Casey Kotchman, Austin Kearns and John Maine.
Three of the Marlins’ four projected starting infielders — first baseman Garrett Jones, second baseman Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey McGehee — are brand new.
Two of their three starting outfielders — Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna — started last season in the minors.
The new catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, won a World Series ring last season with the Boston Red Sox.
One reliever, Carter Capps, was with the Seattle Mariners a season ago. Another, Carlos Marmol, played for both the Cubs and Dodgers. Utility infielder Jeff Baker was with the Rangers.
And while no one is picking the Marlins to win the National League East, something the team has never accomplished, players said they would be stunned if they repeat 62-100 (or worse).
Dobbs said the Marlins are beginning to show dividends from a series of controversial trades that saw them unload payroll in a bid to improve. Of the four starting pitchers all but guaranteed to be in the rotation, three arrived in trades — Nathan Eovaldi from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez deal, Jacob Turner from the Tigers in the Anibal Sanchez trade and Henderson Alvarez from the Blue Jays in the mega-trade with Toronto.
Dobbs said he fully understands the fan uproar over the Toronto trade, in which the Marlins dealt Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, Yunel Escobar and a handful of minor-league prospects that include pitchers Justin Niccolino and Anthony DeSclafani, and outfielder Jake Marisnick.
“Of course,” Dobbs said. “Rightfully so. The knee-jerk reaction is to be, ‘Oh my gosh!’ and fly off the handle. That’s easy to do. But it takes patience and it takes trust in those who are making the moves by the public to say, ‘Hey, let’s wait until this plays out.’ No one buys a stock and they’re ticked off after it goes down five percent the first day. No, you need to let it play out a bit.”
Dunn said one look around the clubhouse reveals “a quality and depth” that hadn’t existed in his previous three years with the team.
Said Cishek: “Everyone’s pretty optimistic. But, basically, what it comes down to is we’ve been doing too much talking in the past. We’re just going to keep our mouths shut now and win ballgames.”