MIAMI -- Few could have envisioned the Miami Marlins making such a dramatic turnaround, and quite frankly, some in the organization are included.
But with a little more than five weeks left in the season, the club has exceeded expectations. Not only are the Marlins respectable, at 63-63, they also find themselves in contention for a National League Wild Card spot.
After losing 100 games last year, Miami has already topped its 2013 win total. And the club is doing it without their ace, Jose Fernandez, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in May.
Giancarlo Stanton has emerged as an NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate, and Mike Redmond is being mentioned in the NL Manager of the Year Award mix.
With a core of young, talented players, the Marlins believe they have the pieces to become a successful franchise now and over the next few years.
The recovery is coming two years after the franchise endured a public backlash for trading many of its high-priced players from an underachieving 2012 squad.
"When we took our step back, we did it fully knowing that it would take some time [to rebuild]," team president David Samson said. "We wanted to have our progress on and off the field match. That's what you're seeing.
"I can't say we predicted where we'd be this year on the field. So our recovery on the field has really been at a greater pace than maybe some of us expected."
In a conversation with MLB.com, Samson spoke about the process of rebuilding the Marlins brand.
Why the quick turnaround?
Credit is going to the reshuffled front office, plus the players and coaching staff for staying focused on the task at hand, which is playing hard and developing a winning culture.
President of baseball operations Michael Hill, who replaced Larry Beinfest, general manager Dan Jennings and their staffs put together a mix of veterans with playoff experience and a young core led by Stanton.
The July 31 trade to bring in right-hander Jarred Cosart from the Astros has given the franchise a promising young starter.
"The maturity of our young players, and just the incredible job that our baseball department has done -- both on field and our off-field guys -- has just made our recovery faster," Samson said.
Meaningful games in August
The Marlins haven't had a winning season since 2009, which was also the last time they played in games that mattered into late August.
Samson says under Commissioner Bud Selig's tenure, Major League Baseball has built greater competitive balance. It should continue when Rob Manfred becomes Commissioner in January.
"Going five years without meaningful games in August is unacceptable," Samson said. "I feel as though we are a team that will continue this upward path as we try to get our third World Series."
Stadium naming-rights update
Season 3 at Marlins Park is winding down, and the retractable-roof ballpark still doesn't have a naming-rights deal. When one is reached, it will bring additional revenues that would help boost one of the lowest payrolls in the Majors.
To Samson, finding the right match is key.
"From our standpoint, it's such a long-term deal, and we want it to be the perfect partnership," Samson said. "We've had opportunities to name the building in the past 24 months, and we've passed because we didn't feel it was the right fit.
"That's not to say that we're not still looking, and that there aren't companies still approaching us, because they are. When there is something that's the right fit, we'll make a deal."
Off-field organizational objective
Putting a winning product on the field is the first step. Getting the word out to the public that Marlins Park is the place to be is another.
"I think what we do for branding and marketing, we do it every day, and we do it quietly," Samson said. "I think what you're seeing, in our opinion, is our brand is better.
"It's better because we're improved on the field, and that's what we've looked for. It's been hard to rally around the Marlins these last few years, and I understand that. We've talked about that with our fans, we understood. Now it's much easier. You're seeing fans react. You're seeing people are talking about the Marlins. We're in a position now in South Florida where we want to become the relevant team again. We feel as though we're on the way."