2016 MLB Preseason Primaries: Don Mattingly And Barry Bonds

For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.

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The Miami Marlins had high hopes for the 2015 season, but the team was decimated by injuries, underperformance and house cleaning to the point where the roster by the finale of the season resembled little to nothing of what it opened the year as.

It was an unconventional season, to say the least. The early season injuries and underperformance cued into the rapid firing of then manager Mike Redmond, who was unconventionally replaced by general manager Dan Jennings – which then created a domino effect of turnover in the front office. Add in the fact that ace Jose Fernandez was still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and those sizable expectations quickly became a thing of the past.

However, it did not stop a few stars from shining amid the mess of the season. Giancarlo Stanton slugged 27 home runs and 67 RBI in just 74 games (before he was hurt on the eve of the All-Star Break himself). Ichiro Suzuki pulled himself to within 65 hits of reaching the 3,000 tally, and offseason acquisition Dee Gordon won the batting, hits and stolen base titles as well. Cap it all off with the successful return of the aforementioned Fernandez in the second half of the year, and it was a season that at least showed some elements of salvation towards the end.

But promising young talent and veteran stalwarts aside, the story getting the lion’s share of attention in not only Miami, but around the country as well, isn’t about the players. Rather, it is the addition of Don Mattingly as manager, and Barry Bonds as a hitting coach.

Anything with Bonds name attached to it instantly becomes a lightning rod, and his appointment in Miami was no exception. When he was named Marlins’ hitting coach in December, pundits were quick to point out that he has no coaching experience, but is thought of as being one of baseball’s “smartest hitters.”  There are rumblings that he took the job in order to get back into the good graces of baseball more so than to impart hitting intelligence on the young Miami roster. He told ESPN.com, "Me coming back to the game, I'm in a different capacity. I'm now a rookie coach. It's not about me. It's about those guys on the team now. Now my job is to help other players fulfill their dreams."

It is not often that a coach takes the spotlight from a new manager coming to town, but none the less, that is what happened here. And that is likely just fine with Mattingly, who traded the bright lights of Dodger Stadium for the more calm waves of Marlins Park. Mattingly brings a total of 12 years of coaching experience to his new position as skipper of the Marlins. He quickly established himself as consistent success on the bench, going on to win National League West titles over the past three seasons. But his exit from LA was not without some controversy while his mutual parting of the ways with his former team was described as “best for both parties”, but it remains unclear whether or not Mattingly resigned, or was fired after the Dodgers’ stunning loss to the New York Mets in the 2015 National League Championship Series.

In their new roles, Mattingly and Bonds bring varied backgrounds of accomplishment, but also some baggage to their new jobs. Mattingly has the dubious distinction of being a standout on a generation of underachieving Yankees teams. His lack of championships might be the reason why he exhausted his eligibility for the Hall of Fame in 2015, never coming close to acquiring the votes needed for enshrinement.

Bonds is a seven-time Most Valuable Player, but has had his accomplished dampened by his association in the “steroid era” in baseball, but now seems to be on the road to redemption with his new position.

“[Coaching is] my role now,” Bonds recently told the New York Times. “I don’t even care about my career anymore. I let the guys know: ‘This is your time. I don’t play this game anymore.’ They’ll kid around and say, ‘I can outhit you,’ and I say: ‘Yeah, you better. I’m 51 years old. But if we were playing at the same time, that would be a different conversation, I can assure you that.’ ”

In the dugout and on the field, the Marlins are a team that will be under the microscope during the 2016 season. Similar to the Miami weather, the team could very well heat up the NL East and make a lot of noise, or they could form a perfect storm of epic proportions. And how their rare duo of true superstar coaches take to their new roles could either make or break the direction of this young team that is awaiting its break.

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