Speaking to reporters at Marlins Park, Michael Hill frequently repeated a straightforward message when discussing Miami's offseason plans.
"We need to get better."
After a 57-105 season – Miami's 10th consecutive losing campaign – it's hardly a surprising edict from the Marlins president of baseball operation ahead of next week's MLB General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona. Despite the struggles on the major league level, Hill has seen significant progress throughout the organization's first two years under new ownership, namely the growth of the team's minor league system.
Inheriting a barren farm system, the Marlins have quickly transformed it into the fourth-best in MLB, ripe with six top-100 prospects. They've significantly improved their international scouting and analytics departments, while also creating an education program to help facilitate the off-field growth of their minor league prospects.
But at the end of the day, progress is ultimately measured on the major league level – something Hill is well aware of.
"Ownership has made it clear we need to get better," Hill said. "What we've done organizationally is tremendous and (there's) a lot of reason for optimism, but we know that until we're doing it at the highest level, we haven't reached our goal. That's why there's still a lot of work to be done."
With MLB free agency officially underway, the first order of business for Miami will be upgrading the offense, which ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. While Hill said the team will "fundamentally build through scouting and development," there's ample room to address needs through free agency.
The Marlins are being cautious, however, to avoid blocking talented prospects who are close to debuting in the majors.
"It's a delicate balance," Hill said. "We have to be very systemic with our approach in improving our club and the bottom line is we need to get better."
"The goal is not just winning more games in 2020. It's as I've said, (building) something sustainable year-in and year-out and being able to compete for championships."
Entering free agency with roughly $45 million committed to payroll, the Marlins have some room to add after spending $74 million last season, per Spotrac. When asked what the club's mindset was in terms of how much they'd be willing to spend, Hill was non-committal, repeating that the Marlins "want to get better."
One significant rule change affecting offseason moves will be the addition of a 26th roster spot next season. Many teams, including the Marlins, carried 13 pitchers and 12 position players last year. The new rule stipulates a team can carry a maximum of 13 pitchers, meaning the extra spot will be used on a position player. With the extra spot, a team could hypothetically add an offensive-minded bat with limited defensive ability given the roster flexibility.
Playing without a designated hitter, Hill said the focus for now will be continuing to add players who can move around different spots.
"I think as a National League club, we're always going to look for versatile players who stretch our roster as best we can with player's ability to move in and out and play multiple positions," Hill said.
"Now you get a full bench. If there's not one player who can answer a position, then there might be a platoon situation and you might have the ability to do that seamlessly now."