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MIAMI (AP) — Giancarlo Stanton expects to be back for the start of spring training. Jose Fernandez is projected to return around the All-Star break. And the Miami Marlins believe they'll be ready to rejoin playoff contention in 2015.
Despite injuries to their two best players, this year's Marlins ended a streak of three consecutive last-place finishes in the NL East, which made their 77-85 record heady stuff.
"It was a very positive year," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "I'm not happy about how it ended because we haven't gotten where we wanted to go, but there are a lot of things to be excited about."
After a 62-100 record in 2013, their 15-win improvement tied for the best in the National League by a 100-loss team since 1986.
Progress came thanks to contributions from such youngsters as outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and right-hander Henderson Alvarez, all 25 or under. That's one reason the Marlins believe they'll continue to trend upward.
"It has been a great year," manager Mike Redmond said. "From where we were last year to where we are today, it has been a huge turnaround. To see the development of a lot of our players has been exciting. And we're only going to get better."
Miami hung around .500 most of the season despite the loss of Fernandez in May to an elbow injury that required reconstructive surgery. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year is on schedule to rejoin the rotation at midseason next year.
Stanton's season ended Sept. 11 when he was hit in the face by a pitch. Despite missing the final 17 games, he led the NL with 37 homers and a .555 slugging percentage.
The historically thrifty Marlins plan to offer Stanton a franchise-record multiyear deal this offseason. Even if he rejects it, the All-Star right fielder is expected to play for Miami next year, and doesn't become a free agent until after the 2016 season.
"You put him on the field with our blossoming superstars in center and left, and I think we've got the best young outfield in all of baseball," Hill said.
Left fielder Yelich batted .284, while center fielder Ozuna hit .269 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs. And with Hechavarria (.276) and rejuvenated veteran Casey McGehee (.287), the Marlins were solid on the left side of the infield.
Their payroll of $47 million was the lowest in the NL, but owner Jeffrey Loria is expected to spend more in 2015, which means the Marlins might be able to land a starting pitcher and infielder in free agency. They also must decide whether to retain closer Steve Cishek, who made $3.8 million this year and can expect a big raise after saving 39 games.
The payroll and shopping list will be determined soon in meetings involving Loria, Hill, general manager Dan Jennings and the rest of the front office. For a change, the Marlins have stability at the top of the organization, this being the first year since 2010 that Loria hasn't changed his manager or general manager.
On Sunday, Redmond's contract was extended two years through 2017.
"Watching our growth, it has just been such a spectacular season," team president David Samson said. "Great clubhouse chemistry, just a great feeling around the organization. And Red's a huge part of that."
Redmond said the extension sends a message about the team's direction. It has been 11 years since the Marlins reached the playoffs, and this season they finished last in the NL in attendance for the ninth time in 10 years. But in 2015 it might be wise to pay attention.
AP freelance writer Ian Quillen in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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