Miami Marlins preview: Young, unproven and building for the future
Like many in the baseball world, I’m not a huge fan of Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria or his press-conference decorum. Yet I have to admit, I don’t blame him for the sweeping changes after 2012’s nightmare season.
What I do blame him for, however, is getting the Miami Marlins into this mess in the first place by hiring celebrity manager Ozzie Guillen and signing the “marquee” players he did a year ago.
After jumping head first into the 2011 free-agency pool and signing Jose Reyes, the Marlins made significant runs at Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson but lost both after an unwillingness to include no-trade clauses in their contracts. With Pujols and Wilson out of the picture, the Marlins did the drunken-sailor thing and threw money at Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to show they meant business. Not necessarily good business, mind you, but they wanted fans to believe they were all-in.
Reyes, Buehrle and Bell were expensive, but they weren’t (and they aren’t) game changers. Add to that, a pouting and underperforming Hanley Ramirez, and injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison, and the Marlins were falling quicker than Bell’s “fastball” velocity. The nosedive was swift, and with little sign of recovery, the dismantling began.
When a team with a payroll of $101 million only wins 69 games, a shakeup isn’t a bad idea. For those who don’t agree, the questions are simple: How many World Series were the Miami Marlins going to play in with the team they fielded last year? How long should the Miami Marlins have held on to these veteran players to see if they would gel?
Instead of waiting to find out, they took the smart path and unloaded underperforming assets for a boatload of prospects. Now, instead of waiting for the wheels to fall off – again – the Miami Marlins are only going to get better. So, let’s talk about the future.
Miami Marlins position players
Will the 2013 Miami Marlins be the laughingstock of Major League Baseball? Probably not. They don’t have bad players; they have young players who are only going to get better over the next few seasons – which should excite Marlins fans rather than irritate them. In addition, gone is professional spotlight-hog Guillen, replaced by former Marlins catcher Mike Redmond, who has the perfect temperament for a mix of inexperienced and veteran players.
While the Marlins jettisoned a ton of experience, they also added a few wily veterans to provide leadership in the clubhouse. Thirty-five-year-old Juan Pierre returns to South Florida to roam left field and 37-year-old free agent Placido Polanco comes over from the Phillies to play third. While the greybeards are injury-free so far this spring, a few injuries are shaking up the roster. Most notably is first baseman Logan Morrison, who will begin the season on the DL while recovering from last fall’s knee surgery. Expect Greg Dobbs and non-roster invitee Casey Kotchman to hold down the fort until LoMo returns.
Jeff Mathis came to the Miami Marlins in the Toronto Blue Jays trade and was expected to backup Rob Brantly behind the plate. But Mathis broke his collarbone in the first Grapefruit League game and will be out until early May, so Kyle Skipworth will fill the backup role. With only two catchers in camp, don’t be surprised if the Marlins look elsewhere for insurance.
Second base belongs to Donovan Solano, who was having a solid spring (18 hits, .409 AVG) until a weightlifting session tweaked his back last week. The MRI was negative, and Solano is expected to start on opening day. Rookie Adeiny Hechavarria will take over shortstop from Reyes. Expect nothing but glove from Hechavarria and you won’t be disappointed.
The Miami Marlins number-two prospect, 21-year-old Christian Yelich, was the most dominant Marlins player this spring, hitting .364 and leading the team with five home runs, 14 RBIs and 13 runs. While he looked ready to make the jump from single-A to the pros, he’ll start the season in double-A Jacksonville for control/economic reasons. Miami Marlins batting coach Tino Martinez proclaimed Yelich ready, so expect a call up later in the year.
Center field is still up in the air, with Justin Ruggiano, Chris Coghlan and Gorkys Hernandez battling. Ruggiano played center most of the second half and deserves a shot, but Coghlan has been showing signs of his 2009 ROY form and Hernandez, who came to Marlins in the trade that sent Gaby Sanchez to the Pirates, is out of options. There’s a good chance Redmond will platoon center, which means all three could make the opening-day roster.
No Miami Marlins preview is complete without discussing Giancarlo Stanton’s future. While fans of perennial deep-pocket powerhouses think their team is going to lure Stanton away from the Marlins, it’s highly unlikely. Stanton, who will earn $537,000 this year, is under team control through 2016 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until next season. The only way Stanton leaves is if a desperate contender puts a too-good-to-be-true offer in front of Loria and company.
Miami Marlins projected lineup
The lineup has changed several times throughout the spring, and the one below looked solid … until yesterday. Redmond stated he’s considering moving Polanco from the number-two spot to cleanup. Polanco is contact hitter, which could create first-inning scoring opportunities if runners get on base. The big question is who fills the number-two slot if Polanco moves? Most likely, it will be Solano, with everyone moving down a spot after Polanco at cleanup.
- Juan Pierre LF
- Placido Polanco 3B
- Giancarlo Stanton RF
- Jeff Brantley C
- Justin Ruggiano CF
- Casey Kotchman 1B
- Donavan Solano 2B
- Adeiny Hechavarria SS
Miami Marlins pitching
Ricky Nolasco has never lived up to the promise of his 2008 season (15-8, 3.52 ERA, 1.102 WHIP, 212.1 IP – all career bests) and yet he finds himself as the Miami Marlins number-one pitcher. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Nolasco’s career most resembles Joe Blanton’s, which means he’s workmanlike at best. If Nolasco performs well leading up to the trade deadline, the Marlins would be smart to move him for the right prospect package.
The remainder of the rotation has yet to be finalized, but Redmond is expected to announce it today. Nathan Eovaldi appears to have locked up the number-two spot after a decent outing Saturday, followed by lefty Wade LeBlanc and Henderson Alvarez. Jacob Turner, who came into camp as a possible two or three, looks like the odd man out after going 0-3 with a 9.69 ERA in 13 innings. Most likely, Turner starts the season at triple-A New Orleans with the final rotation spot going to Kevin Slowey or John Maine until Turner is ready.
The bullpen held it’s own in 2012 (save for Bell), and Steve Cishek is emerging as an effective closer. He looked sharp in his four WBC outings this spring and is a significant improvement over Bell.
Miami Marlins prospect watch
The future is bright for the Marlins with Yelich ready to jump and top-prospect and right-handed pitcher Jose Fernandez following shortly after. Fernandez, 20 years old, pitched a total of six innings without giving up a run during one official and two unofficial outings this spring. Last year, Fernandez posted a 14-1 record with a 1.75 ERA and a minor-league leading 0.93 WHIP over two single-A leagues. He’s expected to start the season in double-A and, like Yelich, will likely see some time at the big-league level later in the year.
It can’t get much worse than last year. Even if the Marlins win only 60 games — nine less than last season — that’s a significant improvement given the supposed talent on the field in 2012. I think the Marlins could creep near the 70-win mark if, and it’s a big if, the starting pitching can deliver an ERA in the low-to-mid fours. In all honesty, the expectations are so low this year that anything close to 2012 will be rewarding.