I may have to amend my prediction of the Florida Marlins earning a playoff spot, and it’s not because of the effort between the lines in the first two games. Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez are dishing nothing but positive messages about the Marlins’ chances, because they are young, confident and believe anything can happen. The players are saying all the right things; it’s the message from management that worries me most.
Owner Jeffrey Loria has made it clear to the media, fans and team that his expectations are high. He believes Florida should be in the playoffs at season’s end and that manager Edwin Rodriguez has the ingredients for success right now. Nice. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates are optimistic in week one, but that doesn’t make them contenders if there are holes in the lineup. What makes teams competitive and managers confident is having a full complement of weapons to field every day. And to the Marlins credit, they have spent the last few seasons nurturing and promoting their best prospects. This is a good, young team capable of making noise with health and luck on its side. Health and luck being the key, because the pickings on the farm are pretty slim now that most of the A-list talent has made it to the show — with the exception of defensive wunderkind Matt Dominguez.
The stalwart third baseman was lauded for his leather during spring training but management wasn’t impressed with his ability to handle big-league pitching … yet. Which may turn into a longer “yet” after Dominguez was hit by a pitch during a minor league game Friday and fractured his elbow. Original estimates had the 21-year-old out six to eight weeks, but now it appears he’ll be sitting four to six instead. Good news for Dominguez, but the spin from Marlins management is puzzling.
GM Larry Beinfest is saying there is little activity on the transaction front now that Dominguez’s anointment as savior at 3B has been delayed. He followed with the comment that anyone the Marlins put at third would be a “placeholder” until Dominguez is ready. Therein lies the rub.
When will Dominguez be ready? And how big of an impact will he have when he arrives? No idea and, um, no idea. It may not even be this season, but Marlins management doesn’t seem too concerned. The goal was to give Dominguez a few months to gain confidence in his bat before promoting him from Triple-A. The expectation was May-June. The injury pushes back his arrival to end of summer, which is where Loria’s expectations and Beinfest’s patience don’t jibe.
Loria expects a trip to the playoffs, which means the Marlins have to overcome the Braves, Phillies and a host of Wild Card contenders to make the post-season. Can they do that with a Grand-Canyon-size hole at third base? Winning now means doing whatever it takes to field the best team possible. Manager Rodriguez will say all the right things – that Donnie Murphy, Emilio Bonifacio and Matt Helms can hold down the fort until Dominguez is promoted – but he has to be thinking, “I need some help here, Mr. Loria, or you may be firing me in a few months.” And if you believe the odds makers, you can understand why: They have Rodriguez and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen as the most-likely managers to be fired this season at 2-1 odds.
Does Rodriguez have a full arsenal of players to be competitive? No. He needs one more, and then he would have no excuses. If the Marlins falter and make Rodriguez the scapegoat later this season, Loria should be holding Beinfest just as accountable for not giving the manager all the tools to be successful. That’s not saying the 3B position will be the downfall of the Marlins. A lot more can and could go wrong with a team this young. However, management’s willingness to wait for Dominguez – however long it takes – doesn’t sound like a win-now mantra to me.