State of the Franchise: Florida Marlins
March 16, 2011 2 Comments
The Florida Marlins remains a team in fluid motion. We covered yesterday that the Marlins seemingly go through cycles in which one year, they’re competitive, then the next year, they sell off the team. Well, that happens for two reasons. One, the Marlins are a team with a strict budget. A product as to why they have a strict budget: nobody goes to Marlins games. They hope that changes when they move into their new downtown-Miami stadium in 2012, but that remains to be seen.
In the meantime, let’s examine the product the Marlins plan on showing off in 2011. The most notable trait about these Marlins, which is usually the case, is their youth. Throughout the roster, the Marlins have an enormous amount of home-grown talent occupying starting positions.
Where that talent shines the most has to be their strong pitching staff. Last year, the Marlins boasted a rotation with four different starters winning 11+ games. Their ace, heads above the rest of the rotation, is right hander Josh Johnson. Johnson is bar-none the best pitcher you have never heard about. After Tommy John surgery ended his 2007 campaign prematurely, Johnson has dominated National League line-ups. In 28 starts last year, he finished 11-6 with a league-best 2.30 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 183 innings.
Joining Johnson are two more young righties, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez. Nolasco, 27, started to come into his own last year, recording a team-high 14 wins to go along with a 4.51 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 157.2 innings. Nolasco did battle through some injuries last season, limiting him to 26 starts, but he reported to Spring Training this year with a clean bill of health. Sanchez, 26, has battled injuries in the three previous seasons before 2010. Last year, he made a career-high 32 starts, going 13-12 with a 3.55 ERA. Unlike Nolasco and Johnson, who are both power pitchers, Sanchez uses a variety of off-speed pitches to induce easy outs defensively.
Finally, the Marlins received a strong season from third-year pitcher Chris Volstad. After going through a disappointing campaign in 2009 as a sophomore, Volstad came back strong, winning 12 games in his 30 starts and posting a respectable 4.58 ERA. However, Volstad was still hittable, compiling a WHIP of 1.41 and walking 60 batters in his 175 innings.
Looking to add a veteran presence to round out their starting rotation, the Marlins add righty Javier Vazquez. In his second tour of duty with the New York Yankees last year, Vazquez was anything but reliable. He posted a 10-10 record with a 5.32 ERA. However, in 2009 while pitching for the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, Vazquez’s numbers were much more impressive, finishing with a line of 15-10, 2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts in 219 innings and placed fourth in the league’s Cy Young balloting. There’s no reason to think Vazquez, now back in the NL East, can’t reproduce those numbers. If he’s able to come remotely close, the Marlins pitching staff is as deep as any in the National League.
Offensively, the Marlins were as strong as their pitching staff. However, their defense has always been a concern and has been the reason they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the National League. The team has moved on from third baseman Jorge Cantu and traded slugging second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves. In the Uggla trade, the team acquired 2009 All-Star utility player Omar Infante, who will instantly provide an upgrade defensively for the Marlins at second. While Infante won’t hit the power numbers Uggla did last year, he will provide a needed boost of contact and speed at the top of the line-up, hitting .321 last year for the Braves. Similarly, the Marlins will look to replace Cantu’s shady defense at third with speedy Emilio Bonafacio. Like Infante, Bonafacio was primarily used as a utility infielder last year. Now, in a full time role, the team will hope Bonafacio can improve on the .261 average he has last year and better utilize his speed, only swiping 12 bags in 2009.
With added defensive pieces at second and third that also provide contact to a power-hitting line-up, we come back to the dynamic Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. In the long-term picture, Ramirez will most likely be better served to play third base, but the Marlins will let him roam shortstop until he becomes more of a defensive burden than he already is. Offense has never been the problem for Ramirez, a former Rookie of the Year, batting champion and three-time All-Star. Last year, by all accounts Ramirez had a down year, but still managed to post a .300 average with 21 home runs, 76 runs batted in and 32 stolen bases. Now, with Infante and Bonafacio at the top of the line-up, Ramirez will be slotted in his more comfortable three hole in the batting order.
The fear in South Florida is without Uggla, there won’t be the same type of protection for Ramirez in the line-up. For that, the Marlins are going to rely heavily on their very young outfield to provide some needed pop. Most of that power, team insiders believe, will be provided by 21-year old right field Mike Stanton. In 100 games after his call-up last season, Stanton pounded 22 home runs and 59 runs batted in. However, he only hit .259 during that time, and struck out 123 times in 396 plate appearances.
The team also traded away last year’s Opening Day center fielder, Cameron Maybin, to the Detroit Tigers with the plan to shift left fielder Chris Coghlan to center. Coghlan’s year ended early last season in a fluke post-game pie-in-the-face incident that tore some ligaments in his knee. Before the injury, the 2009 Rookie of the Year was hitting .268 with a .335 on-base percentage. He’ll look to regain a spot at the top of the order with Infante again this season.
With Coghlan’s move to center, that opens the door for a third Florida youngster to man left field, Logan Morrison. The 23-year old switch-hitting outfielder played in 62 games last year, hitting .283 with a more impressive .390 on-base percentage. A slugger in the minor leagues, the Marlins will hope he adds onto his power stroke in the big leagues, connecting on only two home runs last year, but had 20 doubles and seven triples among his 69 hits.
The team also imported two other veterans to fill out their line-up and beef up the bullpen. Catcher John Buck, an All-Star with the Blue Jays in 2010, will look to bring some added power to the line-up after connecting on 20 home runs last season. Also, the team looked to bridge the gap from their starters to closer Leo Nunez by adding side-winder Randy Choate. The lefty Choate averaged about a strikeout an inning for the Tampa Bay Rays last year, and will look to quiet some of the lefty-heavy line-ups in the National League East, which includes power hitters such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Heyward and Ike Davis, among others.
The prognosis for the Marlins in 2011, the first full season with Edwin Rodriguez, is pretty strong. However, they will have to deal with playing in the uber-competitive National League East. The Phillies have the monster pitching staff and strong line-up, the Braves have a very solid team from top to bottom (not to mention Dan Uggla), the Mets will surprise people this season and even the Nationals improved with the signing of Jayson Werth. Its difficult to see the Marlins coming away with a division crown, or even the Wild Card.
But, the previous two times the Marlins won the World Series, nobody expected anything from them, either.