2012 Record: 69-93, 5th NL East
2012 Pythagorean Record: 68-94
Impact Player: RF Giancarlo Stanton
Impact Pitcher: RHP Ricky Nolasco
Top Prospect: RHP Jose Fernandez
Significant Acquisitions: RHP Henderson Alvarez, 3B Placido Polanco, LF Juan Pierre, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Jon Rauch, RHP Kevin Slowey, 1B Casey Kotchman, C Jeff Mathis, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP John Maine, IF Wilson Valdez, LHP Scott Maine, UT Matt Downs
Significant Departures: SS Jose Reyes, RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, UT Emilio Bonifacio, 1B Carlos Lee, RHP Heath Bell, C John Buck, OF Scott Cousins, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Chad Gaudin
With a brand new, publicly-funded stadium and a decent core of players like Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, and Anibal Sanchez, the Miami Marlins ownership—led by the detestable Jeffrey Loria—finally decided to spend some money on the Major League roster and committed $191-million to three free agents last winter. Those free agents—Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell—were supposed to turn an already decent up-and-coming team into a true contender.
Then everything went wrong. New manager Ozzie Guillen—whom the Marlins spend $10-million on and also sent to prospects to the White Sox to acquire—made some questionable decisions on and off the field and the stars of the team either got hurt or underperformed. Things went south quickly. In June, Miami sent Matt Dominguez and another prospect to Houston for first baseman Carlos Lee, thinking maybe it would turn around, but within a few weeks, they waved the white flag and began dismantling.
In July, they dealt Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante to the Tigers for a package that included right-hander Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly. Then, a few days later, they traded long-time face-of-the-franchise Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers in a deal that brought them another highly-touted right-hander in Nathan Eovaldi. The dismantling continued into the offseason as the Marlins dumped Bell and his ill-advised contract on the Diamondbacks.
To that point, none of the deals smelled overly fishy (pun only mildly intended); Sanchez, Infante, Ramirez and Bell made sense to trade given their underperformance or contract status (or both in the case of Bell). The core of the team was still largely intact and under control. Then they dropped the hammer. The Marlins sent Reyes, Buehrle and Johnson along with utility-man Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck to the Blue Jays for a package of players headed by shortstop Yunel Escobar (who was later flipped to the Rays), catcher Jeff Mathis and a slew of prospects including shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, outfielder Jake Marisnick and left-hander Justin Nicolino.
The deal made some sense on a baseball level—Toronto gave up a lot of valuable pieces and the Marlins shed themselves of some expensive contracts—but it angered fans who felt the team owed it to them to keep the team competitive considering the stadium situation.
The Marlins won’t be competitive this year, or the next few years for that matter. They might even rival the Astros for the most losses in baseball in 2013. The burning wreckage of all the trades in the past year has left behind a roster full of replacement-level stop gaps and unproven talent. The farm system is now among the deepest in baseball, which bodes well for a decently quick turnaround, but most of the talent won’t impact the roster this year—at least not in a meaningful way.
The only returning starting pitcher that was on the Opening Day roster last season is Ricky Nolasco. He’ll be the Marlins’ top starter to start the year, but will probably be traded at some point during the season. He’s an average pitcher at best who’s never lived up to his potential or peripheral numbers—which seem to now be in decline as well.
After Nolasco, things get really ugly. Henderson Alvarez—one of the pieces acquired in the mega-trade—made 31 starts for Toronto last season but struck out only 79 batters in 187 1/3 innings. He keeps his walks down and has excellent groundball-inducing skills, but until he develops a better breaking ball capable of striking out even a few batters, his ceiling is extremely limited. There’s no indication that pitch is on its way.
Left-hander Wade LeBlanc and Eovaldi will also start the year in the rotation. Eovaldi has some upside, but also doesn’t strike out batters the way you’d expect from someone with his arm and stuff. LeBlanc, meanwhile, is already 28 and is a stop-gap until something better comes along.
The final spot in the rotation was being earmarked for Jacob Turner, but the Marlins have decided he’ll start the year in AAA. In the meantime, expect Kevin Slowey to hold down the spot. Slowey had a 5.14 ERA in AAA last season in Cleveland’s organization over eight starts. Yeah, it’s that bad in Miami.
Top Prospect Jose Fernandez will probably start the year in AA, but could be pitching in the Majors by season’s end. He has the stuff, profile and makeup of an ace and could top the Marlins rotation for years to come. He’s adjusted so well to every level he’s played at that the Marlins expect him to stay once he’s called up. For that reason, there’s a chance they’ll keep him in the minors for the year in order to massage his service time.
Things in the bullpen aren’t quite as bleak. With Bell gone, it’s not only cheaper, but probably better. Steve Cishek will sell seashells by the seashore probably close out games after an impressive rookie season. His walk-rate is a little lofty for a high-leverage reliever, but the Marlins won’t have a lot of high-leverage opportunities so I doubt they care much.
Miami brought in right-hander Jon Rauch to set up Cishek after a decent season with the Mets, but his peripherals and history suggest regression. Joining him at the back-end of the ‘pen will be Ryan Webb and hard-throwing left-hander Mike Dunn. The final three spots are expected to go to right-handers A.J. Ramos and minor-league invites Chad Qualls and John Maine, although a slew of other replacement-level relievers are available if anyone falters or gets hurt.
Stanton is awesome. That could easily be the end of this section. Seriously, I’d have no qualms with it, but I suppose I should continue. The Marlins’ rightfielder is still just 23 and is already the most prolific power hitter in baseball. He’s had some measure of trouble staying on the field throughout his career, but if he ever plays 160 games or so, the numbers could get scary. He’s evolved very quickly from a free-swinging slugger to a well-rounded hitter with an excellent approach. If his physical peak takes him through the next 5-10 years and he can stay healthy, he could hit as many homeruns as Willie Mays. Last season he had a .318 isolated-power despite Marlins Park suppressing offense at near-PETCO levels.
Outside of him, the Marlins look more like they should be wearing New Orleans Zephyrs’ uniforms than a Major League team’s. First baseman Logan Morrison still has serious upside, but he’ll probably start the year on the DL as he’s still recovering from knee surgery last fall. Casey Kotchman is expected to fill in for him until he’s ready. At the other infield corner will be veteran Placido Polanco who—at 37—is injury plagued and inconsistent. Another veteran, Greg Dobbs, can step in if needed and might actually be better than Polanco.
The Marlins signed another over-the-hill veteran in Juan Pierre to be the leadoff hitter and leftfielder. Last season with Philadelphia, he hit .307/.351/.371 (a line that looks a lot better than it actually is), but he’s not an especially good defender and his batted-ball average skills had been trending down before a bit of a bounce back last season.
Joining Stanton and Pierre in the outfield will be Justin Ruggiano who was claimed off waivers from Houston early last year and then proceeded to put up monster numbers with Miami. In 320 plate appearances, he hit .313/.374/.535 and was worth almost three wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. But Ruggiano has a few things working against him: First, he’s entering his age-31 season; second, he’s never been all that highly regarded; and third, his batted-ball average was .401 last year—unsustainable even for the best in the game. Expect a big fallback. Chris Coghlan and Gorkys Hernandez could theoretically take over if Ruggiano turns back in to a pumpkin.
Second baseman Donovan Solano hit decently—albeit with no power—in 316 at-bats last year and he’ll get a shot at an everyday job for the first time. Joining him up the middle will be Hechavarria who’s more than ready defensively, but may never hit enough to be anything more than a fringy second-division starter. Brantly is expected to see the bulk of the time behind the plate and could be a sleeper-pick for Rookie of the Year. If he falters, Mathis should be back from a collarbone injury at some point and prospect Kyle Skipworth is also around.
The one area where the Marlins could be a well-above-average team is with their defense. Hechavarria is gold-glove calibre at short and Solano and Polanco are also considered good defenders at the other two infield positions. Not having Morrison in the outfield will help and although Pierre isn’t great, Ruggiano and Stanton are both well-regarded with the glove. Scouts love Brantly’s defense and ability to learn the position and Mathis—when healthy—is markedly above average behind the plate even if he is about the worst hitter of all time.
In baseball terms, what the Marlins did this offseason might end up paying dividends in the next few years and they might be better off in the long-term, but it doesn’t change the fact that Jeffrey Loria hoodwinked the Florida public into paying for a stadium only to see another classic Marlins fire-sale one year in. Jose Fernandez and highly-touted outfielder Christian Yelich may make their big-league debuts at some point in 2013, but neither player will raise the win level substantially, at least right away. It’s a long road ahead for an already impatient and angry fanbase.
2013 Prediction: 59-103, 5th NL East