Guide Preview: Florida Marlins

Moving on in the NL East, we come to the Florida Marlins. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the Marlins have had an odd history. From their two World Championships in their first 11 seasons to their seemingly routine dismantling, it seems to be the most bi-polar organization in professional sports. But, no matter how unsavory their business practices seem to be, it’s hard to argue with their results: the Marlins never seem to be more than 1 or 2 years away from playing in the postseason, and their two World Series wins are already the envy of many teams (e.g., Brewers, Astros, Mariners). It’s been 5 full seasons since their last Series win, and, if their history is any indication, they’re due for another postseason run very soon. We’ll have to see how likely that truly is.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…

Florida Marlins
Last Year: 84 -77, 3rd Place, NL East

Predictions Since 1999
This Year Last Year Avg Pred. Avg Finish
Sporting News 4 5 4.125* 3.625*
Athlon 3 5 4.5** 3.75**
Lindy’s 2 5

* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008

Team Notes

Over the past 16 years, the Marlins have proven that they follow a pretty stringent blueprint when it comes to their business decisions. To many fans, it may seem to be pretty harsh and miserly, but the postseason success that they have had seems to prove its efficacy. This past offseason was another example of those ways, and Marlins’ fans can only trust that these moves will prove to be as useful as the ones in years past.

“The Marlins entered last season with low expectations based upon their meager $22 million Opening Day payroll. Yet they finished a very respectable 84-77, and Fredi Gonzalez won The Sporting News’ National League Manager of the Year award.

True to form, the Marlins changed course in the offseason. In late October, they sent first baseman Mike Jacobs to Kansas City for reliever Leo Nunez. Two weeks later, they traded starting pitcher Scott Olsen and leftfielder Josh Willingham to Washington for second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and two minor leaguers. And two days after that, they shipped reliever Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for bullpen prospect Jose Ceda.

All this constant retooling might be a source of discouragement if the Marlins weren’t so darned good at it. They shifted gears after the Gary Sheffield-Bobby Bonilla group helped produce a World Championship in 1997, parted ways with Pudge Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and friends after the 2003 title season, and somehow find a way to keep hanging around the NL East lead well after the All-Star break. (Lindy’s)”

One of the team’s unheralded strengths this year is its pitching. The top of the rotation is filled with young quality pitchers, some of whom were able to beat their 2007 injuries to post some very solid numbers.

“Even without [Scott] Olsen, who was shipped to the Nationals along with Willingham, the rotation is a team strength. Credit the Marlins training staff with a major assist there, as three vital arms that were sidelined in 2007 managed to make it back last year.

[Ricky] Nolasco (inflamed elbow) emerged as a 15-game winner and the workhouse of a staff that went a record 301 starts between complete games. When the streak ended last August in San Francisco, it was Nolasco who did the honors.

Fellow righty Josh Johnson returned from Tommy John surgery in just 10 months, then piled up seven wins in the second half, including his first professional complete game.

The fifth spot should go to lanky lefty Andrew Miller, one of the key pieces that came south in the Tigers trade, but rookie Chris Volstad was even more impressive last year after coming up from Class A in early June. (TSN)”

But it’s really up the middle where the Marlins’ big strengths lie. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez may be one of the best players in the game, and he’s only 25 years old, and second-baseman Dan Uggla is a regular All-Star (though he may be traded this year before his arbitration years kick in). Centerfield prospect Cameron Maybin is predicted by many to win the NL Rookie of the Year this year after torching the league in a 12-game call-up last September.

“Hanley Ramirez is a franchise player. That’s why even the ultra-careful Marlins saw fit to hand him a six-year, $70 million extension last May. He still must cut down his error total after averaging 24 miscues his first three seasons, but his offensive production is staggering. Second baseman Dan Uggla is as streaky as they come, but he’s still averaged 30 homers his first three years. Bumped from the No. 2 slot in the order, Uggla was free to bomb away from the middle of the lineup. His arbitration-fed salary increase could make this his last season in South Florida unless he’s willing to sign a multiyear deal for below market value. (Athlon)”

Spotlight Quote

Athlon’s view on the Florida Marlins’ management:

“Doubt these folks at your own peril. Time after time since coming to South Florida in 2002, the Marlins front office has set the baseball establishment on its ear. If only president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest weren’t saddled with the game’s lowest payroll for the third time in four years. Then again, with a farm system that annually produces vital pieces for the major league roster, maybe finances don’t matter as much here as they do in other places. A long-awaited new stadium in Miami’s Little Havana section appears on the way for 2012, at which time perhaps Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria will open up his wallet again.”

Commentary

With one of the best young talents in the game in Hanley Ramirez and three young, promising pitchers who have shown their major league abilities in Chris Volstad, Josh Johnson, and Ricky Nolasco, the Marlins are in a very enviable position. Still, though, it is a rather young team competing in a tough division. Unless everything goes right for the Marlins and their young players all take a leap forward together this year, it’s hard to see them finishing above third place. That’s no slight to the Marlins, though, as the Phillies and Mets both have very strong clubs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Marlins sitting atop that division in the next year or two, though.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.

Quantcast