The Miami Marlins were very active during the winter meetings this offseason. They signed free agents Jose Reyes,Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell. They were also candidates to sign slugger Albert Pujols, but came up short.
The Marlins have high expectations going into this year and will have a tough road ahead of them if they want to make the playoffs this year. Let's take a look at what problems could be facing the Marlins this season.
The National League East has shown a lot of strength throughout the past few years. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves both had winning seasons last year, with the Phillies winning a league best 102 games.
The Washington Nationals also had a decent year, finishing last season at 80-81. They have a promising future with young talent surrounding their team. They have young phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who will attempt to finish his first full season in the league after having Tommy John surgery in 2010. Strasburg and the Nationals have a bright future ahead of them, with a pitching staff that finished in the top 10 in ERA, along with the Phillies and Braves.
The Marlins will have three good pitching teams to face in their own division, and may not have enough hitting to compensate for that. Adding Reyes to a lineup that already features Hanley Ramirez will strengthen the top of the order. However, they do not have enough strength in the bottom half of the lineup to keep up with the good divisional pitching.
The Marlins signed outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen as their manager for the 2012 season. Guillen managed the last eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox, winning one championship in 2005.
Guillen had difficulties with White Sox owner Kenny Williams, which led to Guillen not signing a contract extension, bringing his fiery personality to Miami.
Guillen can easily get under the skin of any player on any team. The Marlins will have to get use to this type of personality, which many of them probably have never seen before. Reyes has been known throughout his career as a player who does not take criticism well.
During his time in New York, Reyes was seen feuding in the dugout with managers Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel over mistakes made by Reyes. It was also reported that Reyes got into a heated argument with Mets announcer and former player Keith Hernandez. The argument was reported to be over comments Hernandez made about Reyes during the game. Guillen will not tolerate this type of behavior over criticism, which may cause tension between the two.
Ramirez is another player who has an interesting personality. He has been known for being lethargic on defense, which is something that Guillen will not tolerate. Ramirez will need to show that he is dedicated to playing baseball on both sides of the ball if he is to get Guillen's approval.
If these three do not figure out how to get along, it could be a long year for the Marlins.
The Marlins improved their defense last season, posting only 93 errors. Expect to see a difference this season.
The Marlins now have Reyes as their shortstop, which is a great plus for defense. However, this move involves moving Ramirez to third base. Ramirez has already expressed that he does not want to play third base. Ramirez already shows little interest in playing defense, as stated earlier. Throw in a new position for him to play and there could be problems.
Another defensive problem for the Marlins will be the outfield. They are inexperienced and lack speed. They do not cover the field well and have trouble tracking balls or running the right path to get to the ball. This will not show up in the box score as an error, but can help a hitter advance an extra base on a play that a good outfielder would make.
The Marlins have been hit with key injuries over the past few years, with the most important injury occurring to their star pitcher, Josh Johnson.
Johnson is the ace of the Marlins' staff. If they expect to make a playoff run in 2012, Johnson will need to stay healthy. While other players on the team, such as Jose Reyes, have injury problems, Johnson is the one that needs to concern Marlins' fans the most.
Johnson has a career ERA under three in seven seasons with the Marlins and is a pitcher that can go deep into games, which helps the bullpen.
The rotation for the Marlins is solid through the first three pitchers, with Johnson being the ace. If he goes down, the Marlins will be in trouble again and may face another losing season.
Johnson is one of the most important players to any team in baseball at the moment. The Marlins need him on the team just to be contenders in 2012. If he is hurt again, then they will have no shot.
Believe it or not, the Miami Marlins are under pressure going into the 2012 season. The Marlins are a franchise who have had no expectations in almost all of their seasons since becoming a team.
With three big additions this offseason, Reyes, Bell and Buehrle, the Marlins will be expected to contend. They will be put in the national spotlight more then they are accustomed to. They will be a key feature in nationally televised games and are scheduled to open their season against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN.
The media in Miami will change this year also. More media members will be covering their games and their losses will be more scrutinized. The pressure of handling these off-the-field matters does not sound like a lot. In fact, it is something that the Marlins can probably handle quite well.
However, if the Marlins get off to a slow start this year, expect the media to be harsh on the new-look Marlins. They will have to learn that they need to keep their cool around the media and not let them stir any trouble that is not there.
If their emotions can be controlled, then the Marlins can keep their focus on what is important, which is winning baseball games.
This year will be interesting for the Marlins. They have made the right moves to help them get into playoff contention. This season will be a good barometer for the Marlins as to where they stand as a team and if they can contend for a championship in the near future.