Miami Marlins: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Painful Season
The Marlins were supposed to be about re-branding themselves, rebooting a small-market, and making baseball a must-see event, at least while the Miami Heat were in hibernation. Instead, everything bad that could have happened this season did for this franchise who had once been the envy of small-market franchises with a pair of World Championships in their first decade of play. Now, they are suffering from an identity crisis as they sit in the NL East cellar for a franchise-tying second consecutive season.
Ozzie Guillen's comments in TIME magazine regarding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and his subsequent suspension set the table for what would become a disastrous 2012 season. Follow that up with the grass at Marlins Park drying up in parts of the outfield early in the season.
Heath Bell continued the flow of falling dominoes by blowing save after save during the months of April, May, and June until officially losing his job as the closer after posting a 6.75 ERA in 33 1/3 innings. Bell has compounded what a problem he has become to the Marlins besides the financial burden (2 years, $18 million remaining after 2012) and performance issues (5.19 ERA and has converted 19 of 26 save opportunities) by speaking on radio about his own manager.
Bell told "The Dan Sileo Show" on 560 WQAM in Miami (h/t ESPN) that "It's hard to respect a guy that doesn't tell you the truth or doesn't tell you face-to-face."
The injuries and struggles which were all a result of carelessness and overrating the talent product on the field. Gaby Sanchez fell considerably off the pedestal he was at as an All-Star in 2011 and Josh Johnson has failed to regain Cy Young caliber form, regressing to a mere second or third option in a rotation.
Ricky Nolasco (12-12, 4.35 ERA) and John Buck (.201 BA, 12 HR), who have accounted for $15 million in salary in 2012, have been disappointments to say the least even as both have saved face lately, as Nolasco has lowered his ERA below 5 and Buck his batting average over the "Mendoza Line".
On the injury front, CF Emilio Bonifacio (30 SB) jammed his thumb in mid-May and re-injured it in early August. Playing only 64 games, Bonifacio was well on his way towards a 70 stolen base campaign in what is an otherwise down year for the feat across baseball (Bourn leads NL with 39).
Continuing with the outfield, LF Logan Morrison, even as he stayed out of trouble in 2012, his lack of work ethic relating to his rehab from knee surgery shunned his performance and we will have to wait another year to see if whether we'll ever see the Logan Morrison from 2010.
Even as the nucleus of the ballclub, RF Giancarlo Stanton has missed nearly one-quarter of the Marlins season (36 games as of Monday) and his production and presence is simply too precious and valuable to replace in the lineup when there is no other similar bat there waiting.
Speaking of Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins aren't flirting with a 100 losses because of him and that speaks volumes to his impact and the growth of a superstar. Stanton, along with Jose Reyes. have been a mainstay in the lineup since Opening Day. Mark Buehrle lived up to his contract as the durable, slick fielding and reliable middle of the rotation arm the Marlins hoped he be.
The Marlins have seen the rise OF Justin Ruggiano (.313 BA, 13 HR in 91 games) and IF Donovan Solano (.291 BA, 24 RBI in 84 games) into potential starters for 2013 and have reaped the benefits of the Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante trade from the Tigers. C Rob Brantly, 23, has shown flashes of becoming a Joe Mauer-like (.325/.419/.488, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 13 BB, 13 SO in 80 ABs) and P Jacob Turner, 21 (1-3, 4.03 ERA, 0.97 WHIP in 5 starts), has been solid enough to earn a rotation spot for 2013.
The front office managed to dump Hanley Ramirez's contract to a team (Los Angeles Dodgers) gladly willing to take every cent for pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. The question is what the Marlins will do with the money they have saved from making the trade especially after insider Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports their 2013 payroll will rest between $70-$80 million after hovering around $95-$100 million this season.
And alas Marlins Park. Nothing but positive vibes this year, from the Clevelander to the roof to the attendance reaching the 2 million milestone for the third time in franchise history. Marlins Park eased the pain of a gashing wound that was the Marlins' on-field performance this season.
The Marlins are quite simply a mess top to bottom, there is too much authority and command going around and it has to snap into place before this team can take off.
In the front office, the Marlins have five drivers with keys trying to drive one car. And those drivers are Jeffrey Loria, David Samson, Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, and Dan Jennings. Yes, while most franchises in professional sports have an owner and a general manager calling the shots, the Marlins have an owner who wants his say in personnel moves (ala George Steinbrenner), a stepson who establishes strict financial constraints, and three baseball minds who have their own game plans or contributions.
Loria is currently weighting whether to commit to a managerial change for a seventh time in his decade (Jeff Torberg - Fired; Jack McKeon - twice retired; Joe Girardi - Fired; Fredi Gonzalez - Fired; Edwin Rodriguez - Resigned) as owner when in reality this failure is spread about the organization from signings that were bust to lack of immediate minor league talent.
The Marlins have holes at second base, third base, and the outfield. Emilio Bonifacio, Donovan Solano, and Justin Ruggiano will vie for starting spots with the earlier likely assured of a spot. Logan Morrison will probably slide over to first base, which still leaves a void in the outfield.
With OF prospect Christian Yelich slated to make his major league debut dependent on a strong showing at AA in 2013, the Marlins might go with a conservative signing this offseason rather than break the bank on Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino, or Nick Swisher. Names to look out for include Angel Pagan (.293 BA, 15 triples), BJ Upton (Dan Jennings drafted him; 26 HR, 74 RBI), reunions with Cody Ross or Juan Pierre, or reclamation project in Grady Sizemore.
The bottom line is that the Marlins need another complementary bat to Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Reyes and a rejuvenated Logan Morrison aren't enough especially with injuries as a liability.
The rotation is expected to manned by Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jacob Turner, while the rest is in question. Even though the Marlins owe Ricky Nolasco $11.5 million in 2013, the general feeling is that they will look for a pitching needy team such as the Rockies or Twins to take the inconsistent starter out of their hands for a chunk of his salary.
While the Marlins do have an up and coming ace in Jose Fernandez, there is a very slim chance he cracks the Opening Day rotation having only been at Class A Jupiter in 2012. In all likelihood they will explore the market for starting pitchers, and probably end up signing one to either compete in March or be a fixture in the rotation.
An interesting but far-fetch candidate could be Zack Greinke (14-5, 3.47 ERA) who might be the premium of the pitchers on the market, but one who would easily make any rotation a better one. Born in Orlando, FL, Greinke could be lured in by his hometown being mere hours away, lack of state income tax and the fact that playing in South Florida isn't as intimidating as say New York or Los Angeles.
Beyond the market, the Marlins will surely be looking at a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation amongst Nathan Eovaldi, Wade LeBlanc, Brad Hand and Alex Sanabia.
In a election year, the recipe will have to play to conservatism this offseason for the Marlins. But while that might be the result limited to the roster, the question remains whether manager Ozzie Guillen will return. The Marlins would still owe him roughly $7.5 million that's due for the remaining life of the contract. Lest one forget Loria still needs to pay Heath Bell $18 million and John Buck $6.5 million remaining on their contracts adding up to hefty $32 million. Yes, $32 million for people who won't even crack the All-Star game in the near future.
This Marlins franchise is stuck in neutral, alluding to my earlier car reference, the wheels of their Ferrari are stuck in mud riddled with sewage waste, and the only way to free themselves is to drop the dead weight. And no its not Ozzie Guillen, or even the front office but rather ownership. Sooner or later, they have to look themselves in the rear view mirror and realize they are the problem, not everyone surrounding them. Maybe, just maybe, the Marlins can't win with them in command.
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