Miami Marlins: 5 Changes to Make Before Spring Training

Cheng SioContributor IDecember 25, 2012

Miami Marlins: 5 Changes to Make Before Spring Training

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    Every New Year's Day, we watch the ball drop in Times Square, tune in to the six million bowl games on TV and make at least one New Year's resolution.

    For the Miami Marlins, as well as the other 29 Major League Baseball teams, the goal is to win the World Series—or at least it should be. In order for that to happen soon—perhaps as early as the 2013 season, when no one expects them to win—changes must occur before Spring Training begins.

    Some are cosmetic, others much larger in grandeur. 

    If the Marlins apply these changes successfully, then a third World Series parade might not be out of the realm of possibility. However, if these resolutions fail, as is the case 88 percent of the time according to a 2007 survey of more than 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman, then it might be generations before the Marlins have reason to celebrate.

    So, before pitchers and catcher report to Jupiter, Fla., here are five changes the Marlins should make. 

Ownership

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    In case anyone hadn't noticed, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is public enemy No. 1 in Miami these days.

    Less than a year after spending $191 million to sign Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, Loria and company decided to sell the team piece by piece.

    It started with shipping Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers on July 23, then Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate to the Los Angeles Dodgers two days later and it culminated in a 12-player fire sale with the Toronto Blue Jays in November when the Marlins traded Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to shed $146.5 million in future payroll obligations.

    The Marlins got rid of other high-priced players in between those trades, but the damage was done. Loria sullied his reputation.

    According to Bendixen and Amandi International, a survey of 400 South Florida Major League Baseball fans revealed the 12-player fire sale might have permanently alienated the Marlins fan base. Meanwhile, only six percent said they had a favorable opinion of Loria, but one-third of them said they knew Loria personally. 

    Here's other information the survey uncovered:

    - 95 percent think the trade was a “fire sale" while only four percent think the trade intended to make the team better.

    - 89 percent disclosed Loria has a moral obligation to field a good team because the new $515 million stadium was built largely with public funds.

    - 87 percent of Marlins fans declared they were “furious and betrayed’’ by team ownership.

    - 83 percent of Marlins fans have an “unfavorable’’ opinion of Loria.

    - 61 percent identified themselves as season ticket holders who would support a boycott next season if it would force Loria to sell the team.

    The situation has gotten so ugly, a Facebook page was created with the intention to force Loria to sell the Marlins.

    Government officials also spoke out against Loria shortly after the fire sale.

    “They stopped one trade short—they need to trade owners,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Miami Herald. “I’ve never cared for this ownership group, and look, they’ve done it again. I don’t think they’ve got any credibility left.”

    Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff added, “I think he’s [Loria] set up the team for a sale that would maximize his profits. I think everyone is looking for him to sell, and I think it’s a good day when he does.”

    Although Loria has denied his intention to sell the club, telling cbssports.com "that's more stupidity," there's also been other reports that revealed the Marlins lost $40 million last season, partially because of attendance that fell well-below worst-case projections.

    While a sale is highly unlikely to happen within the next six weeks, Loria could have a change of heart and announce his intention to put a "For Sale" sign at Marlins Park. At least that way, the ball to get rid of Loria could get rolling.

The Language in the Marlins Park Contract

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    Speaking of Loria, if he doesn't intend to sell the Marlins, the least he can do is contact local government officials and ask to rework the contract of the publicly-funded stadium deal—in the public's favor, of course—if for nothing else, as a goodwill gesture.

    As it stands, Loria could be swimming in dollar bills regardless if he sold the team. That's because, according to the Miami Herald, a 2009 contract between the Marlins, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County states the local governments receive none of the profits if Loria sells the team after 2015.

    Even if Loria sold the team today, the sale won't be approved until after New Year's. In that instance, the local governments would split 7.5 percent of the profits. In 2014, the number dwindles to five percent, and in 2015, all profits would go only to Loria.

    For instance, let's say Loria sold the team two months from now and grossed $200 million in profits. That means Loria would owe the city and county governments $15 million each, and pocket $170 himself. If the sale occurred in 2014, the city and county governments would receive $10 million each, and Loria would net $180 in profits. And in 2015 and beyond, Loria would keep every penny from the transaction.

    By the way, did we mention Loria gets to keep all the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, suites, advertising, parking and naming rights, while the city receives about $5 million per year from parking space rental to help pay off the construction bonds, which will be valued at $2.4 billion when it is paid off in 40 years?

    And let's not forget, Loria agreed to pay just $125.2 million of the stadium's $634 million in construction costs.

    While the Marlins will probably net less revenue with a dip in attendance, the decrease in payroll (around $50 million from 2012 figures) and the increase in revenue-sharing money—MLB recently locked in an eight-year TV deal worth $12.4 billion from 2014-2021, which equates to more than $50 million for each team annually—should more than stem the "bleeding" from Loria's pockets.

    With an angry city and an owner who is perceived as a greedy, money-hungry crook, the answer might not be to force Loria to spend more money on the team. Instead, the best solution might be to tie Loria's revenue to team performance. 

    Let's face it, no matter how it seems, Loria will probably always say he's fielding a competitive team in good faith because otherwise, he would've committed fraud. However, what might be the best way to rework the 2009 contract is to tie Loria's revenue from Marlins Park to how many games the team won each season (i.e. every win = percentage of revenue Loria kept).

    Under this premise, for example, the Marlins would keep 69 percent of all revenue from ticket sales, concessions, suites, advertising, parking and naming rights in 2012, while the other 31 percent goes to the local governments to help pay off the $515 million stadium debt. 

    The issues with this clause, besides Loria's probable unwillingness to commit to such an act, are probably what happens if the Marlins won more than 100 regular season games and how will revenue during the playoffs be divvied up?

    With the former, the Marlins would keep all revenue if they won more than 100 regular season games. But if Loria asks for a rebate because his team surpassed the century mark, he's just asking for trouble because it makes no sense to reward him when the public funded more than $500 million into his new ballpark. 

    Furthermore, the chances of the Marlins winning more than 100 regular season games are slim to none. The Marlins have never achieved such a goal to begin with and have surpassed 90 wins just twice (1997 and 2003) in franchise history. And since 1998, when Major League Baseball expanded to 30 clubs, only 19 teams have won more than 100 regular season games.

    On the flip side, the Marlins will probably never receive less than half of Marlins Park's revenue since only one team, the 2003 Detroit Tigers, won less than 50 regular season games.

    As for postseason revenue, Loria and the Marlins should get to keep every penny since qualifying for a playoff berth every season is not guaranteed. Moreover, only one-third of all baseball teams (10 out of 30) qualify for the postseason, so to make it is no easy task. 

    If Loria really does hate losing—which is how he defended the fire sale when he told cbssports.com "We finished in last place. Figure it out"—then he will call every local government official on his cellphone and add this clause, or any other profit-sharing clause, in the contract for the betterment of the community.

    It might turn out to be the best PR move he's made yet.

The Scouting Department

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    One area that must change, regardless if Loria owns the Marlins, is the team's scouting department.

    The last time the Marlins hit on a first round draft pick was in 2000 when they drafted first baseman Adrian Gonzalez with the first overall pick. This is the same Adrian Gonzalez the Los Angeles Dodgers so desperately wanted that they agreed to swallow the salaries of Josh Beckett ($31.5 million through 2014) and Carl Crawford ($102.5 million through 2017) just to obtain him.

    Loria didn't own the Marlins until 2002, and on the day he closed the purchase, Loria fired the player development staff, including scouts, administrators and minor-league managers and coaches. Larry Beinfest has been general manager and president of baseball operations, while Stan Meek has been the head of the organization's scouting department. Both have been with the Marlins since, drumroll please, 2002.

    The Marlins first draft pick that year was outfielder Jeremy Hermida. He hit a grand slam in his major league debut three years later, and that's pretty much all the production the Marlins received from their first round draft picks. 

    - 2002: Hermida, the 11th overall pick, was traded to the Boston Red Sox after the 2009 season.

    - 2003: Jeff Allison, selected 16th overall, never reached the big leagues partially because of drug problems.

    - 2004: Taylor Tankersley, drafted 27th overall, pitched 168 games in four years as a left-handed Marlins relief pitcher. He last pitched in the majors in 2010.

    - 2005: The Marlins had five first round picks, Chris Volstad, Aaron Thompson, Jacob Marceaux, Ryan Tucker and Sean West. Volstad was the best of the quintet as he went 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in four years as a starting pitcher. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Carlos Zambrano on Jan. 5. Thompson was traded to the Washington Nationals for Nick Johnson in 2009 and has appeared in just four games. Tucker pitched in 18 games for the Marlins before the Texas Rangers selected him off waivers after the 2010 season. West went 8-8 with a 5.03 ERA in 22 starts with the Marlins. Marceaux never reached the big leagues.

    - 2006: Chris Coghlan, selected 36th overall as a supplemental pick, has batted .272 with 20 home runs and 107 RBI in 323 games. Coghlan is still with the club, but he's been less visible over the years (128 as a rookie in 2009 to 39 last year) because of various injuries. Brett Sinkbeil, who was selected ahead of Coghlan at No. 19 overall, pitched three games for the Marlins before being released before the start of the 2011 season.

    - 2007: Matt Dominguez, the 12th overall pick, was traded to the Houston Astros for Carlos Lee on July 4.

    As for the Marlins past five first round draft picks—Kyle Skipworth (2008), Chad James (2009), Christian Yelich (2010), Jose Fernandez (2011) and Andrew Heaney (2012)—the book on them isn't complete yet.

    Sure, the Marlins have hit on other, less heralded draft picks such as Giancarlo Stanton (2007 second rounder) and Josh Johnson (2002 fourth rounder), but teams with budgetary constraints such as the Marlins have to hit on first round picks.

    Unlike high-priced free agents, who are usually given as many opportunities as possible to pan out, a first round draft pick who fails to materialize costs an organization millions of dollars, and all the organization has to show for it is a bunch of empty promises. 

Turning the Pitching Rotation into a Power Staff

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    Power pitching wins in the playoffs.

    At least that's one of the many theories within baseball circles. But if it's true, then the Marlins have plenty of work to do.

    Ricky Nolasco, Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez—the four pitchers who are expected to be in the Marlins pitching rotation come Opening Day—all seem to lack the ability to blow a fastball past a hitter when it matters most. Last season, the league average was 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Of the quartet, Eovaldi had the highest rate at 6.3.

    A couple of years ago, Nolasco struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings, but ever since then, that rate has dropped to 8.4 in 2010, 6.5 in 2011 and 5.9 last season. At 30 years old, Nolasco might never be able to recapture what he once had.

    As for the other three, Eovaldi is the oldest of the trio as he turns 23 days before Spring Training. So, there's hope. 

    Turner might have the highest upside as, at one point, he was profiled to be a legitimate No. 2 starter with the potential to be an ace, according to Scout.com. But, according to ESPN.com's Keith Law, the Detroit Tigers, the team Turner was traded from in July, turned Turner from a power pitcher into a ground ball guy based on the premise of being more efficient.

    Nonetheless, Turner might still have the goods to revert back to being a power pitcher as he possesses a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball between 90-94 mph. Turner also has a power curveball, a cutter and a changeup.

    Eovaldi would probably be next on the totem pole. Fangraphs.com profiled Eovaldi as a classic power pitcher based on his 94 mph fastball and mid-80s slider. However, Fangraphs and Law agreed Eovaldi's biggest problem has been the lack of a quality third pitch.

    Then, there's Alvarez, a guy who struck out a measly 3.8 batters per nine innings last season. Now, before there's a rush to judgment, let's remember Alvarez was pitching against the brutal AL East as a Toronto Blue Jay. Furthermore, Alvarez was once a guy who could pound the strike zone, according to Fangraphs.com, with a plus fastball and a plus changeup, according to Law.

    As for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, it's unlikely one of the club's top prospects—possibly Jose Fernandez, Justin Nicolino or Andrew Heaney, among others—could fill the role. If that's the case, the Marlins should go out and look for a veteran left-hander as Nolasco, Turner, Eovaldi and Alvarez are all right-handers. 

Add More Thunder in the Lineup

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    Giancarlo Stanton could be a very frustrated slugger in 2013, and we're not just talking about the losing the Marlins might endure.

    Take a look at the Marlins projected lineup and there's no one who could protect Stanton from being pitched around as if he was Barry Bonds.

    Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, left fielder Juan Pierre and second baseman Donovan Solano are unqualified as they have never hit more than 10 home runs at any level. Catcher Rob Brantly hit 10 home runs in 2011, but is unproven. Third baseman Placido Polanco had a career-high 17 home runs once—in 2004 when he was 28 years old.

    This leaves first baseman Logan Morrison and center fielder Justin Ruggiano as possible internal candidates.

    In 2011, Morrison smacked 23 home runs and drove in 72 runs, but he batted just .247 that season. Last year, Morrison continued to regress as he hit .230 with 11 homers and 36 RBI in 93 games. Although Morrison looks like the best candidate, Ruggiano might beg to differ. 

    Ruggiano, who batted .313 with 13 home runs with 36 RBI in 288 at-bats last season, has publicly said he can protect Stanton. 

    "I came out of nowhere when I was 30 years old and it seems like people are already forgetting what I did last year," Ruggiano told the Miami Herald in a phone interview last month. "Personally, I'd like to be given that opportunity to play out there every day. ... I can provide enough power to protect Stanton."

    Beinfest, however, isn't as certain as Ruggiano.

    "I don't think concerns, other than he really hasn't done it in the big leagues for a full year," Beinfest said. "What he showed in the 3 1/2 months we had him last year, he had a very good year and was very productive. But, until you've done it, you can't say you've done it. That would be my only concern, is that he hasn't done it for a full year in the major leagues."

    Regardless if it's Morrison, Ruggiano or an external source, the Marlins need to add power to their lineup. Badly.

    The Marlins could get this sorely needed thunder by moving Morrison back to left field and adding a first baseman. Perhaps they could ink Casey Kotchman, Travis Hafner or Luke Scott to a one-year deal. Of course, this is assuming Hafner or Scott could even play first base for six innings at a time.

    The Marlins could also inquire about third baseman Brandon Inge. They had interest in Inge before signing Polanco last week. With the right one-year deal, Inge can play third base and Polanco could become a super utility infielder.

    Another route would be signing an outfielder. Delmon Young is available and should be ready by Spring Training after undergoing ankle surgery. Like Hafner and Scott, this is assuming Young would sign a one-year deal and can play left field for six innings at a time.

    The best free agent still left on the market might be outfielder Scott Hairston, who hit .263 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI with the New York Mets last season. The issue, however, is Hairston is seeking a two-year contract, according to the New York Daily News

    Whomever the Marlins decide is best suited to protect Stanton, he must be able to fulfill the task. Otherwise, Stanton's home runs in 2013 could all be solo blasts.