Miami Marlins

3 Reasons to Be Optimistic for Miami Marlins' 2014 Season

Cheng SioContributor IApril 1, 2014

3 Reasons to Be Optimistic for Miami Marlins' 2014 Season

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    There are many reasons for Jose Fernandez, left, and the Miami Marlins to be all smiles in 2014, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia wearing Fernandez's purple pants.
    There are many reasons for Jose Fernandez, left, and the Miami Marlins to be all smiles in 2014, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia wearing Fernandez's purple pants.Chuck King

    Hey, the Miami Marlins are 1-0 and are in the first place in the National League East.

    At this rate, they will go 162-0 and win the World Series.

    Too much, too soon?

    Yeah, it probably is, but that's what happens when the Marlins score 10 runs in their season opener Monday to back a nine-strikeout, six-inning gem from 21-year-old pitching phenom Jose Fernandez. The win marked the first time the franchise has been above .500 since June 16, 2012 when they beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in 15 innings.

    While some might actually be naive enough to think the Marlins will go 162-0 and win the World Series, few are predicting the Marlins to go from worst to first, let alone get to .500. That said, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 season. Why else would one of the bigger dirty secrets in sports media is to write as many feel-good stories as possible in the offseason? Because no team can lose games when there are no games to be played.

    But now that there has been a game played and won, some Marlins think there is a reason to be hopeful about 2014 despite losing 100 games last year and finishing last in the NL East three consecutive years.

    I hope so, because this team is special," Fernandez told MLB.com after the opener. "I see that. Not because we scored 10 runs (Monday). We're going to lose a couple, but this team is going to fight. That's the only thing we want. We want to go out there and fight.

    Well, we're not going to stop at one reason, are we? In lieu of Fernandez's fighting spirit, here are three more reasons to be optimistic about the Marlins' 2014 season.

The offense will be better...

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    A full season of Christian Yelich, left, and a healthy season from Giancarlo Stanton should immensely help the Marlins offense in 2014.
    A full season of Christian Yelich, left, and a healthy season from Giancarlo Stanton should immensely help the Marlins offense in 2014.Colin E. Braley

    Or another way to put it is it can't be any worse than last season. 

    To recap, the Marlins had one of the worst offensive teams in recent history as they finished last in baseball in runs scored (513), batting average (.231) and home runs (95). The Marlins also scored two runs or less in nearly half of their contests (46.9 percent), according to the Sun-Sentinel. And to top it off, the only team to score as few runs as the Marlins since they came into existence in 1993 was the 2010 Seattle Mariners, who also crossed home plate 513 times, according to the Miami Herald.

    Our hitting was historically bad. Period. No way to soften that blow, it was ugly,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings told the Palm Beach Post.

    With all that ugliness out of the way, there's only one way to go, and that's up.

    For starters, the Marlins front office knew they needed to import more impact bats. Thus, in came Garrett Jones (averaged 20 home runs in the past five seasons), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (14 home runs and 40 doubles for the Boston Red Sox last season), Rafael Furcal (career .281 hitter), Casey McGehee and Jeff Baker. 

    Next, is the hope that some of the youngsters such as Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria and Christian Yelich continue to make progress as major league hitters. Yelich will be the one to watch as the sweet-swinging left fielder will be in his first full season in the big leagues after he hit .288 with a .370 on-base percentage in 62 games last year.

    But the most important part of the puzzle is the health and production of the only true power source the Marlins have, 24-year-old All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. Last season, Stanton got off to a horrid start (.227/.341/.387 with three home runs and nine RBI in 75 at-bats) before he missed the next six weeks with a hamstring injury.

    However, Stanton seems healthy and happy this spring. If he stays that way, Stanton could break Gary Sheffield’s 1996 club record of 42 home runs.

    (Stanton) looks happy, he looks confident, I think he's more relaxed," manager Mike Redmond told MLB.com. "I think he has really benefited from the veteran guys we brought in.

    While this offense won't score 1,000 runs, it's still better than what the Marlins trotted out for Opening Day last year, which included Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre and Casey Kotchman—three players who are currently out of baseball.

    We have definitely strengthened our lineup with the guys we've brought in," Redmond told MLB.com. "Now, we've got some established big league hitters. I think that benefits everyone. Our lineup is a lot deeper. We've got guys who have been through lots of Major League seasons -- veterans, guys who have been around. I think we're going to be better offensively.

    The only question is, how much better?

Arms, arms and more arms

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    The Marlins have plenty of young, quality arms in the organization, including the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year in Jose Fernandez, left, and Henderson Alvarez, the author of a no-hitter.
    The Marlins have plenty of young, quality arms in the organization, including the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year in Jose Fernandez, left, and Henderson Alvarez, the author of a no-hitter.Lynne Sladky

    Simply put, the Marlins are one of the few—if not the only—organization to corner the market on young, quality pitching.

    In the farm system, the Marlins have the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect in baseball in Andrew Heaney, a top 100 prospect in fellow left-hander Justin Nicolino, left-handers Adam Conley and Brian Flynn as well as right-handers Anthony DeSclafini and Jose Urena.

    At the major league level, the Marlins have ESPN.com's David Schoenfield's breakout candidate Nathan Eovaldi, the author of a no-hitter in Henderson Alvarez and former first-round draft pick Jacob Turner. All three of these pitchers are 24 or younger. In addition, 27-year-old Tom Koehler is the team's No. 5 starter, and 24-year-old Brad Hand and 29-year-old Kevin Slowey can spot start coming out of the bullpen.

    Oh, and we still haven't mentioned the ace of the staff, the 21-year-old phenom who won the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year and finished third in the Cy Young balloting last year.

    Fernandez finished last season with a sparkling 12-6 record and a 2.19 ERA with 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings. Dig a little deeper and you'll find, courtesy of ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, that Fernandez's rookie season last year was ranked No. 1 in the live-ball era in adjusted ERA (177), opponent average (.182), opponent slugging (.265) and opponent OPS (.533), in addition to being the first rookie starter with a WHIP under 1.00 (0.98) since baseball lowered the mound in 1969.

    Moreover, some believe last year was just Fernandez's opening act.

    (Fernandez) is so good, he doesn't have to make any adjustments, and I mean that without a smile on my face," MLB Network analyst Ron Darling told the Sun-Sentinel. "There are certain pitchers that have all the tools. … Just like some hitters have slump-proof swings, some guys' stuff is so good that they don't have to make an adjustment. They control they game.

    The best part about the pitching staff that set a single-season franchise best 3.71 ERA in 2013 is the fact that Eovaldi was out the first two months because of shoulder inflammation, Alvarez was out the first half of the season because of shoulder issues too, and Turner missed the first two months because he was demoted to the minors to become a more consistent pitcher.

    So believe it or not, this pitching staff can get better, which is scary to say the least.

    I love our pitching and I love the make-up of our ballclub," Redmond told MLB.com.

Anything is possible

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    Just ask the Boston Red Sox, who won the 2013 World Series after losing 93 games and finishing last in the American League East the year before.

    Just ask the Detroit Tigers, who won the AL pennant in 2006 three years after losing 119 games.

    Heck, just ask the 2003 Marlins, who won the World Series after losing 108 games five years earlier. In case anyone forgot, the World Series championship team was led by stalwarts such as Luis Castillo, Derrek Lee, Alex Gonzalez, Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Mike Lowell, Braden Looper and Miguel Cabrera. Castillo, Lee and Gonzalez—the latter two of whom were rookiesplayed on that 108-loss team; Lowell and Looper joined the rebuilding process as rookies the year after; and Willis, Beckett, Penny and Cabrera played in the Marlins farm system before arriving in the big leagues.

    While those nine "homegrown" guys played starring roles, Redmond was a part of the supporting cast as he was the backup catcher on the 108-loss team and the World Series team.

    And according to Miami Heralda dozen teams have reached the playoffs within five years of registering more than 100 losses since 1969. In that same period, 10 have hit the century mark in losses in back-to-back years.

    Anything is possible.

    If history doesn't convince you to be optimistic about the Marlins in 2014, check what the front office has done. Besides getting rid of dead weight—among the 25 players who broke camp with the Marlins last year, only nine are still with the teamand signing Jones, SaltalamacchiaFurcalMcGehee and Baker, management has also lowered ticket prices. 

    In a different Miami Herald article, the Marlins reduced prices for every seat. On average, season ticket prices were reduced by 25 percent and dropped by as much as 69 percent, while single-game tickets were reduced by 20 percent and dropped by as much as 55 percent.

    "The ballpark is fantastic," Marlins president David Samson told the Miami Herald. "But now it's time to match the ballpark with the product, and I don't mean as a payroll. I mean as the result."

    Anything is possible. 

    And if that's not enough, look at the state of the division.

    The Philadelphia Phillies' roster could be mistaken for an AARP convention as they will depend on A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon to lead them, all of whom are 33 or older, and some have already shown a considerable decline or an inability to stay healthy. Moreover, Cole Hamels will begin the season on the disabled list, and there has been news of discord between Rollins and manager Ryne Sandberg. 

    The New York Mets have issues such as Jonathon Niese's elbow discomfort, Matt Harvey being out of for the year because of Tommy John surgery, and they simply don't have enough firepower to make a run at playoff contention in September.

    And as for the Atlanta Braves, the defending division champs will look to repeat even though they employ sub-.200 everyday hitters in Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton while dealing with a rash of injuries to their starting pitching rotation. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are done for the season because of Tommy John surgery, Gavin Floyd won't return from Tommy John surgery until May, Mike Minor will miss at least the first two weeks of the season to build up arm strength after missing the first couple of weeks of spring training because of shoulder issues, and Ervin Santana won't be called up until his preparation for the regular season is complete after he signed with the club three weeks ago.

    With all of those issues for three of the four other teams in the division, the Marlins streak of three consecutive last place finishes in the division should end. How it ends is anybody's guess.

    “I’ve been on a team that lost 93 games and won the World Series the next year,” Saltalamacchia told the Miami Herald. “Anybody can have a bad year.”

    Anything is possible.

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