At the start of the 2009 Major League Baseball season, it appeared as if the Florida Marlins were the real deal. For the better part of April the team sat in first place of the National League East.
It had also appeared that the team had gotten a steal in the speedy infielder, Emilio Bonafacio, who was torrid for the first month or so of the season.
However, by mid-May the mirage was over. The Philadelphia Phillies had taken over the division and Bonafacio's numbers plummeted back to reality.
Over the course of the season, the Marlins revealed their true colors: a highly talented young team that couldn't escape the middle of their division. Currently, the team sits five games out of the wild card.
Surprisingly, though, the Marlins are not as far away from playoff contention as many would assume. The Marlins have a very solid, young core that is highlighted by shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Chris Coghlan, and pitcher Josh Johnson.
With a few tweaks here and there, I believe the Marlins could be a legitimate contender in the National League East. Here are some suggestions for General Manager, Larry Beinfest:
Trade Dan Uggla
Dan Uggla is quickly becoming the elephant in the room when it comes to the Marlins clubhouse. His name has come up in Marlins' trade talks for the past couple of years, and with his salary likely exceeding $5 million it does not appear likely he will be back in a Marlins uniform.
The question is who would be interested in acquiring the 29 year old second baseman that has hit .245 and belted 29 home runs? The answer is a lot of teams.
Fox Sports analyst, Ken Rosenthal, listed the Orioles, Twins, Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Cardinals as potential suitors for Uggla. This is mere speculation on my behalf, but you'd have to think the Tigers would be interested as well if they are unable to retain their current second basemen, Placido Polanco.
Not only would this move free up cash, but it could also open up the doors to the Marlins acquiring yet another big time prospect, especially when you consider that the Orioles, Giants, and Cardinals were all featured in Keith Law's top 10 farm system rankings earlier this year.
Dab Into Free Agency
Ideally, you would like the Marlins to pursue the likes of Matt Holliday and John Lackey in the free agent pool. Unfortunately, the reality is that the team most likely will not attempt to acquire any big names and that's OK.
The team needs to focus on the low key signings, similar to the ingenious Kiko Calero signing this past offseason.
If they do look to add an impact bat to the lineup I would suggest a player along the lines of Xavier Nady. Nady is coming off of Tommy John surgery, but should be ready to play again by the middle of next season.
He would provide the Fish with some flexibility as he can play both the corner outfield positions and first base. Keep in mind in 2008, this is the same player who hit over .300 and slugged 25 home runs and nearly 100 RBI.
This is a low risk, high reward signing as Nady's value has considerably dropped since the start of the season. I believe he could be had for an incentive-laden one year deal to rebuild his value before attempting to restore his value before re-entering the free agent pool in 2011.
Lock Up Josh Johnson
This should be a given. The Fish need to sign Josh Johnson long term. The 25 year old right hander is the kind of player you want to build your team around. He has been rock solid in his Major League career, posting a cumulative ERA of 3.32.
This season has arguably been Johnson's best, as for the first time in his career he has become a 15 game winner and is in contention for the National League Cy Young award.
Not only would the signing Johnson now give the Marlins a bit of a discount for his services over the next couple of seasons, but it would also give fans in 2012 something to see when the Marlins open their brand new ballpark.
Let's not also forget about Cameron Maybin, who has struggled in the Majors thus far. I think that he has the ability to really put it together next year and contribute to the big league club, even if it is by means of a midseason call up.
Clearly the sky is the limit for these young Marlins and with a few additions and some subtractions, 2010 could be the year for Florida.