This season has been a bit of a disappointment after owner Jeffrey Loria predicted this team would make the playoffs and is now only hanging on the back end of the Wild Card chase in the National League. With that said, the new stadium opens in 2012 and the Marlins need to get this team together for its big move into a true baseball environment where if they want the seats filled, must get a product the fans can be happy with and 2011 is a stepping stone to that opening.
What changes do the Marlins need to make? For starters, the Marlins need to invest in their own players while shoring up a shaky bullpen which has been the major reason for the struggles this season. The other has been the faulty defense which ranks high in errors this season, particularly from the infield.
I will chronicle each and every change the Marlins need to make before they move into their brand new baseball stadium. It's never too early to prepare and 2011 can be a trial run or even a playoff run if this changes are made...
Lets face it, Leo Nunez isn't a true closer, he came to the Marlins in the Mike Jacobs deal from the Kansas City Royals and was their seventh and eighth inning man. Nunez is better suited as the setup man and not a closer. That said, the Marlins ought to invest in signing a closer even it means a multi-year deal which the Marlins hate to do with pitching especially with the bullpen.
The other area of need is a lefty specialist or two. Will Ohman should return and sign with the Marlins as he has done a good job since the trade. If the Marlins let him go they aren't doing the things needed to prepare for their 2012 season. The Marlins have gone down the Pinto, Tankersley, Meyers route and neither is giving the Marlins hope. With a division of potent lefties (Utley, Howard, Heyward, and Dunn to name a few), the need is dire.
Currently, the Marlins are doing well with right-handers Jose Veras, Clay Hensley, and Brian Sanches. If the Marlins can move Nunez to the setup role, keep Ohman while signing another lefty and getting an established closer, the Marlins are good to go.
Some notable and reasonable bullpen arms available in the upcoming season are Brian Fuentes (LAA), Arthur Rhodes (CIN), Chad Qualls (TB), Rafael Soriano (TB), Frank Francisco (TEX), Jose Contreras (PHI), Jon Rauch (MIN), Trevor Hoffman (MIL-mutual team option; likely to be bought out)
and Kerry Wood (NYY-$11M team option; likely to be bought out).
Mostly all of these are likely to cost money the Marlins would rather use on current players and the Marlins could always go the revival route like they did with Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, and Kevin Gregg in years past. Perhaps bringing back Dontrelle Willis may not be a bad thing, of course, if he can find the strike zone.
Since the start of the new millennium, the Marlins have gone with seven different managers (including interims). Thats an awful lot, all of two (Jack McKeon and Tony Perez) have ended in firings, the latest to be canned was Fredi Gonzalez.
The Marlins goal of keeping a manager should be at least half a decade since no manager has been able to finish four complete seasons before a strike came or they were canned. Of course whatever manager does come along it has to be an experienced manager who will be committed to the playoffs which would seem to be the Golden Ticket to staying in South Florida under Jeffrey Loria's regime.
Sorry Edwin Rodriguez, you've been good at your job and I feel as though the only way he is replaced is if the Marlins hired an experienced manager. What I mean by experienced is not necessarily a manager who has managed before but one who has been in the big league level for some time. I don't think Edwin stays as manager but I think he might stay as bench coach or remain at some capacity with the Marlins.
So who are the likely candidates to manage the Marlins next season? Well as I chronicled in one of my earlier articles, some of those names are bench coach Tony Pena (Yankees), pitching coach Bryan Price (Cincinnati) who has ties with Larry Beinfest from Seattle, former Marlins third base coach and current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen (if he gets let go), bench coach Ted Simmons (Padres), and ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine.
It's a pretty impressive pool of candidates that the Marlins have to be sure they target and keep that manager so that the team can adjust better with him.
...Dan Uggla, Ricky Nolasco, among others. I think moving into a new stadium you want the security of having your cornerstones set in stone with long-term deals. The Marlins have only given extensions to their two best players Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson but extending others would also be helpful in gaining traction towards the Marlins move into a new stadium.
Besides Uggla and Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez is gaining ground in perhaps getting an extension sometime between now and when the Marlins move into the new stadium. Like I have said in prior articles, signing Mike Stanton now would be smart and cheap versus later on of course I believe the Marlins might pull that off after they take care of their immediate veteran guys with long-term deals.
Since the Marlins have had new ownership, the only long term deals have had have been the likes of Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Hanley Ramirez, and Josh Johnson. The ownership has to change its culture and get more active with long term deals, it doesn't hurt to go year to year with your players but that means if you hit one bad year, the whole team is taken apart and you end up starting all over again.
It doesn't guarantee to the fans that the team is committed if you don't sign long-term deals, teams do it because they plan on being competitive and not with intent on jumping ship if they hit a rock bottom. Signing long-term deals is a nice step of getting a good reputation and erasing the sour one of Loria and Samson and some of there questionable moves.
The Marlins defense has been one of the worst in the Major Leagues with over 90 errors made in 120 plus games already. Contending teams as of now at the bottom in errors are Cincinnati (48), Minnesota (49), San Francisco (50), San Diego (51), and the New York Yankees (53); you see the pattern?
Now the Braves are right behind the Marlins in defensive errors but the Marlins ranked last in the Majors with total defensive chances while Atlanta is near the top in that category and statistically the Marlins have the worst defense. have been helped in other areas and while the Marlins have a set infield for next season with Coghlan at third, Hanley at shortstop, Uggla at second, and Sanchez at first, they need should be a defensive guru of sorts.
Perry Hill was the master of defense when he was with the Marlins helping guys like Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell, and Derrek Lee when Gold Gloves. It is something the Marlins had which helped them win a championship in 2003.
Defense is the darkhorse behind a team's wins and losses. If the Marlins cut down on the levels of those five teams above they would have 70 wins or so right now and be in the race it's that simple.
The Marlins have gotten great defensive plays from Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, the franchise's current and future corner outfielders. If the Marlins bring up Cameron Maybin who is great defensively, the Marlins should have to worry more about shoring up the infield and it starts with Hanley Ramirez. Hanley has yet to develop the defensive skills of an Ozzie Smith while he has already had the power of a Cal Ripken Jr. he needs to show he can be a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, if he can, he might be looking at the playoffs and more importantly for him Cooperstown.