Florida Marlins: What They Need To Do Going Forward
The Florida Marlins, after years of playing in the cavernous Sun Life Stadium (or Pro Player Stadium, or Joe Robbie Stadium, or Dolphin Stadium, or Landshark Stadium, whatever you want to call it) in front of empty crowds, are moving into the state-of-the-art Marlins Stadium for the 2012 season. It is a greatly needed move for a franchise in desperate need of a drastic move to reignite local interest.
While a new stadium may help bring in fans at first, a competitive ball club is what is needed to keep those fans in the seats. Not only do they need it for the fans, but prior to the 2011 season, the Marlins were coerced into agreeing to increasing payroll.
In this slideshow, I outline who the Marlins should go after and what they must do to pique local interest and produce a winning club on the field.
Hire Ozzie Guillen
Jason Miller/Getty Images
No stranger to the Marlins organization nor current manager Jack McKeon, Ozzie Guillen has long been rumored to be the next Marlins manager, as they attempt to garner headlines going into their new ballpark. And these rumors have arisen rightfully. Guillen would step right in to mentor Hanley Ramirez, a superstar player who desperately needs guidance to keep his talents on the field and not in the clubhouse.
The hiring of Guillen would also be a hit with the Latino fanbase in South Florida and would bring older Marlins fans who have lost an interest in the team in recent years back to life. Guillen, the third base coach on the 2003 World Series champion Marlins, is well-rehearsed on the team's front office and could step right in without missing a beat.
Re-sign Omar Infante
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
During the 2010-2011 offseason, the Marlins attempted to return to their philosophy of solid fielding and batting to win, and therefore traded Dan Uggla to the Braves for a package headlined by Omar Infante.
Infante stepped in to be a slick-fielding second baseman with a .988 fielding percentage and countless highlight-reel plays. After some early struggles at the plate, Infante has raised his batting average to a respectable .277 while most of the Marlins lineup has floundered.
As a strong believer in the Marlins' current starting lineup, I believe the Marlins ought to re-sign Infante and do everything in their power to retain their current lineup. After some current growing pains, this team can be dangerous.
Re-sign Javier Vazquez
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Javier Vazquez's 2011 season most certainly did not get off to a smooth start. After boasting an ERA of over 7.00 as late as June 11, Vazquez miraculously worked his way to lowering his ERA to below 4.00 after posting a 2.48 ERA for the month of August and starting September with a 0.41 ERA after three starts.
Vazquez clearly had gone through some painful transitions, returning to the National League and pitching for a small-market club. Going forward, I believe Vazquez's second half of the season is more indicative of the type of pitcher he is rather than his early season struggles.
Bringing him back for another season, perhaps even two, would work wonders for the Marlins.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
This isn't so much in reference to what the Marlins can do, but rather to what they can hope for. This season became a lost cause quickly after a fantastic start, and many forget that this can be attributed to the injuries of their ace and Cy Young candidate Josh Johnson and superstar Hanley Ramirez.
The Marlins ought to do everything in their power to prepare this club for their returns. These players' health is invaluable to the club's long-term potential.
Target Starting Pitchers
Jason Miller/Getty Images
The Marlins need at the very least a fifth starter to slide in alongside Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and, if re-signed, Javier Vazquez.
The Marlins went with a combination of Chris Volstad, Brad Hand, Clay Hensley and Brian Sanches to fill in for the injured Johnson and the fifth starter spot. Volstad was atrocious at times and should have been designated for assignment on several occasions, and Brad Hand was rushed to the majors.
While Hand may have a future in the big leagues, it is not in the immediate future. The Marlins need to go after a starter with a proven track record who has the qualities of a No. 2 starter to step in behind Johnson, but could easily be the third or fourth starter.
Enter Mark Buehrle, of perfect game notoriety, who is also a impending free agent and friend of Ozzie Guillen. If the Marlins hire Guillen, Buehrle may follow him to South Florida. Other options include Chris Carpenter, who could still pitch two to three high-quality seasons, and Paul Maholm, among others.
Bring in a Front-Line Closer
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
I'm going to keep this slide short and simple: dump Leo Nunez. While his statistics may indicate a good closing pitcher, it in no way reveals his shortcomings and knack of blowing one-run leads. The Marlins need to spend money, and one of their biggest needs that can be addressed through free agency is signing a top-line closer, notably Heath Bell. He is a big-game pitcher who has proven time and again his value to a team and any future dollars he may merit.
Do Not Over-spend on Free Agents...
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
While the Marlins were coaxed into an agreement with the MLBPA that they will increase their payroll, it is imperative that they do not stray from their strategy of wise spending, much like they did last summer in giving proven leader John Buck a three-year contract and Javier Vazquez a one-year deal.
The Marlins undoubtedly need to increase payroll by retaining their own payrolls. It has been rumored that the Marlins may target C.J. Wilson as a front-line starter. However, his price tag as arguably the top starting pitcher on the market may see him winding up with a contract in excess of $90 million.
Having said that, there is only one player the Marlins should target with excessive amounts of money, and that is...
Unless His Name Is Albert Pujols
David Welker/Getty Images
Yes, Albert Pujols will arguably be the most coveted free agent in the history of the game. Yes, Albert Pujols could demand a $30 million-per-year contract, which in recent years could alone have outmatched the Marlins' entire payroll.
Having said that, the pros of signing Pujols far outweigh the few cons. Pujols is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and regardless of what the Marlins' lineup—or any team's lineup, for that matter—looks like, it should be adjusted to accommodate Pujols' behemoth bat.
He alone would put fans in the seats, put the Marlins on the baseball map and provide some much-needed mentoring for the young, but troubled, Hanley Ramirez. Pujols' value to this club in wins and revenue far outweighs the $30 million price tag that he can—and rightfully so—command.
Remain Committed to the Current Roster
Marc Serota/Getty Images
It is no secret that the Marlins have some of the best young talent in the majors, such as future home run king Mike Stanton, former batting champion Hanley Ramirez and other key pieces such as Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez and Anibal Sanchez. This is the squad the team worked to put together since dismantling the 2003 World Series-winning team, and it is time to remain committed to the current roster.
Aside from players that would constitute obvious upgrades for any team, such as Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell or the almighty Albert Pujols, this team has flashed what it is capable of when healthy, starting the year 30-20 before falling apart. This team can win with the proper additions, guidance and seasoning.