Florida Marlins: 10 Essential Objectives to Compete with NL East's Best

James Bondman@@james_bondmanCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2010

Florida Marlins: 10 Essential Objectives to Compete with NL East's Best

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    ATLANTA - JULY 02:  Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Florida Marlins against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If the Florida Marlins brass thought they were in the driver's seat in order to compete with the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, think again.

    After Philadelphia remained fairly quiet in the news last week after their former outfielder Jayson Werth signed a mega deal with the Washington Nationals, they now have attracted the spotlight for all the right reasons.

    The hottest ace on the free agent market, Cliff Lee, announced he would be taking his talents to South Street, again. This doesn't help the Marlins' cause in their aspirations to be a competitive team in 2011 or 2012.

    The fact that the Marlins had to face Roy Halladay (who hurled a perfect game against them in May and threw a no-hitter against the Reds in the postseason), Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels was scary enough, and now they'll have to face 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.

    At least on the bright side of things, Jamie Moyer—who, unlike Lee, Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, wasn't a power pitcher—won't be pitching for Philadelphia or anywhere this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Moyer was the one pitcher that had the Marlins' number since joining the Phillies in 2006. He went 13-6 (7-0 between 2006 and 2007) with a 3.09 ERA in 19 starts against Florida. 

    However, the Marlins have themselves to blame for the position they are now in. Had they kept Miguel Cabrera back in 2007 instead of trading him for a pair of busts (Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller) and not given even more firepower to the division rival Atlanta Braves this offseason by trading Dan Uggla for a less than stellar return, then the Marlins might be a force to be reckoned with, but that's not the case, now is it? 

    Here are 10 things that must happen for the Florida Marlins to have hope of any October baseball in 2011.

No Sophomore Slumps

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Mike Stanton #27 of the Florida Marlins dives to catch a line drive hit to right field by the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on September 29, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In 2010, the Marlins were helped by a rookie surge in the way of Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton.

    All three established themselves in the Marlins lineup, but if 2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan taught us anything, it's that the Marlins can ill afford a poor season by any of the three this season.

    Coghlan hit .268 last season (compared to .321 his rookie season) and struck out 84 times in 400 plate appearances versus 77 in 565 rookie plate appearances. Cogs also sustained a season-ending knee injury when he pied Wes Helms. He was the perfect example of what the dreaded sophomore slump can do to you.

    Mike Stanton, who hit 22 home runs in 100 games, is going to be relied on to hit 40 home runs, essentially making up for the power lost in the Dan Uggla trade, while building on a great rookie campaign overshadowed by other notable names like Buster Posey and Jason Heyward. 

    Logan Morrison took over in left field in the wake of Chris Coghlan's injury, and he'll be relied on to pick up the power, having only hit two homers in 62 games last season. Morrison hit .283 with 43 runs, 20 doubles and seven triples in his time with the Marlins last season.

    Gaby Sanchez will be the team's everyday first baseman, and he is expected to build upon his .273 batting average, 19 home runs and 85 RBI in 151 games last season as a rookie.

Hanley Ramirez Returns to His MVP-Caliber Offense

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    ATLANTA - JULY 02:  Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Florida Marlins rounds third base after a solo homer in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Hanley Ramirez was an utter disaster last season in terms of Hanley Ramirez numbers. He hit 21 home runs, his lowest total since his rookie season (17), and drove in 76 runs while batting third in the order most of the season (115 games).

    Ramirez missed 20 games in 2010 because of injury and hasn't played at least 158 since 2006. 

    If the Marlins are to make a statement, Ramirez must rise and become one of the best position players in the National League. That means a return to the .300-30-30 numbers while driving in 100 RBI, which he did in 2009 with a career-high .342 batting average. 

    Remember, Ramirez was second in the National League MVP voting race in 2009 behind Albert Pujols, who was the unanimous No. 1 choice that season. If Hanley Ramirez can have a stellar season and perhaps make a case for an MVP, then the Marlins should be in good company.

Javier Vazquez Goes Back in Time to 2009

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    PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 08:  Javier Vazquez #33 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The Florida Marlins made a slight gamble in signing Javier Vazquez to a one year deal worth $7 million in the hopes he can regain his 2009 form.

    Vazquez had a 10-10 record with a 5.32 ERA in the Bronx last season versus a 15-10 record and 2.87 ERA in Atlanta in 2009.

    The reality is Vazquez is better suited for the National League (4.02 ERA in the NL versus a 4.65 ERA in the AL), but will he return to his overpowering self when he struck out 200-plus batters over the span of the season?

    The Marlins will need him to be if they are to compete in a crowded NL East where even teams like the Nationals are making a statement that they are a threat to be reckoned with.

The Defense Improves Mightily

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    PHOENIX - JULY 08:  Infielder Gaby Sanchez #14 of the Florida Marlins in action during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 8, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Marlins 10-4.  (Photo
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    For a look at how atrocious the Marlins defense has been since their market correction of 2005, when they brought young players into the fold, look at the numbers below: 

    2010: 123 errors (26th in the ML); 80-82 

    2009: 106 errors (25th in the ML); 87-75

    2008: 117 errors (28th in the ML); 84-77

    2007: 137 errors (30th in the ML); 71-91

    2006: 126 errors (28th in the ML); 78-84

    As you can observe, a few errors in the season can make the difference in the wins column, and the Marlins' plan has to be to get out of the bottom five in the defensive department while perhaps making strides towards being below the century mark for the first time since 2004, when the team was third best in the Major Leagues with 86 errors.

    For perspective, the 2003 championship squad was also third best and committed a total of 78 errors. The San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series this past season, committed 73 errors, and that was good for fourth best behind playoff-contending teams like the Reds, Yankees and the Padres, who fell short of the postseason.

    It can be said that the addition of defensive guru Perry Hill (who coached the Marlins during the 2003 and 2004 seasons) is perhaps the Marlins' best signing if it results in a vast improvement.

Matt Dominguez Is Major League-Ready

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    JUPITER, FL - MARCH 02:  Infielder Matt Dominguez #78 of the Florida Marlins poses during photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on March 2, 2010 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    On the subject of defense, the Marlins will need Matt Dominguez to be ready if they plan to be improved around the diamond.

    Dominguez brings with him what some say is a future Gold Glove, but perhaps what is missing is the object that Dominguez is holding in his hands in the photo: a bat. 

    The 21-year-old Dominguez hit .252 with 14 home runs and 81 RBI for the Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League and for his minor league career has a .257 batting average. Those aren't major league-ready numbers, but if the Marlins are to get his glove on the field, he must hit and do it quickly.

    Considering the Marlins are desperate for his glove, a .250 average in spring training with no other competition garnering better attention should give him the starting job at the hot corner in 2011.

Consistent and Reliable Bullpen

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 25:  Leo Nunez #46 of the Florida Marlins walks back to the mound after allowing a home run from David Wright #5 (background) of the New York Mets in the ninth inning on August 25, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Q
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    While the Marlins had a bullpen ERA of 4.01 (ahead of the Phillies' 4.02), the biggest issue was the closer's role, which blew a National League-leading 25 saves, second only to the Baltimore Orioles in the Major Leagues. The Marlins bullpen struggled, placing 14th out of 16 teams in total wins with 17.

    This offseason they've acquired Dustin Richardson, Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica and Mike Dunn in a series of trades in hopes that they can turn around their fortunes in the pen.

    The team will be hoping that Clay Hensley and Brian Sanches continue their solid work while praying Leo Nunez can emerge as the frontline closer the team envisioned him to be.

    However, the Marlins have no shortage of potential bullpen arms. They are more than likely to use rookie fifth starter Alex Sanabia as the long reliever and will get a long look at minor league starters Elih Villanueva (14-4, 2.26 ERA) and Tom Koehler (16-2, 2.61 ERA), who played for the Jacksonville Suns, for a potential bullpen spot, along with lefties Daniel Jennings (4-2, 2.56 ERA in 55.2 innings in AA Jacksonville) and Rob Rasmussen (recently drafted in the 2010 MLB Draft out of UCLA in the second round).

    The Marlins bullpen is expected to be a interesting spot in 2011 if all goes well out of spring training.

Josh Johnson Continues to Pitch in Cy Young-Caliber Form

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    ATLANTA - JULY 02:  Pitcher Josh Johnson #55 of the Florida Marlins against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Josh Johnson broke out in 2010 and pitched his way towards his second All-Star Game in consecutive seasons, establishing himself as one of the better pitchers in the National League.

    Had the bullpen been great, along with avoiding the late-season injury, Johnson could have challenged Roy Halladay for the Cy Young Award.

    Ever since he had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and made a full recovery almost a year after, Johnson has a 33-12 record with a 3.05 ERA.

    For the Marlins to make it far and challenge the Braves and Phillies, Johnson needs to repeat on his excellent season, which will go a long way in helping the Marlins' cause.

Owner Jeffrey Loria Doesn't Have an In-Season Managerial Panic Attack

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    MIAMI - AUGUST 17: Catcher Matt Treanor #20 of the Florida Marlins crashes into team owner Jeffrey Loria in the fifth inning while playing against the San Francisco Giants at Dolphin Stadium on August 17, 2007 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Get
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Jeffrey Loria has had these panic attacks twice in four years (once in 2006, when he fired Joe Girardi, and again in 2010, when he fired Fredi Gonzalez midseason). He would have fired Girardi in the middle of season, but his front office convinced him otherwise.

    If the Marlins have a plan to go after Ozzie Guillen, any firing or non-renewing of contracts must wait until the offseason when they can focus on their plans.

    Firing Fredi Gonzalez got the Marlins nowhere in 2010, going 46-46 and essentially not making any strides or downfalls. Firing E-Rod in 2011 because the team is struggling gives the team a bad name and eventually doesn't help in the long run (the Marlins open a brand new stadium in 2012).

    It may have worked in 2003, but lightning doesn't strike twice in less than a decade for any franchise.

Better Records Against the NL East

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    ATLANTA - APRIL 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Philiadelphia Phillies attempts to turn a double play over Matt Diaz #23 of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on April 22, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Fish beat up team below them in the NL East such as the Washington Nationals (13-5 in 18 games) and the New York Mets (12-6), which is what any contending team is supposed to do. However, the Marlins' challenge will be doing it against the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves. 

    While the Marlins were a combined 25-11 against the Mets and Nationals, they were 12-24 against the Braves (7-11) and Phillies (5-13), essentially proving that the better record the team had, the worse the Marlins were against them.

    While achieving success against every team in your division is fairly difficult, the magic number for the Marlins should be 44 division victories (an average of 11 against each rival), or just over a 60 percent winning percentage, to be assured the team has a legitimate shot when it is nearing October.

No Injury Bugs to Core Players

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    NEW YORK - APRIL 07:  Ricky Nolasco #47 of the Florida Marlins delivers a pitch against the New York Mets on April 7, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Marlins suffered from the injury bug in 2010, which ruined much of the Marlins' chances at the end.

    Chris Coghlan began it all with his pie-throwing celebration that tore the meniscus in his left knee, and then Ricky Nolasco (knee), Donnie Murphy (wrist), Josh Johnson (back) and Hanley Ramirez (elbow) all followed suit.

    Coghlan was the reigning Rookie of the Year, while Ramirez was the team's primary bat ahead of Dan Uggla. JJ and Nolasco were the team's top two starters, and without any of them the Marlins found themselves as a sub-.500 team at season's end.

    The bottom line? Injuries have to be cut down for the team to have any chance. It ruined the team's chances in 2007, when the franchise took a seven-win nose dive from 2006 because of season-ending injuries to Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Johnson.