Saturday, October 21, 2006

Looking Ahead: Florida Marlins

2006 W-L Record: 78-84
2006 pW-pL Record: 80-82
Runs Scored: 758 (8th of 16 in NL)
Runs Allowed: 772 (5th of 16)
2006 Free Agents: Wes Helms, Brian Moehler

Projected 2007 Lineup:
1B -- Mike Jacobs
2B -- Dan Uggla
SS -- Hanley Ramirez
3B -- Miguel Cabrera
LF -- Josh Willingham
CF -- ??
RF -- Jeremy Hermida
C -- Miguel Olivo

Proj. 2007 Rotation:
Dontrelle Willis
Josh Johnson
Scott Olsen
Anibal Sanchez
Ricky Nolasco

Proj. 2007 Closer: Joe Borowski?

The Good News:
The Marlins are an amazingly young and amazingly cheap team. Whereas other young teams will have to worry about salary arbitration this year and next, the Marlins will -- for the most part -- be off the hook. Most of the young performers on the club will be making the league minimum for about two more seasons before they're eligible for arbitration. The Marlins have an absolutely rock-bottom payroll, but they win a lot because they're chock-full of cheap young players who are actually good.
Unlike most every other team, the Marlins have a reliable core of young pitchers. Their youth and inexperience makes it difficult to count on them for the fine performances they turned in last year. But considering their salary, it's best to just let 'em play and concentrate on the less-potent offense.
With the offense, too, it's tough to predict that things will go as well as they did last year, especially for surprise/flukes like Dan Uggla. But even if some guys do regress, there's enough depth here to carry the load. If Hermida is healthy he stands to make a name for himself. The only real problem areas are center field and catcher. The Marlins tried several options in center this past season and will likely do the same this year unless someone plays well enough to win the job. And while Olivo is cheap and relatively valuable, he's just not pulling his weight at the plate. Even considering this, the Marlins have a solid lineup. It's hard to predict much more than 80 wins for them next year, but with a run of good fortune (and the continuing mediocrity of the NL), they could easily contend for the Wild Card.

The Bad News:
In other circumstances, this would mean that the Marlins had plenty of flexibility to sign free agents and make trades, potentially turning themselves into favorites for the Wild Card. In reality, of course, the Marlins will do no such thing. Their two best players, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, will be breaking the bank in arbitration soon, and rather than sign them to long-term deals (Cabrera especially is a young stud), the Marlins will probably trade them. Unless the team gets a new stadium or moves, we're likely to see this process repeated. It's been clear for a long time that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has other things on his mind besides winning ballgames. Loria has decimated the team in order to blackmail the state of Florida. Then, the Marlins get mad that no one comes to see their games, even when they're winning. But this is no surprise. If you go to a restaurant and get a cockroach in your soup, you're not likely to go back. Florida fans know better than to invest any passion in the team. They've been burned twice already.
If the Marlins ownership is ready to spend a little to help the team (and bring their payroll up closer to the minimum wage), they would be contenders, as I said before. But they won't, and it will take a lot of good luck and good development from their young players to push them ahead of the other 8 also-rans in the league.

Offseason Game Plan:
Ideally, the Marlins would find some low-cost center fielder or a solid young catcher to supplement the lineup. I'd recommend signing a veteran pitcher as insurance in case the rookies collapse, but they're going to be so overpaid that it's just not worth it.
The most important thing the Marlins need to do is fire Jeffrey Loria. That's pretty much impossible, though, so it's up to everyone else to try and build something important in South Florida while the owner jerks the team back and forth and uses them as a poker chip in bargaining with and extorting the state of Florida. A lot of pressure is on GM Larry Beinfest and new manager Fredi Gonzalez to try and win under these incredibly difficult circumstances.
While the Marlins should contend for the Wild Card as they did in 2006, there's no clear sign that they're ready to take another big step forward. With so many young stars, their long-term outlook is great; but any long-term plan is subject to the will of Loria. As such, it's a safer bet to slot the Marlins in 3rd or 4th place as the shameful South Florida baseball saga continues.

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