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Springtime storylines: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

Mar 22, 2011, 10:24 PM EDT

Florida Marlins v St. Louis Cardinals Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The ever-pesky Florida Marlins.

The Big Question: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

We’ve come to expect a particular narrative from the Marlins over the past few seasons. While owner Jeffrey Loria doesn’t spend much on player payroll, we can usually count on the Marlins to be a pesky bunch that will hang around just long enough so that they look like contenders around the trade deadline. However, they ultimately fall short down the stretch.

That’s essentially what we saw from them again last season, as Edwin Rodriguez took over for Fredi Gonzalez in June and led the Marlins to a 46-46 record the rest of the way. The most positive development from an on-the-field perspective was that Mike Stanton flashed elite power potential as a 20-year-old and Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison emerged as potential regulars moving forward.

The Marlins engaged in contract talks with the arbitration-eligible Dan Uggla following the season, but ultimately swapped him to the Braves for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn after he rejected a four-year, $48 million extension. It was a disappointing return for the Fish, especially considering that they traded him to a division rival.

The hope is that Stanton can provide the thump in the middle of the order for the long haul – and while he certainly appears capable of doing just that — I have some concerns about their offense this season, especially if they give 21-year-old Matt Dominguez the opportunity to sink or swim at third base. After losing one of the most reliable power hitters in the game, the Marlins are now banking on productivity from a number of young and inexperienced players.

So what else is going on?

  • Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez already give the Marlins a pretty good chance to win, so if Javier Vazquez rebounds, the starting rotation could be a real strength. It’s fair to expect some improvement with the move back to the National League — and away from Yankee Stadium — but Vazquez is unlikely make a major impact unless he consistently throws in the low-90s again. Back end starter? Fine. But let’s not get carried away just yet.
  • The Marlins plan — at least at the moment — to use Chris Coghlan in center field. The decision is bad enough since advanced metrics haven’t been kind to him in left field, but Coghlan is also coming back from knee surgery and is currently dealing with shoulder soreness. The alternatives aren’t great (Emilio Bonifacio, DeWayne Wise, Scott Cousins), but Coghlan could be a real adventure out there. If Dominguez struggles or begins the year in the minors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coghlan get a look at second base or third eventually.
  • Marlins relievers led the National League in walks last season and finished ninth in ERA, so they made it a priority to revamp their bullpen during the winter. Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Brian Sanches and Burke Badenhop remain, but they added Dunn in the Uggla trade, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica in the Cameron Maybin deal and Randy Choate as a free agent. Bullpens can be pretty fickle from year-to-year, but they should be better, at least on paper.
  • Dominguez could open the year on the major league roster, but there’s not much more help on the way. Now that Sanchez, Stanton and Morrison have graduated from the minors, the Marlins have one of the weakest farm systems in the game. If they’re going to win, they’re going to have to do it with what they currently have.

So how are they gonna do?

While I expect them to play better than .500 ball this year, I just don’t see them finishing ahead of the Braves or Phillies. Sure, Hanley will be Hanley and there will likely be some progression from Morrison and Stanton, but I’m not crazy about their third base situation and I’m betting against a repeat from new catcher John Buck.

So yes, another third place finish it is. On the bright side, the Marlins have a pretty exciting cast of young players under team control for the opening of their new stadium next season.

  1. docktorellis - Mar 23, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    Wow, I’d nearly forgotten about DeWayne Wise… But I’ll never forget that incredible catch at the wall to preserve Buerhle’s perfect game. Youtube… ENGAGE!

  2. Old Gator - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    Buck has looked OK this spring – but just OK. He’ll add a few more extra base hits but in the context of the archetypical Scrooge McLoria budget, that ridiculous $18mm contract will be an albatross. If Buck fizzles, having to pay him will keep Scrooge from even considering laying out bucks to bring in help by the trade deadline. And we all know what albatrosses do to Feesh. And given that they’re just hyperpineal seagulls doing Bill Walton impersonations, wouldn’t want to be a fan underneath one, either. On the plus side, Feesh fans are usually so sparsely distributed through the stands at Joeprodolsharklife Stadium that the chances of hitting one with a clam, or anything softer, are probably pretty minimal.

    It’s tough to call the Iron Giant’s arc this season since he hasn’t even taken the field yet, and with his assortment of aches and pains this spring on top of his reconstructed knee, Coghlan, unfortunately, is beginning to look chronically frangible. Boy, do I hope I’m wrong about that. Plus, let’s not forget that he was in the midst of a season-long sophomore fizzle last season when he hurt himself. Ergo, he doesn’t look like he’ll be the top-of-the-order threat he was in ’09. I haven’t seen a lot of fire out of Hanley Ramirez this spring either, so if he came to camp resolved to show ’em all what he’s really made of after last season’s flat performance, we need to hope he’s saving it up for opening day. I look for Gaby Sanchez to have an excellent sophomore campaign – this kid is a keeper. And Omar Infante should really improve the porousness of the right side of the infield.

    But third base looks to continue to be the Achilles heel it has been since Mike Lowell left. I still think Larry Beinfest should seriously consider signing Bugs Bunny as a rule 5 player. If he doesn’t pan out, you don’t even need to tear up his contract. Just flip a switch and let the clubhouse shower rain dip on him.

    Up until just recently, the boolpen hasn’t looked a whole lot different than last season’s arson squad. Choate was getting lit up pretty good the last time I noticed. Maybe their matches are a little wetter than the last batch of firebugs, but they’ve served up some pretty ugly middle and late inning stints so far. Some of the worst culprits are gone, true, but…well…we have hopes to work with but nothing to inspire much confidence.

    I like the starting rotation, of course. I expect Nolasco, who was a slow starter last year, will get his act together before April is over. JJ is…well…JJ. If he’s healthy, he’s a force of nature. I see Vasquez as an inning-eater with a high-3’s ERA, but I expect Chris Volstad and, eventually, Alex Sanabia to be very good this year. The problems will still come when they hand off close games in the late middle innings.

    Overall, it doesn’t look to me like a real great season ahead – and I really thought, going into February, that this would be a much better team than it looks to me like it’s actually going to be.

  3. rapmusicmademedoit - Mar 23, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    will anyone go to the games, that is a better question. in the old day’s Georgie would have bought the Fish and keep the good players and throw the rest over the bridge, the good old day’s.

    Marlin fans should watch more Yankees games, it’s better fir their health.

  4. mike429w - Mar 31, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    I don’t plan on going to any Marlins games this year. Most of them are televised, anyway. I don’t like paying for a ticket, driving 35 miles to the stadium and paying crazy prices at the concession stand.

    Much more enjoyable watching it at home. Only downside is not having a chance to catch a foul ball.

    With Jeffrey Loria as the owner, they don’t have a shot at winning the division.

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