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Springtime Storylines: Are the Marlins the most interesting team in baseball?

Apr 2, 2012, 7:50 PM EDT

Ozzie Guillen Getty Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The new-look Miami Marlins.

The big question: Are the Marlins the most interesting team in baseball?

The Florida Marlins are no longer. We now have the Miami Marlins, complete with a new logo and uniforms, a quirky, new taxpayer-funded stadium and new skipper Ozzie Guillen, who has made a habit out of being a lightning rod for controversy. After years of fielding a team on the cheap, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally opened his wallet over the winter and while he didn’t lure Albert Pujols to South Florida, he was successful in getting Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell into the fold. The Marlins also made a deal with the Cubs in January for Carlos Zambrano, who ended last season on the restricted list after his latest personal meltdown.

Back from shoulder surgery, Hanley Ramirez is making the move over to third base to accommodate Reyes at shortstop. The 28-year-old reportedly had a tough time accepting the position change, but he hasn’t sulked yet. Just as the Marlins made the switch from Florida to Miami, Mike Stanton is now going by Giancarlo Stanton. At just 22 years old, he’s already one of the best power hitters in the game. And we also have baseball’s most famous tweeter Logan Morrison, who was demoted to the minors last season after clashing with management.

Win or lose, the Marlins should be the most interesting team in baseball this season. They certainly have the pieces in place to overtake the Phillies in the division, but they should also come with a warning label that reads, “contents may ignite or explode.” Showtime clearly sees the potential for great television, as they plan to feature them on the new season of “The Franchise.”

What else is going on?

  • Josh Johnson had a 1.64 ERA over his first nine starts last year before landing on the disabled list in May with a mysterious shoulder injury. No structural damage was ever found, but it was apparently serious enough where he didn’t make another start for the rest of the season. The 28-year-old right-hander hasn’t had any setbacks this spring, but it’s tough to count on him considering that he has logged more than 190 innings just once in his career. Anibal Sanchez has surprisingly made 32 starts in each of the past two seasons, but his injury history is also worrisome. The Marlins would have a tough time making a serious run if even one of them misses an extended period of time.
  • How is the new ballpark going to play? We need large sample of games before making an accurate judgment and this could be a very different stadium depending upon whether the roof is open, but the dimensions of the outfield are pretty big. The center field fence is 416 feet away from home plate while right-center field is 31 feet further away than it was in Sun Life Stadium. Only the fence down the right field line (335 ft) is closer than their former home. Giancarlo Stanton can hit home runs anywhere, but this probably means a favorite environment for the pitching staff and lots of triples for Jose Reyes.
  • No, I didn’t forget about the elaborate and unusual home run sculpture beyond the left-center field fence. We’ve talked about it so much over the past year or so that its debut is almost as anticipated as Stephen Strasburg‘s was. As ridiculous at it looks, I think this gaudy hunk of metal will grow on us over time. Sort of like the episode of “Seinfeld” where that girl found George Costanza really irritating initially, but then he got stuck in her head. Co-stan-za!
  • Will people actually show up to the new ballpark in Little Havana? The Marlins have ranked last in the National League in attendance in each of the last six seasons, so I have my doubts. Of course, Loria hasn’t provided any reason for someone to want to come see the team. He has generated buzz this winter by adding some star power to the roster and he has been overt about attracting the Hispanic community, so the honeymoon phase should go well enough. But if they don’t win? Let’s just say I wouldn’t rule out another fire sale.

So how are they gonna do?

Best-case? Johnson throws 200 innings, Stanton hits 40 homers, Reyes stays mostly healthy and Hanley embraces the move to third base while bouncing back from his down 2011 campaign. If those things happen, the Marlins should challenge the Phillies for the division crown. However, I think there are way too many variables that could mess with that optimistic scenario. I have them in third place with around 85-88 wins, which puts them right in the mix for the second wild card spot.

  1. seanatch - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    Most definitely! I grew up a Mets fan and rooted for them up until 2006, but I am more excited & more interested to watch the Marlins this year. It’s gonna be the South Beach Soap Opera! …in the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait”.

  2. sleepyirv - Apr 2, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    What an odd word to describe a baseball team- “interesting.” It’s not like any Marlins are refugees from North Korea or award winning children’s authors. For my money, I would save the adjective for Lou Brown’s Indians.

  3. illadelphiasphinest - Apr 2, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    Miami Marlins are the NY Jets of the MLB.
    A circus!!

  4. phillyhatesyou - Apr 2, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    more like most annoying team in baseball

  5. mybrunoblog - Apr 2, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    Marlins have a outspoken manager, new ballpark and a big free agent. Somewhat intriguing but at the end of the day they are the marlins and lets be honest. Nobody really cares.

  6. drunkenhooliganism - Apr 2, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    I don’t always use twitter, but when I do, i curse and am barely intelligible.

  7. 4d3fect - Apr 2, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    I don’t always win a WS, but when I do, I sell off the team piecemeal ASAP.

  8. Old Gator - Apr 2, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    I have to agree with DJ here. If all of the Feesh stay healthy – no fin rot, gill parasites, scale canker, ick, dropsy, Pfiesteria piscicidia or unanticipated haloclines in their tanks – they ought to do well. Otherwise, they’re liable to wind up like my hapless little buddy Nemo here:

    I think there are also key performance problems, health issues notwithstanding. Watching Ricky Nolasco get sheschmetered by the Borg yesterday reminds us how erratic he can be, great stuff or not. And as I’ve been saying since the horrible news of his acquisition reached me this past weenter, Krazy Karlos Lamebraino is a liability on many levels, psychiatric issues notwithstanding. He’s had a mediocre spring (to put it politely) and, conventional wisdom about spring aside, that’s pretty much consistent with where he was last year before he went Jet Blue Cockpit on the Cubs. His hermano and guardian harpy Slobbering Ozzie thinks he can keep him focused, much less control him. We shall see. I remain skeptical.

    The Feesh had one of the worst records with RISP last season. Their offensive addition this past weenter consisted entirely of adding Jose Reyes, who, while formidable when healthy, is a get-on-base guy but if the problem is driving runners home, a lot of his offense could be wasted. Aside from a maturing Iron Giant, the Feesh will need much better situational hitting out of the Hanster, Tweeter and, especially, Gabby Sanchez. If Tweeter hasn’t learned to keep his keyboard zipped and his mouse dry, and to bear down with men on base instead of popping the occasional bases-empty dinger, he may find himself playing somewhere else before the trade deadline – possibly New Orleans exile again. It would also help a lot if he has figured out where the ball is coming down and makes a more or less direct run for it, instead of tracing crop circles in the St. Augustine while he plots the Gravity’s Rainbow of the incoming projectile.

    Then there’s the grossly overpaid John Buck, whose contract must have been a practice run for the forthcoming free agent camera safari on which Scrooge McLoria and the Chihuahua embarked last weenter. One must hope will handle the pitching staff well to compensate for his periodic flirtations with the Mendoza Line – though that’s a lot like being told by your friend that the blind date he is trying to arrange for you with his sister’s visiting college roommate will be justified by her great personality.

    • cur68 - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:21 PM

      Will there be a “pedo en el viento” comment forthcoming from the Hanster re. his 2011 campaign? I look forward to more werthy-style comments in any language.

      • Old Gator - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:34 PM

        Hard to say. He seems to be bending over forwards to project a positive image, and he’s had a pretty good spring, so we shall see.

        Meantime, Krazy Karlos got slapped around by the Borg pretty good tonight – helping himself to a five-run debacle by walking seven. In volcanology, there’s a telltale sort of quake pattern that sets in just before an eruption, called a harmonic tremor. I do believe we’re witnessing the first harmonic tremors of Lamebraino’s 2012 campaign. We shall see this, too.

      • cur68 - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:38 PM

        ¿Ah, so it’s Z that’s gonna do the “pedo en el viento”, si?

      • Old Gator - Apr 3, 2012 at 6:35 AM

        Yeah, most likely. If his spring is any indicator. But I hesitate to say that he’s struggling with his focus because I haven’t seen any evidence that he has any focus with which to struggle in the first place.

        He’s Slobbering Ozzie’s pet project, much as Friendo is mine. The difference is that I have no sentimental illusions about who or what Friendo is.

  9. allsportsnyfan - Apr 2, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    Not really, I was at the game on Saturday against the Yankees, and me included cheered everything the Yanks did, and very few fans for the Marlins, stadium is awesome, but, was not filled like they said it was. Fans here are fair weather fans, they will only show up if they are winning, they are football fans. Stadium was nice and cool, compare to the Joe Robbie stadium, which is a sauna in summer time. Wish them the best.

    • Old Gator - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:26 AM

      You’d never know they were football fans to see the sparse crowds at Joeprodolsharklife Stadium this past season. We’re even having trouble finding a quarterback who’s a football fan. We have a terminal bungler for a GM and an owner who seems to want to keep him for a pillow book or something. Ross and Ireland make McLoria and his Chihuahua look like the Chinese politburo.

      And as far as being fair weather fans, well yeah, it can hardly be helped. We have a lot of fair weather down here, even if we’re kinda short on good pizza.

  10. stex52 - Apr 3, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    Good luck, OG. The Marlins have some talented players and the chance to be exciting, holes in the lineup notwithstanding. The Astros, by comparison, stand a good chance of being the scarey tale you tell your kids so they don’t grow up to be General Managers.

    Hope your guys throw some surprises at the NL East.

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