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2013 preview: Miami Marlins

Mar 15, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

Giancarlo Stanton AP

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 2013 season. Up next: The Miami Marlins.

The Big Question: Can the Marlins recover from their latest fire sale?

A little over a year ago, the Marlins opened up the season with a new, reinvigorated outlook. Their Opening Day payroll increased from $57.7 million in 2011 to $101.6 million thanks to three big free agent signings: Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. They had also acquired Carlos Zambrano, bolstering a core that included Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez.

On July 22, the Marlins found themselves at 44-51, 12.5 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals. Feeling a second-half surge too improbable, they traded Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers, then sent Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers two days later. The Marlins went 25-42 the rest of the way, but they weren’t done selling.

On November 19, the Marlins and Blue Jays pulled off one of the biggest trades (in terms of number of players involved) in baseball history. The Fish sent Reyes, Johnson, Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and cash to the Toronto Blue Jays. In return, they received Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, prospect Adeiny Hechavarria along with three other Minor Leaguers. As a result, the roster the Marlins will be opening up 2013 with looks nothing like their 2012 iteration. Those getting their first attempts at an everyday job include shortstop Hechavarria, center fielder Justin Ruggiano, second baseman Donovan Solano, and catcher Rob Brantly. Steve Cishek, with 18 career saves, will start the season as the closer.

Even for a roster that is infused with so much youth, the Marlins took some gambles as well. Logan Morrison, who can never seem to stay healthy, is taking over at first base while injury-prone 37-year-old Placido Polanco will patrol third base. 35-year-old Juan Pierre is the everyday left fielder.

Frankly, it’s tough to see what their game plan is. Despite a payroll that has shrunk below $40 million, they are not entering a rebuilding phase and they do not lay claim anything better than an average farm system, at least according to Keith Law. One year after opening up a new stadium which cost $634 million — $376.3 and $132.5 million of which was paid for by Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, respectively – you have to wonder what, besides retaining Giancarlo Stanton, they are doing to draw fans to games.

2013 is going to be ugly in so many ways for the Marlins and what little remains of their fan base.

What else is going on? 

  • Ricky Nolasco is eligible for free agency after the season. It will be his last opportunity to strike it rich. The 30-year-old right-hander has failed to live up to lofty expectations throughout his career, owning a 4.49 ERA in over 1,100 innings. His ability to miss bats has fallen precipitously in recent years: his strikeout rate was 25 percent in 2009, but was only 15 percent last year. Don’t think the other 29 GM’s in baseball haven’t noticed because the Marlins have had ample opportunities to move him and simply couldn’t. If he can 1.) stay healthy; 2.) post good results; 3.) with an improved strikeout rate, there may be a team or two willing to pay for his services after the season.
  • How good can Giancarlo Stanton be? Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system sees a .973 OPS with 41 home runs. He was at .969 with 37 dingers last year, so it is certainly realistic. That would put him around a 160 adjusted OPS. If achieved, he would join Mike Trout (2012) and Albert Pujols (2003) as the only three players in the 2000’s to post a 160 or better adjusted OPS at the age of 23 or younger. Two things to keep an eye on: 1) will the Marlins trade him, either mid-season or during the off-season? 2) will he surpass his MLB-leading (according to Hit Tracker Online) 494 feet on an August 17 home run against Josh Roenicke at Coors Field? Never forget.
  • Steve Cishek has a chance to become a decent closer. He posted a  2.63 and 2.69 ERA in 2011 and ’12, respectively, fooling hitters with a funky side-arm delivery. He still needs to work on his control – a ten percent walk rate won’t cut it in high-leverage situations over the long haul. But the potential is certainly there.
  • Ugh. Seriously, the Marlins roster as a whole is depressing and ugly with very few long-term prospects. Let’s be honest, Jeffrey Loria and David Samson are bad for baseball.

Prediction: Fifth place, National League East.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 15, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    You heard it here first…I bet you that the Marlins end up with a better record this year than they they had last year. They will win 70+ games. Then maybe the people who whine about Loria will just stop whining about how bad for baseball he is, when he is no worse than the owners of the Pirates or the Royals. Even Bill jumps on the bandwagon above. I hope there’s a throwaway line about how “bad for baseball” David Glass is if he does the Kansas City Royals preview. Ya know…since it’s been almost 3 DECADES since they even made the frigging playoffs.

    • dan1111 - Mar 15, 2013 at 12:38 PM

      Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marlins ended up with a better record than last year.

      However, that won’t convince anyone that Loria is good for baseball. There may be a lot of whining, but that whining is backed up by evidence.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        Not being “bad for baseball” doesn’t make someone “good for baseball”. There is something called just there, which I believe Loria is. Just there. He isn’t harming baseball one bit. At least not any more than owners of some of the other teams. Everyone is whining about the trades…well guess what…unlike many other teams, at least Loria spent $100 million bucks in 2012 and gave it a shot. It failed miserably because Miami is simply not a baseball town. Just because he got a new stadium doesn’t automatically make him money unless it fills up. And with that crop of contracts, it wasn’t filling up because they sucked. Had they filled the stadium and made the playoffs, the team would not have been broken up.

        The Marlins can suck in a half-full stadium with a $100 million dollar payroll or they can suck in a quarter-full stadium with a $40 million dollar payroll.

        Just like Craig wrote a while back…”It’s a business”

    • chacochicken - Mar 15, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      I think you are confusing “ineffective” or “cheap” with “bastard”.

    • drewsylvania - Mar 15, 2013 at 5:41 PM

      We don’t need to be apologists for Loria. But if we’re going to lambast him all the time, might as well give credit where it is due to douchenozzles like Glass.

  2. proudlycanadian - Mar 15, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Hello Bill. I guess you were rewarded with this assignment because you are the new guy. Somebody had to do it.

  3. ryanrockzzz - Mar 15, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    Agreed, but your post suggests that because there are worse owners, that is also an excuse for Loria to be doing what he’s doing. All of those owners are poor, both in the ownership sense and what they claim financially. I would agree that all are bad for baseball, and it’s a shame that baseball has let teams like the Pirates and Royals remain irrelevant for so long, but Loria to me Loria is the worst of the bunch.
    The owners of the Royals and Pirates have slogging attendance that yes in part to them, but does not allow them the financial flexibility someone who just opened a huge new stadium last year has. The fact that this came only one year after that was built, and that it’s happened multiple times before after the team was good makes him the worst in my opinion.

  4. dondada10 - Mar 15, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    I also have a prediction for the Marlins’ season:

  5. steelers88 - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Marlins LOL

    • southbeachtalent - Mar 15, 2013 at 4:53 PM

      Pirates….. sad…

  6. dumbasdirt - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    So what your saying is that the odds are a million to one that the Marlins will make the playoffs in 2013. Which means they still have a chance.

    • jwbiii - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:51 PM

      The Vegas line is 40-1, B-Pro has them at 60-1.

      • Old Gator - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        Someone put acid in the water supply in Vegas, then. I’d say the odds were closer to the earth being struck by an asteroid the size of the K-T nemesis rock….tomorrow.

      • jwbiii - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:40 PM

        I’d bet the under, too. But a 2.5% return for something I’m not going to see for 7 months? No bet.

  7. Old Gator - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    What a kind assessment.

    Just wondering where the folks who predict a banner year for the Iron Giant think he’s going to get pitches to hit – at the local bead boutique? Yeah, right – hey, Tweeter is up next, so we better take a chance with this crusher? Oh dear Buddha, if we walk the Iron Giant we’ll have to pitch to Justin Ruggiano? Better grove one to that simulacrum of Goliath now advancing to the plate. Uh-huh.

    This team loses over 100 games this year.

    And yes, Scrooge McLoria is bad for baseball. When you destroy a fan base in its cradle, you’re bad for baseball. When no one comes to see you play, they don’t come to see the other team play either, and the other team’s revenue is impacted negatively. Bad for baseball. When you are perceived as having betrayed and cheated your community as disastrously as Scrooge has, you are bad for baseball. When you bring disgrace upon the game through lying to your fan base and to the so-called public servants who operate in the trust that fan base has placed in it, you are bad for baseball even when those public servants were corrupt and gullible in their transactions with you. When you live as a parasite on the earnings of larger market teams and refuse to re-invest the money other teams have earned through their own competence and good faith, you are bad for baseball. The ownership of the Royals and Pirates may suck, and their ineptitude and impecuniousness may be bad for baseball as well, but Scrooge McLoria and his little crime family, given the damage they have done via their knowing and willing collaboration with the whores on the city and county commissions to the financial structure of the community in which they play, are worse.You can only see them as “just as bad” by deliberately ignoring lots of other aspects of the way they’ve run their “business.”

  8. bankboy2012 - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    Ugh. Seriously, the Marlins roster as a whole is depressing and ugly with very few long-term prospects.
    This would have sufficed for the entire preview. “Meh” also would have been acceptable. I guess the overlords told you they all had to be at least a couple of paragraphs?

  9. madhatternalice - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    Technically, Solano took over 2nd base in August of last year.

    I do wonder how good Stanton will be with no one hitting around him.

    • Old Gator - Mar 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      In the immortal words of Cookie Monster, not bad but not delicious. This is going to have to be a learning year for him – patience at the plate, hanging back and waiting for mistakes. And given what this pitching staff looks like, he’s going to get lots of practice running down line drives and pegging to second base this season, too.

      • sumerduckman - Mar 15, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        They need to hire Vlad Guerrero to teach Stanton how to hit trash. Probably all he is going to see this year.

  10. moogro - Mar 15, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    120 walks

  11. mungman69 - Mar 15, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    Can Miami be worse than my son’s high school team?

  12. mikefoxtrot - Mar 15, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    It’s gonna take Miami a few years to become a winning team and by that time Stanton will be making real money and getting ready to leave as a free agent.

    nobody is going to do anything but pitch around him and hope he swings at junk unless either they CAN’T walk him or the marlins are so out of the game that it simply doesn’t matter if he hits.

    they probably should trade him now

  13. johnb1990 - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    You missed Mike Redmond. He knows how to work a team from the clubhouse through the mound situations. Big overlook in your analysis.

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