This is one of a series of posts in which we brashly belittle each team for their brutal offseason blunders and praise them where possible for any potentially prescient ploys.
The recurring tragedy of the Florida Marlins is that they are so young and talented, that in each of the past few seasons they have been only a piece or two away from some serious postseason contention, despite having the lowest payroll in the Major Leagues. This is a credit to the deft running of the organization by long-suffering GM Larry Beinfest, as well as a big steaming discredit to the tightfisted luxury tax profiteering of owner Jeffrey Loria.
This year is much the same. Make no mistake about it – the 2009 Marlins, although largely young and untested, have a chance to be good. As in really really good.
As usual Marlins conducted yet another fire sale this offseason, getting rid of just about anyone who was arbitration eligible, in what has become an annual ritual of sorts in South Florida. But what makes offseason a bit different from recent years is that none of the guys they shipped out are actually all that good, or actually all that necessary.
First they shipped out-machine 1B Mike Jacobs (.299 OBP) to the Royals for talented young reliever Leo Nuñez (2.98 ERA). Then they sent mediocre closer Kevin Gregg to the Cubs for fireballing minor-league reliever Jose Ceda. Finally they dealt league average and no-longer-young corner outfielder Josh Willingham along with starting pitcher and BABIP mirage Scott Olsen to the Nats for slick-fielding 2B prospect Emilio Bonifacio and two other minor leaguers.
All of these deals make a certain kind of sense, if you think about it from a Marlins perspective. Jacobs had to be moved to clear the way for hot prospect Gaby Sanchez, while Nuñez and Ceda can fill in the bullpen holes left by Gregg and free agent departee Joe Nelson for a fraction of the cost. Meanwhile, Olson was traded at a “sell high” moment, as he is unlikely to ever repeat his 4.20 ERA from last season, and Bonifacio gives the Marlins a major league-ready 2B option if they decide to move Dan Uggla, whom the team has already stated it has no intention of signing to a long-term deal.
Meanwhile the Fish still have an impressive core of young talent. Hanley Ramirez is a monster at the plate and on the basepaths, and if they can stay healthy, starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, and Chris Volstad all have ace potential, which means that along with a healthy Anibal Sanchez, the Marlins actually have the best pitching rotation in the NL East, believe it or not.
The bench is also a source of strength. Alfredo Amezaga is the best utility man in baseball for his ability to provide a plus glove and reasonable offense at any position on the diamond. Dallas McPherson provides some nice left-handed pop, and Wes Helms, whom the Fish got for a single dollar last year, is a serviceable fill-in at the corners.
Areas of potential weakness include the outfield and the bullpen, but if Jeremy Hermida continues to make strides on offense, Cody Ross continues to only ever hit home runs, and Cameron Maybin even vaguely approximates the Willy Mays impression he did on both offense and defense in a small sample size last fall, the outfield can become a strength, especially defensively in the cavernous Dolphins Stadium outfield. Plus, if untested flamethrowers like Matt Lindstrom, Taylor Tankersley, and Ceda can step up in the pen then leads may be safe after all.
Perhaps the biggest weakness is infield defense. Ramirez has improved a bit from his rookie season, but his glovework doesn’t exactly remind anyone of Omar Vizquel. Meanwhile Jorge Cantu is a butcher anywhere you try to put him, and Dan Uggla’s embarrassing 3 errors in last year’s All-Star Game were not exactly a surprise to Marlins fans. Not sure how this problem can be fixed, but at least these guys get back at the plate the runs they give away in the field, having smashed a combined 93 homers between them last season.
Nobody is going to pick the Marlins to win the East, nor do they look like winners on paper. But a team this young and this talented is going to be loaded with upside, so while things could easily go wrong, if a few things break right they could also go very very well. And even if they don’t win the division, there is always the wild card, which is the road the Marlins took to their last two World Series titles. Consider the Fish my dark horse pick for contention this season.
Which brings us to the offseason grade. It’s always difficult to give the Marlins an offseason grade because they don’t play by the same rules as everyone else and it all depends on how you evaluate their goals. GM Larry Beinfest probably deserves an “A” for his personal grade every year for even managing to come close to contending with such a constricted payroll, and if you evaluate the Marlins by the goals that they set for themselves then they are also doing well, making money hand over fist by pocketing the difference between their luxury tax-padded revenues and their miniscule payroll.
Even if you evaluate the Marlins strictly on what they do toward constructing a competitive team, you have to give them some credit this year because they mostly got rid of flotsam while getting value in return. They do get docked however, for probably not getting as much as they could have by trading Olsen and Willingham together instead of separately, and for letting valuable reliever Joe Nelson walk when he could have been signed fairly cheaply (and immediately was, by the cross-state Rays).
But in the end, you’ve still got to punish them a good deal for Loria’s pure, unadulterated greed.
Offseason Grade: C+
Acquisitions: IF Emilio Bonifacio, P Scott Proctor, P Jose Ceda, P Leo Nuñez
Losses: 1B Mike Jacobs, OF Josh Willingham, P Scott Olsen, P Kevin Gregg, P Joe Nelson, OF Luis Gonzalez
Projected Starting Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
C John Baker
1B Gaby Sanchez
2B Dan Uggla
3B Jorge Cantu
SS Hanley Ramirez
LF Jeremy Hermida
CF Cameron Maybin
RF Cody Ross
SP1 Rickey Nolasco
SP2 Josh Johnson
SP3 Chris Volstad
SP4 Anibal Sanchez
SP5 Andrew Miller
CL Matt Lindstrom