The Marlins finished in second place in 2009, but the reality is they only scored 6 more runs than they allowed and the third-place Braves had a much better run differential. So Florida will have to improve more than a little if they’re going to compete for a playoff spot in 2010.
Offense isn’t a big problem for the Fish. In 2009, the Marlins scored more runs than every NL team except for the Phillies, Dodgers, Brewers and Rockies. But run prevention was a weakness. Division rivals Atlanta and Philadelphia allowed fewer runs.
As usual, the Marlins will insist on spending the bare minimum. Fortunately, improving this team shouldn’t cost much.
The biggest thing Florida can do to improve in 2010 is take Emilio Bonifacio, strap him to a rocket, and shoot him into space. Florida’s insistence on starting Bonifacio at third base and batting him leadoff for much of 2009 cost the team valuable runs. That can’t happen again.
Unfortunately, it might happen again. In his column today, Peter Gammons suggested that the Marlins will probably play Bonifacio at second base in 2010 (after they trade incumbent 2B Dan Uggla to shed payroll):
But if Emilio Bonifacio can play second base and improve his .303 on-base percentage, the Marlins pretty much know who and what they are going to be in 2010.
Bonifacio at second isn’t nearly as great a sin as Bonifacio at third, which is a position where teams generally field a player who contributes power and OBP. But Bonifacio, even if he proves to be a decent defender, should never again be allowed to bat leadoff. Never. Again.
If the Marlins are smart and get rid of Bonifacio altogether, that’ll open up holes at first base and third (assuming free agent 1B Nick Johnson signs elsewhere). Jorge Cantu can plug one of those holes — most likely third base. He’s no Brooks Robinson. Far, far from it. UZR hates Cantu at third. But he’s got decent pop and he’s relatively cheap and he’s in what should be his prime, and because of his defensive struggles he’s got little trade value. So he’ll have to do.
At first base, Gaby Sanchez should be given a shot at the big time after hitting .289/.374/.475 at Triple A. Logan Morrison is probably another year or two away, but could be ready by midseason.
With Uggla on his way out and Bonifacio an unappealing option, rookie of the year Chris Coghlan is another guy to consider at second base. At least, I think he can play second base. He played there in the minor leagues. If he could handle the position in 2010 that would be really great for the Fish. If he can’t, I suppose Florida could put him back in left field, though he wasn’t particularly good there last season. Actually, let me rephrase that. He was particularly bad in left last season. Bill James says he was the 34th best LF in the game, and he cost his team 16 runs, compared to the average left fielder. In fairness, Coghlan had never played the outfield before last season, and he’s likely improve in 2010, given the chance. But he’d have to improve a lot to justify running him out there again.
Florida is set with Camerin Maybin in CF and Cody Ross in one of the corner spots. The Fish are said to be in the market for another corner outfielder (again assuming Coghlan moves to the infield), and presumably Matt Holliday isn’t an option. But there are a couple of free agents out there who might be lured by the prospect of an everyday gig. Maybe Randy Winn, Eric Hinske or Coco Crisp?
As for Florida’s pitching, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are an incredibly solid 1-2 punch. Chris Volstad wasn’t good in 2009, but the 23-year-old groundball pitcher has a good shot at improving in 2010 if he can just surrender a few fewer flyballs. Even if Volstad doesn’t improve his flyball percentage this season, it’s unlikely he’ll once again give up homers at a 17.5% clip.
Andrew Miller, Sean West and Anibal Sanchez can fight it out for the final two rotation spots, and Florida would be wise to pick up a veteran SP to push the youngsters and give Florida one more option for the rotation. Doug Davis or Carl Pavano would be nice pick-ups, if the price were right. And let’s face it, in order for Florida to sign anyone, the price will have to be right.
Conclusion: I’d love to see Florida sign Crisp, who would do a lot to bolster the team’s defense. An outfield of Crisp, Maybin and Ross would be a defensive juggernaut. The real questions are 1. Can Coghlan play second base? 2. Can Cantu provide close to average defense at third? 3. Can Josh Johnson stay healthy? and 4. Can Sanchez hit big league pitching?
That’s a lot of questions, and I’m sure I forgot a few. A lot would have to go right for the Marlins to compete in 2010. But this is a young team, and young teams can sometimes surprise us.