Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Florida Marlins

By my count we've got 15 teams left and 18 days to do it and dang it, we're gonna try our hardest to pull it off. If we bleed into the season a little, no big deal. Today we have the Marlins and honestly, I've been looking forward to this one. The Marlins front-office has a somewhat-unique way of doing things and this off-season has proven no different. Throw in a handful of proven players they've developed and they've got a pretty exciting team this coming season.

2009 Record: 87-75, 6GB division winner Philadelphia Phillies, 5GB Wild Card

Key Additions:
I guess what I mean when I say that the Marlins 'do things in a unique way' is that they don't spend much money when they don't have to. They didn't sign one single notable outside-the-organization player this off-season; here's the list of those they did bring aboard:

Hunter Jones LHP (trade with Red Sox), Danny Richar UTL (MiL free agent from Reds), Jose Veras RHP (MiL free agent from Indians), Seth McClung RHP (MiL free agent from Brewers), Derrick Turnbow RHP (MiL free agent from Rangers), Scott Strickland RHP (MiL free agent from Dodgers), Jorge Jimenez INF (Rule 5 draft pick from Boston), Mike Lamb INF (MiL free agent from Mets), Mike MacDougal RHP (MiL free agent from Nationals)

Key Departures:
Here's the list, then the discussion:

Nick Johnson 1B (free agent, signed with Yankees), Ross Gload UTL (free agent, signed with Phillies), Matt Lindstrom RHP (traded to Astros), Jeremy Hermida OF (traded to Red Sox), Scott Proctor RHP (released, signed MiL deal with Braves), Brendan Donnelly RHP (free agent, signed with Pirates), Alfredo Amezaga INF (non-tendered, signed MiL deal with Dodgers), Kiko Calero RHP (free agent, signed MiL deal with Mets)

As is obvious, the Marlins lost many more notable (or at least recognizable) names than they brought on. None of the players lost was a starter, but Ross Gload, Jeremy Hermida and Alfredo Amezaga all played considerable time in the field. The journeyman Nick Johnson has now come full circle, playing for the team (the Yankees) that drafted him back in 1996. The fact of the matter in all this dealing is that the Marlins have enough up-and-coming talent to replace what they lost this season and also, they didn't waste funds on middle-of-the-road talent.

Talent En Route:
When it comes to the Marlins farm system, you think of names like Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, etc...all bonafide stars who developed with the Marlins. A little known fact is that the Marlins drafted Johan Santana as well and lost him to the Twins (Rule 5). This season, the Marlins have a couple of hot prospects, both ranked 5-stars by Baseball Prospectus.

Mike Stanton RF - (2nd round draft pick, 2007) Stanton is a prototypical power-hitter. First of all, the kid is literally a kid at 19 years old. He was drafted out of high school and has shown the power from the get go. Last year he split time between High-A and AA, with 28HRs and 92RBI in 551ABs and as is typical for power guys, also hit .255 with a near 3:1 K/BB ratio. Stanton has impressed so far this spring as well hitting 3 HRs in a limited number of games. Stanton was ranked #3 in Baseball America's Top 100 this year, behind only Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg. It is likely that Stanton will not break camp with the Marlins, but it is only a matter of time before he gets the call.

Logan Morrison 1B - (22nd round draft pick, 2005) Morrison was thought to be in contention for a starting spot with the big league club this spring, but has so far performed poorly going 1 for 18 with two walks. He hit for a .277/.411/.442 triple-slash last year in 79 games at Double-A and is the future first baseman for the Marlins. Right now his only competition is Gaby Sanchez, a good average/low power/poor fielding first basemen that doesn't really hold a candle to Morrison's ability to get on base. His weak showing might cost him an initial spot on the 40-man roster, but it won't be much longer for this 20th ranked prospect (Baseball America).

2011 Salary and Free Agency Outlook:
In some ways, doing this section for the Marlins is ridiculous because their roster turnover is only rivaled by the Nationals. Most of the important cogs for the Marlins still have a year or more of arbitration eligibility left with the only notable free agent for next year being Jorge Cantu (CANTUUUU!). Ramirez is locked up through 2014, Johnson was signed to a 4-year deal this past off-season and Nolasco won't be a free agent until 2013. When you look at the Marlins contracts situation, it really is amazing the talent they manage to assemble with the budget they have to work with. They are 2nd to last ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates in terms of team payroll, but they sport a formidable lineup with the likes of Ramirez, Uggla, and Ross and a starting rotation headlined by two studs in Johnson and Nolasco. Their payroll this coming season will be right around $36M and if you consider the teams who spend similar amounts of money and how much more success the Marlins have had, you can only tip your cap to the Marlins front office.

The Future of the Florida Marlins:
Given the core of young talent that the Marlins have amassed, and given the seeming stability they are going to have with that talent over the next few years, you have to come to the conclusion that this team will be a contender for the next few seasons at the least. Last year they finished 5 games out of a playoff spot, which given the history of the Marlins, would have given them as good of a shot as anyone. In 1997 and 2003, they were the NL Wild Card winners both times, and both times they won the World Series. A few more pieces here and there, maybe one more starter and I can see this team challenging for a wild card berth, if not the division crown.
Beyond 3-4 years, you have to imagine that the Marlins will not stray far from the strategy and tactics that won them two World Championships in the past 13 years. With a superior scouting department and the leadership of GM Larry Beinfest, the Marlins have had one of the most successful farm systems in the last 20 years producing star after star. With that kind of production they can keep costs down while remaining competitive. I can't imagine what it's been like as a Marlins fan to watch Derek Lee, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera leave, but hey, you can't argue with success. My team hasn't won a championship for 19 years, I'd gladly trade for some of the brutal seasons (54-108 in 1998) the Marlins if it meant a couple of world championships in recent memory.

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