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2009 Florida Marlins: Not much to tell. 2008 Spring Preview
by ErAsher B. Chancey,
March 29, 2008

I have railed against the inadequate and inequitable financial system in major league baseball for years (in my head at least). I think it is fundamentally unfair to expect teams from Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Oakland, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis to compete dollar-for-dollar with teams from New York, Chicago, LA, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. And I am not afraid to admit this.

But I do not put the Florida Marlins on the list of teams that are being treated unfairly.

Why? Well, let’s put it in the form of the Top Three Reasons Not to Feel Bad for the Florida Marlins and Their Paltry Earnings:

3. The Marlins have one of the worst owners in all of baseball in Jeffrey Loria. He ended up as the majority owner of the Montreal Expos and then screwed the franchise. That franchise is still recovering. He then took over the Marlins and, from all accounts, competes with the other teams in baseball only in owner’s compensation – he appears to keep the money for himself while putting the cheapest team on the field that he can manage. Its not that the Marlins can’t compete, it’s that they don’t.

2008 Standings - NL East
East W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Philadelphia Phillies 92 70 .568 0 48-33 44-37 799 680 .573 60-48 32-22
New York Mets 89 73 .549 3 48-33 41-40 799 715 .551 55-51 34-22
Florida Marlins 84 77 .522 7.5 45-36 39-41 770 767 .502 62-56 22-21
Atlanta Braves 72 90 .444 20 43-38 29-52 753 778 .485 52-57 20-33
Washington Nationals 59 102 .366 32.5 34-46 25-56 641 825 .387 37-66 22-36

One has to wonder whether it is a coincidence that the two teams most famous for playing in empty stadiums in the last twenty years crowds have been owned by Jeffrey Loria.

2. Two World Series Championships since 1993. I am a Cubs fan; I would take half that many Championships in six times as many years. Nobody wins two World Series in fifteen years and deserves pity.

1. Miami is not a small market. According 2008 Census Bureau estimates, Miami has the seventh largest metropolitan area after New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Houston. This means that only the Mets, Yankees, Angles, Dodgers, Cubs, White Sox, Rangers, Phillies, and Astros play in larger media markets than the Marlins, and six of those teams have to share their markets with a second team. Yet, in 2008, the Marlins had the lowest attendance in the NL behind the Pirates, Reds, Nationals, and Padres.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
None OF
Departed Pos.
Mike Jacobs 1B
Kevin Gregg RP
Josh Willingham OF
Scott Olsen SP
So what excuse do the Marlins possibly have for having the lowest payroll in baseball by over half, and the lowest attendance in baseball? The notion that baseball can’t work in Florida is hard to make, given Florida’s central role in spring training. The notion that fans won’t come to games because it is hot is also hard to support, given the popularity of baseball in Arlington, Los Angeles, and San Diego. It can’t be Miami’s large Latino population, since baseball has wide appeal in the Latino community.

The Florida Marlins have all the necessary ingredients for a successful baseball franchise, except for one – an owner willing and/or able to make it work. Blame the markets if you want, but the enemy of baseball in Florida is Jeffrey Loria.

The Marlins payroll has actually been, in the opinion of most writers, more scandalous than the Yankees, which is saying something.

Thing is, in recent years, it is also hard to argue that any team has gotten as much bang for the buck at the Marlins. But that will likely change, and soon.

The Catcher position for the Marlins has historically been crucial to the success of the team. When the team won the title in 1997, Charles Johnson was arguably their fourth best hitter, and it is difficult to not see Ivan Rodriguez as the face of that 2003 team.

In 2009, it appears as though the Marlins will break camp with John Baker starting at that position, which from an offensive perspective seems to make sense. Defensively, he leaves a bit to be desired, but this appears to be a fate the Florida Marlins are content to live with.

There is nothing but good news at First Base as Mike Jacobs, perhaps one of the worst overall players to hit 30 homeruns last season, has been shipped to Kansas City. In his stead will be Jorge Cantu who last season returned to his 2005 form while playing third base for the Marlins. A move to first can only improve the defense at that position, and Cantu looks primed to build upon his 2008 re-emergence campaign at the plate.

Dan Uggla is a classic “Thank goodness for my problems” player. An inadequate fielder at Second Base, he is nevertheless an offensive leader on this team and one of the best offensive second baseman in baseball. Unfortunately, he and Shortstop Hanley Ramirez comprised one of

Dan Uggla
the best hitting and worst fielding double play combinations in all of baseball (and to think of it, possibly in baseball history), and this has not been without impact on the Florida Marlins’ pitching staff. The Marlins finished in the bottom third of baseball in 2008 in’s DIP%, and finished fourth in the NL with 128 errors committed. Uggla and Ramirez are elite offensive players, particularly for their position, and are both still young (though Uggla is approaching 30). It would be nice to see either of them earn their keep with the glove this year.

Truth be told, the Marlins are going in an interesting direction with their corner infielders. Between Cantu, Gaby Sanchez, Emilio Bonifacio, and Dallas MacPherson, the Marlins have four guys who look capable of starting in the major leagues, and they have opted to go with Bonifacio at Third Base and Cantu at first base when a very good case could have been made for MacPherson at third and Sanchez at first. The irony, of course, is that Bonifacio and Cantu are both second basemen by trade. Evidently, the Marlins like what they see in Bonifacio, who will be a third baseman in the Chone FIggans mold.

Hate to overuse word “ironically,” but the Marlins might also have a better defensive infield if they moved Ramirez and Uggla to the corners and Bonifacio and Cantu to the middle. Something to think about.

The Florida Marlins Outfield is a real enigma this season, as it features Jeremy Hermida, Cameron Maybin, and Cody Ross, three players from whom anything is possible. Maybin is one of those players who, despite the “statistical revolution” still puts up the power/speed numbers that allow scouts to overlook his defects. At this point, he has demonstrated the ability to steal bases and hit homeruns, but to do neither at an elite level. He also appears to be able to get on base at a reasonable clip, but he still strikes out twice as much as he walks.

What do I know – maybe this guy is the next great superstar. But he doesn’t look as amazing to me as the people who called him the number one prospect in the Tiger’s organization seem to think he is, and if he were playing for any other team he’d be spending 2009 at Triple-A honing his craft. But look out for a 40/40 season in the future.

You say Jeremy Hermida, I say Carlos Quentin. For some reason, I have made a connection between these two players such that Quentin’s breakout last season says to me that Hermida is either due, or he is already D.O.A.
Comeback Player
Josh Johnson
200 innings in 2009 could make him a Cy Young candidate.
Disappointment Candidate
Cameron Maybin
Much ado about something, but what, I’m not quite sure.
as far as prospects go. After a really good (and reassuring) 2007 season, Hermida slid backwards in most respects. The guy is clearly talented, but of his three years of major league experience, the good one looks like the anomaly at this point. I like his upside better than Maybin’s. I think.

Cody Ross has either been very good or very bad during his time in the major leagues. When he’s good, he hits .300 with an OPS over 1.000. When he’s bad, he can’t get his OBP over .295. Which Cody will show up this year? I wouldn’t worry about batting leadoff, if you know what I mean.

The Marlins’ Starting Rotation is spotty, to put it mildly. Ricky Nolasco was probably one of the most underrated starting pitchers in baseball last year, and if he can stop giving up the long-ball he may even be ready to be considered “elite” in 2009. The good news is that his numbers last season were consistent with what he did in the minor leagues, so they may be fluke-proof.

Josh Johnson may finally be recovered from Joe Girardi’s overuse of his arm in 2006. He looked dynamite in 14 starts last season – in fact, in some ways he looked even better in 2008 than he did in 2006. This is all very good, because Johnson’s return may be the Marlins’ only prayer for 70 wins.
Marlins Fun Fact
Last season, Hanley Ramirez went 30/30 and was a 3-4-5er, a rare accomplishment.
The bottom three of the Marlins’ rotation are bad, at best, and at worst downright ghastly. Chris Volstad had one of those classic part-season debuts in 2008 – where things go more right than wrong and the player emerges with a great looking stat or two that obscures his more obvious stats. For Volstad, it was his 2.88 ERA obscuring the fact that he walks too many, doesn’t strike out enough, and usually gives up too many hits. Volstad is imminently hittable, and should return to some pretty unfriendly earth in 2009.

Anibal Sanchez was the Chris Volstad of 2006 for the Marlins, plus he had a no-hitter. This guy doesn’t look much better, to me, than Vicente Padilla.

I feel bad about Andrew Miller because of what high hopes I had for him when he was a Tiger. It is as though I personally feel responsible for the Marlins thinking he was good enough to include in the Miguel Cabrera trade. Though, truth be told, if ever a player had been ruined by being rushed to the majors too soon, it was Andrew Miller. Miller never had anything more than moderate success in the minor leagues, but he got a taste of the majors as a 21 year old and was up in the big leagues for good at 22. He has never done anything that didn’t look like batting practice, and probably could have used three more seasons in the minors before coming up to stay in the bigs.

But sometimes, when a guy is 6’6”, you do what you gotta do, right Detroit?

What makes the Marlins rotation scary is not the guys slated to start, but rather the complete lack of competition for the slots in the rotation. The only real competition was between Sanchez and Miller to see who was going to be the fourth starter. Outside of Hayden Penn, perhaps the only player in the last ten years hit harder than Miller from out of the starting gates, no one in the bullpen has experience as a starter. This is a rotation that, come June, could have two pitchers and be auditioning Melido Perez to see if he can still throw.

With the departure of Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom takes over in the Bullpen. Lindstrom has had some success in the majors in his two seasons. He doesn’t have closer stuff, though, and is not the type of player you want to have to count on with a narrow lead, which is likely to be the only type of lead the Marlins have in 2009. He heads up a bullpen full of guys you really haven’t heard of before this year, and you really won’t remember five years from now.

Outlook for the Season

If your offense is great and your pitching is terrible, chances are your defense will serve as the tie breaker and determine whether you are headed to the top or the bottom of the division. Too bad for the Marlins. But what else would we expect from the worst-run franchise in baseball.

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