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2011 Florida Marlins: Still defying the odds 2011 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey,
March 30, 2011

Josh Johnson

The Philadelphia Phillies have been the talk of Major League Baseball ever since they pulled off a coup and signed Cliff Lee out from under the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. But as the wheels start to come off the bus a little in Philly, the NL East suddenly looks like it might be up for grabs, and surprisingly, the Florida Marlins might be the team in the best position to take advantage.

We say “surprisingly,” but really this should come as a surprise to no one. The Florida Marlins, whether by choice or by necessity, have stayed competitive throughout their 19-year history by defying odds, going against conventional wisdom and, most of all, consistently developing young talent to replace they guys they send out the door.

This 2011 Marlins team seems to be cusping at the right time on the talent-development scale, and may be primed to sneak a division title from an NL East watching the end of the Phillies' dynasty and the beginning of the Nationals' dynasty.

2010 Standings - NL East
East W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Philadelphia Phillies 97 65 .599 0 54-30 43-55 772 640 .585 69-45 28-20
Atlanta Braves* 91 71 .562 6 56-25 35-46 738 629 .573 63-44 28-27
Florida Marlins 80 82 .494 17 41-40 39-42 719 717 .501 46-67 34-15
New York Mets 79 83 .488 18 47-34 32-49 656 652 .503 52-57 20-33
Washington Nationals 69 93 .426 32.5 41-40 28-53 655 742 .443 52-70 17-23

Six Things to Watch for from the Florida Marlins

6. Just when you thought it was safe to write off Javier Vazquez.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
John Buck C
Randy Choate RP
Omar Infante 2B
Javier Vazquez SP
Ryan Webb RP
Departed Pos.
Dan Uggla 2B
Cameron Maybin OF
Will Ohman RP
Ronny Paulino C

After bottoming out with the New York Yankees again (see 2004 season), Javier Vazquez returns to the NL East with his tail between his legs. For a guy who can mow down 200 hitters per year and post an ERA in the low-threes and even high-twos, one year/$7 million is peanuts.

But the thing is, this is not Vazquez's first rodeo, and it is not the first time he has had to pick up the pieces after a disaster season. Indeed, quite the contrary: Vazquez has not had consecutive good or bad seasons in his career. Ever. His ERA+, since 1999, has gone 90, 119, 130, 109, 139, 92, 101, 98, 126, 98, 143, and then finally 80 in 2010.

So, not only is Vazquez “due” in 2011, but he returns to the division in which he has had his finest seasons.

Javier Vazquez could very easily win 17 games with an ERA hovering around 3.00 for the Marlins in 2011. The sad truth of it is, though, that he will then turn it into a big contract somewhere where he is destined to fail, like Texas, Colorado, Chicago or New York (again).

5. Dan Uggla: Addition by Subtraction.

Pop Quiz: Who was the best offensive second baseman in the National League in 2010?

Contrary to what Philly fans might think, the answer is probably Dan Uggla. But here's another one:

Pop Quiz: Who was the worst defensive second baseman in the National League in 2010?

Actually, it was Skip Schumaker of the Cardinals, but he is so bad we almost have to write him off. Uggla, meanwhile, was the second worst defensive second baseman in the NL.

Uggla, of course, is now the Braves' problem, while the Marlins have, of all people, Omar Infante at second.

At the end of the season, when all of the Marlins pitchers have had resurgent seasons and the Marlins are in the playoff hunt, we will look no further than the improved defensive infield when we start to try to explain it.

Mike Stanton

4. Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, and Mike Stanton

I just shuddered a little just writing those names. These guys are dripping with talent, and they have all been penciled into the starting lineup for the 2011 season.

Logan Morrison, a six-foot-three lefty outfielder, has a career .383 on-base percentage in the minor leagues, and his full-season OBP over the last three years has been over .400 each year. In 62 games with the Marlins in 2010, he hit .283 with a .390 on-base percentage. Morrison was drafted in the 22nd round in 2005.

Gaby Sanchez made his full season debut last year and all he did was to come to play everyday, hit 19 home runs with 85 RBI and 72 runs scored while batting .273 with a .788 OPS. Those numbers could definitely have been better, but Sanchez had a second half swoon that saw his production tail off considerably. With his first season out of the way, look for him to build upon what he did a year ago. At the end of the day, Mike Stanton might be the player I am most excited about. A six-foot-five righty who will turn 21 this season, Stanton hit 22 home runs with 59 RBI in 100 games in his first ever major league action.

But his numbers are deceiving; Stanton has not yet adapted to hitting at Joe Robbie/Whatever Stadium, and home/road splits showed it. Stanton hit .320 with a 1.020 OPS on the road in 2010. He hit 15 of his 22 home runs and brought in 35 of his 59 RBI on the road. Meanwhile, he was dead-man-walking at home, going .182/.272/.327. Once he gets comfortable hitting at home, this guy will be one of the elite hitters in the league.

3. A quietly very good bullpen.

If you do not know Leo Nunez, get to know him. Nunez has 71 strikeouts in 65 innings on his way to 30 saves last season. Nunez gave up too many hits, but so did all the Marlins. With improved defense behind him, Nunez could go from solid to good this season.

2. And John Buck, screwing it up for everybody.

When I saw that the Marlins were going to start John Buck behind the plate this season, my face fell. Are you kidding me?

What is my problem with John Buck?

John Buck is the Mary to bad pitching's little lamb. As in, everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go?

When Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award with the Kansas City Royals in 2009, it was because Miguel Olivo was catching him in Buck's stead. In 2010, the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff has a 4.45 ERA when pitching to John Buck, and only a 3.72 ERA when pitching to Jose Molina.

Throw in the fact that he is a terrible hitter (16 walks, 111 strikeouts in 118 games in 2010), and John Buck could quite possibly screw this up for everybody. And do not be fooled by his 20 home runs last season. He was in Toronto, where anybody can hit 20 home runs. Hell, a nobody named Jose Bautista hit 50 there.

John Buck could screw this up for everybody.

1. Do not think this is a team without stars.

For all the talk of the potential return of Javier Vazquez, the addition by subtraction of Dan Uggla, and the potential emergence of young stars of tomorrow, this Marlins team is not without superstars. Specifically, the Marlins have the best hitting shortstop in Major League Baseball and one of the finest pitchers in the game as well.

Is this enough of a nucleus around which to build a potential surprise division winner?

I do not know, but I do know that I can think of at least 20 teams that would like to start off with Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez and go from there.

And that combination, for the Marlins in 2011, could very well lead the team into October.

2011 Florida Marlins Prediction: 90-72, 2nd place in the NL East.

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