Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 Questions: Florida Marlins

By The Common Man

The Marlins won 80 games last year despite trading or waiving two members of their starting lineup, having four rookies play major roles for the club, enduring a down year by the club’s superstar SS, and getting almost nothing out of the catcher and centerfield spots. Plus, they contended with below replacement level seasons by Emilio Bonafacio and Wes Helms, both of whom got more than 200 PAs. That’s pretty impressive. But in true Fish form, Jeffrey Loria’s Marlins seemed to shoot themselves in the foot this offseason and left themselves with several questions to start 2011. Here are three of them. (As always, you can click here to find a complete list of The Platoon Advantage's 3 Questions series.)

Question 1: Do the Marlins have an addiction to relief pitchers?

It sure seems like it. The Marlins had some success last year with retreads, and got yeoman’s work out of Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop, Brian Sanches, and Jose Veras. But the back end was pretty ugly, and Veras left for the Pirates (for the exact same amount the Fish paid him in 2010, just a half-million dollars). Rather than explore the exciting (and inexpensive) market of relievers this offseason, Florida decided to pay a premium for relief talent, sending the still young and talented Cameron Maybin to San Diego for a couple of fringy, eminently replaceable arms in Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb. They dealt the enigmatic Andrew Miller for a potential LOOGY in Dustin Richardson. And they made sure the Braves included Michael Dunn, a wild lefty, in the deal for Dan Uggla.

This, to put it lightly, is not an efficient use of resources. Relievers are terribly fungible (see the Jose Veras deal above), and the Marlins should have been able to construct a perfectly acceptable bullpen without giving away talent. It’s like buying a great speaker system for your ride, taking the money out of what you need to build an engine and install seatbelts. What good is that sub-woofer or whatever if you can only listen to it in your garage?

Question 2: Can Josh Johnson repeat his incredible 2010?

In a word, no. Johnson is a terrific pitcher, there’s no doubt. With his sparkling ERA (2.30), tremendous strikeout rate (9.1) and his unbelievable HR/9 (0.3), he’s probably the most talented pitcher in the National League. But he was also helped by his ballpark, and probably some luck, as just 4.2% of the flyballs he gave up went over the fence (by far the lowest of his career).

He’s also a flyball pitcher who is going to have to contend with the Marlins significantly weakening their outfield defense. When the Fish sent Maybin to the Padres, they announced that Chris Coghlan would be handling center. This is the same Chris Coghlan who’s coming off of major knee surgery and who was a below average leftfielder before that. Yeesh.

And Logan Morrison, who may end up being a tremendous overall player (and is the best Tweeter in MLB today), is definitely stretched as a leftfielder. A full season of Mike Stanton in RF will help, but not enough to make up for all the hits that will fall in LF and CF. Indeed, between Wes Helms at 3B, Hanley Ramirez at SS, and Coghlan and Morrison in the outfield, it will be a minor miracle every time an out is recorded on the left side of the diamond. The Marlins’ defensive efficiency was tied for third worst in the NL in 2010, but it’s hard to see how bringing in Omar Infante to man 2B is going to make that any better.  So Josh Johnson won't be the only pitcher whose traditional stats look worse than their underlying numbers.  All Marlins pitchers look to struggle somewhat in front of this atrocious defense.

Question 3: Is this team actually better in 2011?

Going out on a limb, The Common Man will say that the 2011 Marlins are going to be better than they were in 2010. Their rotation is bolstered by the acquisition of Javier Vazquez, and Alex Sanabia is a good 6th starter to have handy at AAA. John Buck is likely going to be better behind the dish than Ronny Paulino was (even if he is going to be overpaid to do so), and there’s some room for growth with Gaby Sanchez, Mike Stanton, and Logan Morrison’s continued development. Plus, at 27, Hanley Ramirez is a good bet to bounce back somewhat. They could easily win 85-88 games and toward the back of the Wild Card chase.

But the club could have been even better, perhaps something like 90+ wins by keeping Maybin and Uggla. Their shortsightedness, and Jeffrey Loria’s tightwalletedness, likely has cost them a playoff appearance and a shot at another surprise World Series title.

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