NL East Preview: Florida Marlins

FLORIDA MARLINS

2009 Record: 87-75, 3rd in NL East
Pythagorean Record: 82-80 (-5 differential)
Current PECOTA Projection: 79-93 (3rd in NL East)
BDD’s Preview of the Marlins will run on March 22nd

Somehow, with a payroll that hasn’t exceeded $37 million since 2005, the Florida Marlins manage to stay competitive more often than not. They have developed a wealth of talent over the years, including Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Volstad, and Chris Coghlan. When those talented players become too good and too expensive, the Marlins help them pack their bags and acquire another plate of young players. None of the Marlins regular position players last year were in their 30’s, including their eight in the field, seven pitchers who made 10 or more starts, and their two closers.

Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane wrote the book — well, kind of — on how to win a lot with a little, but maybe Larry Beinfest and Michael Hill are writing the sequel. However, unlike the “fire sale” Marlins in previous years, the franchise has taken strides to sign its core players to contract extensions. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez was re-signed to a six-year, $70 million contract in May 2008. Ace right-hander Josh Johnson was recently extended through 2013 for $39 million over the four-year period.

To learn more about what is in store for the 2010 Marlins, I had a Q&A with Michael Jong of Marlin ManiacBeyond the Box Score, and HEATER Magazine.

. . .

1. What’s it going to take for Hanley Ramirez to win the NL MVP award over Albert Pujols this year?

For Hanley to be MVP, I would imagine it would take a weaker Albert Pujols season than he’s had in the last few years. An offensive year like Pujols’ 2002 or 2007 seem like Hanley’s best chance. Making the process more difficult is the aspect of defense. While shortstops get a premium traditionally in the MVP voting, Hanley is still widely regarded as a poor defensive shortstop. Furthermore, Pujols is considered one of the best defensive first basemen in the game, and while the positional adjustment between shortstops and first basemen is wide, voters may not pay close attention and assume Hanley is the weaker defensive player. It would take not only a weak offensive season for Pujols’ standards, but a strong offensive and defensive year for Hanley, which would likely include a batting title and less than 10 errors at one of the hardest positions on the diamond. Not an easy feat.

2. The starting rotation, save Josh Johnson, was a disappointment in 2009. Do you see it improving this year?

The rotation still has a few question marks, but it remains promising. One thing that seems almost a lock is an improvement from Ricky Nolasco. His peripherals were sparkling last year despite his ERA, and if whatever caused his early-season runs spike does not flare up again (and it shouldn’t), the Marlins are in for a 1-2 punch easily capable of seven or eight wins on their own. The rest of the rotation needs a combination of health, regression, and improvement from young players to be competitive. Chris Volstad should improve just via regression, as his true talent at preventing home runs is nowhere close to what he showed last year. Getting more than 100 innings of Anibal Sanchez may also prove useful to the team.

3. How confident are the Marlins with Leo Nunez as their closer?

The Marlins’ brass seems pretty confident in Leo Nunez, though I cannot imagine why they would be given the way he played last year. He gave up way too many homers, but it’s unlikely that that rate will continue. Still, even improving in that department makes him a middling reliever at best. The team did get some insurance in the form of Mike MacDougal, but MacDougal’s walk rates do not inspire confidence. I think the team will give Nunez every chance to succeed, but if he continues to give up home runs like late last season, expect MacDougal to start off ninth innings soon.

4. At 20 years old, Mike Stanton has had an incredible past two years in the Minors. How soon do you expect to see him in the Majors?

I expect to see Mike Stanton in the majors next season. The worst-case scenario has him getting his cup of coffee in September, while the best case has him opening up 2011 as the starting right fielder. Though he is extremely young, he has already shown flashes of brilliance and towering power. He’ll spend most of his time in Double-A this season, and his development there will be crucial to determine when he’ll arrive in the majors. If he continues to struggle with contact and strikeouts, the team will delay his arrival. However, if he has a monster year, expect him to get the Jason Heyward treatment in Spring Training of 2011.

5. At HEATER Magazine as the Marlins expert, you have Gaby Sanchez eating up 80% of the playing time at first base. He had a .475 SLG in AAA New Orleans last year. Do you think that power will translate to the Majors?

The rap on Gaby Sanchez has always been that he did not have the bat to stick at first base, and I believe that. Sanchez has never really been known as a power hitter, profiling more as a gap hitter, so I do not think a high slugging percentage will stick in the majors. He has a decent approach at the plate, with good patience and strike zone recognition. However, he isn’t an athlete on defense and is likely to be a .280/.360/.430 hitter at a position that, due to its ease of play, is far more replaceable. Sanchez is our starting first baseman barring any major problems, but a better prospect (Logan Morrison) is waiting in the wings, and Sanchez is only a part-time solution for the Marlins.

Predictions

MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie/Manager of the Year winners

MVP: Albert Pujols (he’s the best player in the NL, though the gap is shrinking)
Cy Young: Tim Lincecum (he’s the best pitcher in the NL, and there isn’t a real comparison)
Rookie: Jason Heyward (all signs point to him playing right at the start of the season, and with few big-name rookies coming up this year, I think he’s a shoe-in)

Marlins regular season win total

83 (I think that’s closer to their true-talent, but they’ve beaten Pythagorean quite a few times before)

Place in NL East

3rd (I don’t think they push past Atlanta, but the Nats aren’t close to competitive and I don’t think the Mets will do well without Beltran and Reyes early).

. . .

During the regular season, stop by Marlin Maniac for great analysis of the Florida Marlins. When Michael isn’t writing there, you can find him atBeyond the Box Score and at HEATER Magazine.

NL East Preview: New York Mets

NEW YORK METS

2009 Record: 70-92, 4th in NL East
Pythagorean Record: 72-90 (-2 differential)
Current PECOTA Projection: 77-85 (4th in NL East)
BDD Preview of the Mets by Bo Wulf

Meet the Mess, meet the Mess
Step right up and greet the Mess

A year separated from winning 89 games, the Mets won a meager 70 games last season. Only three players logged 400 or more plate appearances and only three starters toed the rubber at least 20 times. Five Mets crossed into double-digits in home runs with Daniel Murphy’s 12 leading the pack. Ryan Howard, by himself, out-homered the top-four Mets sluggers, 45 to 42. Third baseman David Wright’s SLG dropped from a previous career low of .523 to .447. John Maine, with a 4.43 ERA, was the second-best starter on the squad and he made just 15 starts.

It was a nightmarish season as most experts, including 14 of 21 polled at ESPN, expected the Mets to win the division over the defending World Series champion Phillies. The injuries piled up early and often. By season’s end, $55 million of their nearly $150 million payroll (37%) had been spent on players on the disabled list, according to Jeff Zimmerman at Beyond the Box Score. The only way the season could have gotten worse for Mets fans is if both of their rivals made it to the World Series.

D’oh!

Fans who lived through the 1995-2000 era in Phillies history know exactly how Mets fans are feeling right now. But I wanted to see exactly how confident they are going into 2010, so I caught up with Steve Keane of Kranepool Society and had him answer a few questions.

. . .

1. The black cloud that hung over the Mets in 2009 seems to have lingered going into 2010. Do the absences of Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes have you concerned, or can the Mets overcome another bout with bad luck?

Very concerned. Not only do Reyes and Beltran play the two most important defensive positions, they occupy the two critical spots in the line up, Reyes leading off and Beltran in the 3 hole. At least when Beltran does come back, his understudy Angel Pagan is a very good backup so Beltran can get a day off to rest his knees, with Reyes it may be his Thyroid condition limits his games played and his backup Ruben Tejada is too green and Alex Cora is, well Alex Cora.

2. David Wright had quite a power outage last year. As his splits will show, it wasn’t due to the new ballpark. Was it just a fluke, or is there a reasonable explanation for the power outage? Do you expect Wright to get back on the horse this year?

I think it was part fluke, part trying to carry the offense single-handedly with no protection in the lineup. To start the season Wright will bat 3rd but when Beltran comes back he’ll drop the 5th where I feel he will thrive.

3. Ike Davis: A great prospect, or the greatest prospect?

So far this spring a great prospect and the first baseman of the future. Greatest prospect? To be determined.

4. Aside from Johan Santana, what can we expect from the Mets starting rotation?

Your guess is as good as mine. Will Mike Pelfrey make the jump to reliable starter? Which Oliver Perez will show up every fifth day, Bad Ollie or Good Ollie? Does John Maine have the stamina to log 180-200 innings pitched? Like I say, it’s a guessing game.

5. What’s up with all the catchers? Barajas and Coste and Blanco and Santos and Thole… and no Bengie Molina!

One of the few moves the Mets front office got right. I wanted Rod Barajas from the get go and Henry Blanco brings a solid defender and game caller behind the plate. Coste goes to Buffalo to tutor Josh Thole and Omir Santos becomes a very valuable trade chip. It also shows that Omar Minaya does not have full autonomy over the baseball ops as in his heyday he’d have given Bengie Molina a 5yr deal.

Predictions

MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie/Manager of the Year winners

MVP: Chase Utley ( I feel dirty typing that by the way)
Cy Young: Brandon Webb
Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward
Manager of the Year Bobby Cox (a going away present)

Mets regular season win total

81

Place in NL East

4th place

. . .

Check out Steve Keane at Kranepool Society for more on the Mets as we head into the regular season. Whether he believes it or not, I do hope the Mets find a bit of good fortune, as it’s great for baseball when both they and the Phillies are competitive simultaneously. The rivalry was really starting to heat up but the Mets angered the wrong gods or broke a thousand mirrors or something like that. Let’s hope that 2009 is the last time the Mets are the butt of a Sporcle joke for the wrong reasons.
Get well soon, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran!