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.

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2 comments

  1. Danny

    March 17, 2010 01:26 AM

    I think that’s an excellent analysis except for saying Lincecum doesn’t have a real comparison (unless of course you are simply talking about career path). Halladay is equal or better to Lincecum right now, and Santana might be close if he isn’t hurt.

    All in all though, that’s really hitting the Marlins right on the head. A little overachieving while making the most of their money. They have quietly surpassed the A’s and the Twins (although the Twins don’t exactly qualify anymore) as the Moneyball kings.

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