Marlins Off-season OutlookBy
Over the last several weeks, it’s become more apparent that 2012 will be a huge year for the Marlins. Along with opening a new stadium, hiring Ozzie Guillen, and rebranding the franchise with a new logo, the team plans on operating with its highest ever payroll. Recently, Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post wrote that the Marlins’ 2012 payroll could approach $100 million, a figure the franchise has never been close to seeing. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently predicted that the Marlins’ 2012 payroll, should the roster sustain minimal turnover, will be around $65 million, in effect giving the team $35 million to spend. That figure makes the Marlins a contender for any big name free agent on the market, including Albert Pujols (2012 age: 32), Prince Fielder (28), and C.J. Wilson (28).
Three days ago, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro confirmed that the Marlins will make “a run at one impact position player” and that the team’s interest in Pujols is “very much real.” He added that “a more realistic free-agent lefty starter (as opposed to Wilson) is Mark Buehrle (33)” and that with the uncertainty surrounding Juan Carlos Oviedo’s future, reliever Ryan Madson (31) “is a name to keep an eye on in free agency.”
The numerous reports confirming the Marlins’ plan to make a splash in 2012 bring excitement. But is the signing of a big name free agent truly necessary to transform the team into a contender?
Back in April, the SweetSpot blog’s very own Christina Kahrl was the only ESPN expert to pick the Marlins as a 2011 playoff team. While Florida finished 72-90 and in last place in the NL East (18 games out of the Wild Card), Kahrl’s selection seemed, for a portion of the season, like the smartest anybody had made. Take a look at the Marlins’ position in the standings through the first four months or so.
Florida was competitive for the first two months or so, but then dropped off with a 5-23 record in June. What went wrong? Part of the problem was the lack of production from their two best players. Ace Josh Johnson pitched in his final game on May 16 – he hit the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation on May 17. The 6’7”, 250-pound righty was having a terrific year (3-1, 1.64 ERA) and is the type of pitcher who can end a team losing streak, no matter the opponent, thanks to overpowering stuff and solid control. It’s hard to believe the Marlins would have gone into such a tailspin had Johnson been available.
Through May, Hanley Ramirez was hitting .210/.306/.309 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with four homers, yet Florida was still atop the Wild Card standings. On May 29 against the Dodgers, Ramirez left the game in the first inning because of lower back and left hip issues. He missed two weeks and returned on June 14. From that point until August 2, Ramirez hit .280/.365/.459, then returned to the disabled list because of a sprained left shoulder. He missed the rest of the season as he underwent shoulder surgery in September.
Obviously, there were other components that factored into the team’s sudden failure and there will be numerous elements in determining the 2012 Marlins’ fate, but Johnson and Ramirez are two dynamic talents who can adversely affect outcomes. While adding a hitter like Pujols or Fielder will make this team much more dangerous, its fate depends on the health and productivity of its two young studs. Johnson has thrown at least 180 innings only twice in seven seasons, though is dominant when healthy. With Ramirez, there’s no reason to think he won’t fully recover from shoulder surgery and be ready by Opening Day 2012.