Last season the old Florida Marlins finished in last place in the Eastern Division of the National League. The new Miami Marlins will look to improve on their 72-90 season which was 30 games behind the division winning Phillies. With a new ballpark, a new manager, and a new spending philosophy, this team in 2012 should look nothing like the team that played in the football stadium turned baseball park in 2011. The fans and players alike would likely try to forget last season and gladly move on to the new one beginning in April.
If he is healthy as projected, Josh Johnson should be the opening day pitcher for the new look Marlins. For the Marlins to make a serious run at the division or wild card, he must stay healthy and make a minimum of 25 starts. Newly acquired veteran lefty Mark Buehrle figures to be the number two starter in the rotation. If he remains true to form, he will give the Marlins a lot of innings and keep the pressure off the weaker middle relief part of the bullpen. The rest of the rotation appears to be a spring training battle between returning Marlins, Anibel Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco, and veteran Carlos Zambrano. Nolasco was 10-12 last year with a 4.67 ERA. Sanchez who recently won his arbitration with the club was 8-9 with a 3.67 ERA last year and will likely test the free agent market next year unless he has a break out year for the Marlins. Zambrano is truly the wild card in the rotation. Last year he was 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA with the Cubs before melting down in mid-season. If he can keep it together and return to his former form that led to a 125-81/3.60 career, he could provide the Marlins with a veteran rotation from the #3 or #4 spot.
The bullpen was the weaker spot in the pitching last year as the Marlins struggled to keep games close or keep the lead. It is also an area where the team made some moves to shore up the back end of the games but the real question will be in middle and long relief. The addition of veteran Wade LeBlanc may prove to be one of the biggest values of all the off-season moves made by the Marlins’ front office. The 28 year old lefty who was with San Diego for the last four years should be counted on to provide some long relief and as a spot starter if needed. Young arms, Michael Dunn, Brad Hand, and Alex Sanabia will also be working hard in spring training to secure spots in the bullpen. The Marlins acquired another Padre Pitcher in closer Heath Bell. If he averages his 40 saves this season, the Marlins should be in the hunt for at least a wild card spot in the playoffs. With the legal situation surrounding last year’s closer Juan Carlos Oveido who was known as Leo Nunez last year still up in the air, look for late season closer Steve Chishek to serve in the setup role for Bell. If the Marlins can get Oveido back this season it will likely push promising prospect Jose Ceda back to the minors or the trade mill. If not, and depending on how he pitches in the spring, Ceda may make the big league roster and provide the gap between the starters and the Chishek, Bell closing duo.
Handling the catching duties will fall once again to John Buck. He will look to improve on his .227 BA after coming over from the Blue Jays where he hit .281 in 2010. Buck is a solid defensive receiver and really should benefit from now playing in an indoor facility when the sizzling summer heat begins in South Florida.
Gaby Sanchez will once again start at First Base. The 2011 All-Star appeared in all but three games for the Marlins last season batting .266 with 19 homers and drove in 78 runs while scoring 72 times. With the offensive addition of SS Jose Reyes, Sanchez figures to see more quality pitches and should post a better average and possible set a career high for home runs in the new park. On the hot corner this year for the Marlins will be former SS Hanley Ramirez. While the move has been less than smooth, it now appears that Ramirez is completely on board and working hard to become a quality third baseman. If he can make the transition defensively, and stay healthy, he should return to the quality player that many felt should be the face of the franchise a couple of years ago.
Omar Infante returns as the second baseman for the club this year. He hit .276 last year with 7 HR, 24 2B, 8 3B, 55 runs, and 49 RBI. He was solid in the field with only 8 errors in 734 total chances. The biggest addition to the Marlins’ roster for 2012 is SS Jose Reyes. The three time All-Star comes over from the Mets after hitting .337 with 7 HR, 31 2B,16 3B, 44 RBI, 101 Runs scored and 39 Stolen Bases. His range and offensive prowess gives the Marlins a significant upgrade up the middle on the infield. Time will tell if he is good enough to erase the 30 game deficit the Marlins ended up with last year.
The starting outfield should be solid for the Marlins with Logan Morrison in Left Field, Emilio Bonifacio in Center Field, and Mike Stanton in Right. Bonifacio will benefit from returning to his more natural Center Field after moving to Short last year to sub for Ramirez. His speed combined with Reyes makes the top of the lineup fast and dangerous if they can hit at all. That should provide Stanton and Sanchez with ample opportunities to set new standards for RBI this year. Morrison has the reputation of being the character of the bunch but is also a solid performer on the field as well as the master of the tweet. They all should be better this year after playing together last year and going through another spring training together this year.
In addition to the starters, Greg Dobbs re-signed with the club after a brief test of the free agent market. Rookie Matt Dominguez will also compete for some utility infield duty. Outfielder Chris Coghlan appears to be healthy again and should be a serviceable substitute for any of the outfield positions and remains an option should an infielder go down and force Bonifacio to return to the dirt. Kevin Mattison and Bryan Petersen will also be competing in Spring Training to find a spot on the roster along with Austin Kearns. Brett Hayes appears to have the backup catcher spot unless someone comes out of nowhere to wow new manager Ozzie Guillen.
If they don’t make the opening day roster, look for Dominguez and Jose Ceda to be back up with the big club at some point this season. In addition, any injuries on the pitching staff would likely result in a call up for Righty Tom Koehler. Don’t be surprised if the Marlins bring up a young Marcell Ozuna at least for a cup of coffee in September to see if the kid has the right stuff for the future. He may be a season or two away due to an injury in 2010, but he is listed as one of the Marlins’ top prospects for a reason.
MVP – Jose Reyes
Ace – Heath Bell
Record – 90-72
2nd Place Eastern Division
Lose the Wild Card Series
The easy pick for MVP will be Reyes because of his ability in the field and to set the table for the rest of the lineup. I almost went with Stanton but I am not sure he will see enough quality pitches to merit the MVP. Bell is the ace of the staff because he will make the rest of them look better. If they can get the game to him with a league, he will not blow many and the Marlins will win more games as a result of his presence at the back end of the game. I think the additions the Marlins have made will allow them to be the second best team in the Eastern division and IF they stay healthy they have a chance of flipping their record from last year. If Guillen can keep Zambrano involved as a key part of the team and reasonably sane, the Marlins have a chance to prove me wrong about the end of their season. As with every team, they need their key players to stay healthy to make a deep run into the post season and maybe crown their new ballpark with a NL Pennant.