Will the Miami Marlins finally reach the post season for the first time since 2003 and will the organization enjoy a winning record for the first time since 2009? There is a lot of optimism this year as Miami heads to Spring Training in six days with pitchers and catchers arriving in Jupiter, FL on Feb. 14.
The remainder of the ball club will join them on Sept. 17.
Plenty of new faces will walk onto the diamond in south Florida this month with renewed optimism as to whether this team can end a playoff drought that is only second to the Seattle Mariners in longevity. It’s a record this team would surely like to erase from memory.
When looking at the makeup of the team and the 63 players who will be at Spring Training to vie for 25 roster spots and a chance to prove doubters wrong, many decisions have already been made as to who will stay and who will go. Then there are the choices to be made that will keep both manager Don Mattingly and Marlins management up at night. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com has taken a look at teams that are stuck in the middle – with talent to make a run at the postseason – that can exceed the expectations of pundits across the baseball landscape.
The Marlins fall into that category.
“There's no way to know what lingering emotional effects the tragic death of Jose Fernandez will have on the Marlins, and I won't try to speculate on that now,” Doolittle said. “We do know what the Marlins lost on the field: a superstar starting pitcher with Hall of Fame talent.”
The Marlins compensated for the loss by using free agency to bring in Edinson Volquez from Kansas City and Jeff Locke from Pittsburgh and then traded for Dan Straily from Cincinnati while depleting its farm system once again. I believe the rotation, which will also include Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley and Tom Koehler can be steady if not spectacular. It also means someone out of these six, probably Locke, will move to the bullpen.
The bullpen more than likely will decide Miami’s fate this season. AJ Ramos returns as the team’s closer, but it wasn’t because the Marlins didn’t work to bring in a top-tier finisher. Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen were wined and dined and offered more than a Brinks truck could hold, but both signed elsewhere.
Doolittle also pointed out the Marlins ended up signing Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to offer setup support for closer A.J. Ramos. To that trio, you add Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps and Dustin McGowan, to give manager Don Mattingly a deep relief staff. The Marlins also project to have above-average team defense, so there are hopes that Mattingly can pull off a solid run-prevention season. In my early forecasts, only the Mets project to do better on that side of the equation in the NL East.
Now that there is a belief the bullpen could be the best in baseball, the batting order must produce. The Barry Bonds experiment as hitting instructor did not yield the results hoped for and now the Marlins have moved on. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and a host of hitters must produce. The top of the order must get on base and the team must find a way to make better decisions at the plate.
The team needs Stanton to stay healthy and put up the MVP season of which he certainly seems capable. Every team has its rosy "if only" scenarios, and for the Marlins, Stanton fulfilling his destiny seems less far-fetched than most.