by Jason Martinez
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MIAMI MARLINS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
The Marlins were the most interesting team of the 2011-12 offseason, making it known they would be raising their payroll substantially as they moved into a new stadium. Then they proceeded to try and sign seemingly every impact player on the free agent market. While they lost out on the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, they still landed shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, and closer Heath Bell on multi-year deals for a total of $191 million. Manager Ozzie Guillen was acquired from the White Sox for two prospects and signed to a four year, $10 million deal, pushing the total value of the four big acquisitions to over $200 million. After a slow start, the team began to live up to expectations and were 31-23 after a victory on June 3rd. But they lost 17 of their next 20 games and were never able to recover during what turned out to be a very ugly season.
The core of the team is still strong and they aren't weak in any particular area. It is simply a team that has underachieved and did not have enough depth to make up for the loss of Emilio Bonifacio, Logan Morrison, and Giancarlo Stanton, who each missed extended time due to injuries. Things have been so bad, though, that there's even a chance that the team eats the final three years of Guillen's contract.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
Stanton has emerged as one of, if not the top, home run hitter in the game. Including his 37 bombs this season, the 22 year-old has 93 career home runs in 1324 at-bats. Even in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, Stanton has 50+ home run power. He just needs to stay healthy and overcome the knee injury that plagued him this season. With Bonifacio and Reyes hitting in front of him, the lineup has a chance to be very good. Stanton needs some help, though. Morrison, who could play first base on a permanent basis in 2013, also battled a knee injury but, unlike Stanton, did not have great numbers when he was in the lineup. He finished his season, which ended on July 28th, with a .230 BA, 11 HR, 31 BB, and 58 K. His last eight homers, however, came in a 24-game span so the developing power that has been expected from the 25 year-old may have been starting to appear.
Bonifacio's versatility will allow the Marlins to pick and choose where they focus their attention this offseason. Rookie Donovan Solano has done a solid job at second base so I'd expect the team to aggressively pursue a third baseman or outfielder and stick Bonifacio in the spot they don't fill. Justin Ruggiano, one of the few bright spots on the season, would likely fill the starting role in center or left field. Rob Brantly and John Buck will likely continue to platoon behind the plate, as they have done over the past month.
Like last offseason, the Marlins will likely fill one spot in the lineup through free agency or a trade. There aren't any big names available in free agency at third base, although Kevin Youkilis (if his $13M club option is declined) could be a solid two-year option. A few other aging veterans could be options, including Eric Chavez, Placido Polanco, and Scott Rolen (if he doesn't retire). Pursuing an outfielder and having Bonifacio play in the infield would be the other plan. Doing so would expand the list of free agents to include the likes of Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Cody Ross, and Nick Swisher. And then there's Josh Hamilton. If owner Jeffrey Loria still has some cash burning a hole in his pocket after losing out on Pujols, how about ignoring all the risks and throwing $150+ million at the 31 year-old superstar? Now that would be a scary lineup, at least on paper.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Ace Josh Johnson didn't bounce back to be the dominant pitcher he was before a shoulder injury cut short his 2011 season, but he did give the team 31 starts and 191.1 innings. That is a great sign. They'll need him to be much better in 2013, however, if they're going to compete in the NL East. Buehrle's solid season has been a bit under the radar with all the drama surrounding the team, but he gave the team 202.1 innings and a 3.74 ERA. Ricky Nolasco probably isn't a guy who deserves to be making $9 million per season, considering he had a 4.48 ERA and opponents hit .288 against him, but he continues to be an innings-eater that would be a good fit in the back of the rotation.
How much better this group is in 2013 could depend greatly on the progress of their two young mid-season acquisitions, Nate Eovaldi and Jacob Turner, who have both pitched well since joining the team. Eovaldi, 22, acquired from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez deal, has a 4.43 ERA with 27 BB and 44 K in 63 innings with the Marlins. Turner, 21, acquired from the Dodgers in the deal for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, has a 3.38 ERA with 9 BB and 29 K in 42.2 innings since being called up on August 22nd. Wade LeBlanc will also be in the mix for a rotation spot, as will Brad Hand and Alex Sanabia, but Eovaldi and Turner should have a pretty good shot to win spots unless the team acquires another veteran starter this offseason. Unless things have changed since last offseason, it wouldn't be a surprise if they pursued some of the top free agent starters.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
The signing of Bell has not worked out as he struggled early on to close out games before finally being removed from the closer's role in favor Steve Cishek, who has been outstanding. The 26 year-old has saved 14 games in 15 chances since the All-Star break. In the meantime, Bell appears to have settled into the role of a very expensive setup man. As long as he gets the job done and keeps his mouth shut about wanting his closer's job back, it won't matter how much he gets paid. In the second half of the season, Bell has a 3.10 ERA with 11 holds, 9 BB and 27 K in 29 innings. As bad as he wants to be the closer, the Marlins have no reason to change things up this offseason.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 3B or LF or CF (E. Bonifacio and J. Ruggiano will fill other 2 spots)
2 Starting Pitcher
3 Setup Man
4 Backup OF
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS