In The Art of War, the famed military general Sun Tzu wrote, “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.” With this in mind, we take a look at the offseason strategies of all the teams in the National League; which players they are losing, which players they intend to pursue, and what their long-term plan is to either make the team a contender or keep the team in contention well into the future. Today, we take a look at the Miami Marlins.
Armed with a new name, a gleaming new stadium, and a new swagger, the Miami Marlins were projected to bring baseball passion back to South Florida. They increased payroll $50 million, up to $107.7 million, and made a huge splashes on the free agent market, signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell to contracts worth a total of $191 million. But the team faltered, and the Marlins, led by owner Jeffrey Loria, decided to dismantle the team. The process started mid-season, when the Marlins traded franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, and packaged Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante in a deal with the Tigers. But in the 2012-13 offseason, Loria and the Marlins front office went nuclear. In a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Marlins essentially undid their previous offseason, shipping Reyes, Buehrle, and 7-year Marlin ace Josh Johnson to Toronto. With all their high-priced talent gone, the Marlins entered the 2013 campaign fielding a roster that featured Giancarlo Stanton and little else, and they finished with a record of 62-100, last in the National League. The baseball renaissance in South Florida was over.
But despite the dismal record, there were many bright spots for this Marlins team. Jose Fernandez, a 20-year old Cuban defector brought up to the majors straight from single-A, was nothing short of remarkable. He flashed remarkable stuff, blowing hitters away with his fastball, changeup, and of course, his curveball, nicknamed “The Defector” (here’s some more of his curveball). His 2.19 ERA was the lowest by a rookie since Jerry Koosman in 1968, and he not only earned NL Rookie of the Year honors, but place third in the NL Cy Young race as well. But behind Fernandez, the Marlins showed off some other impressive young arms in Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez, all arms acquired in the trades of the previous two years (Turner from the Tigers, Eovaldi from the Dodgers, and Alvarez from the Jays) that showed the potential to anchor the Marlins rotation for years to come. On the offensive side of the ball, the bright spots were harder to come by, but there were a few diamonds in the rough. Top prospect Christian Yellich performed admirably in 62 games, putting up a .766 OPS (112 OPS+). Marcell Ozuna started off incredibly hot, hitting .336/.381/.488 through June 4 before slumping and getting injured. And Stanton, despite missing 46 games do to an injured hamstring, still slugged .480 with a team-high 24 home runs.
So the question becomes, do Loria and his goons build around they have with reasonable free agent signings or trades, shooting for respectability next year and contention the next? Or do they complete the destruction of the team by trading Stanton just before he hits arbitration? With the mercurial Marlins, it is very difficult to discern their intentions. They apparently made an offer to Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, but bowed out when the price got too high (Abreu ended up signing with the White Sox). And they have stated repeatedly and emphatically that Stanton is not going anywhere, though coming from this organization, that statement carries little weight. More than likely, the Marlins will look to add some stopgap players on one-year contracts (most likely at third base and catcher), looking to keep those spots occupied until their core is ready to contend. And they would be wise to add a veteran starter on a one-year deal (Roy Halladay would be great, if he’s interested) to mentor the young pitvhing staff and eat up innings.
As badly as the Marlins struggled last year, they have a strong core of young players, and thanks to their wheeling and dealing, a strong farm system. While they are still a couple years away from contending, the future looks very bright for the organization. But of course with Jeffrey Loria at the helm, this comes with a caveat; they can only be successful if they are allowed to be. If Loria does what’s right for the team, not just what’s right for his own bottom line, in time, South Florida could indeed witness a baseball renaissance.