2011 Florida Marlins: Can a terrific rotation and a revamped bullpen bring the Fish back to contention?

2010 Record: 80-82, 3rd NL East
2010 Prediction: 85-77, 3rd NL East
Diff: 5
2011 Prediction: 3rd NL East

Impact Player: SS Hanley Ramirez
Impact Pitcher: RHP Josh Johnson
Best Reliever: RHP Ryan Webb
Top Prospect: 3B Matt Dominguez

General Manager: Larry Beinfest/Mike Hill
Manager: Edwin Rodriguez

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Javier Vazquez, RHP Ryan Webb, LHP Michael Dunn, LHP Randy Choate, RHP Edward Mujica, C John Buck, 2B Omar Infante, UTIL Greg Dobbs

Significant Departures:
C Ronny Paulino, 2B Dan Uggla, CF Cameron Maybin, 3B/1B Chad Tracy, RHP Jorge Sosa, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Jose Veras

The Florida Marlins were a disappointing team in 2010.  Despite having one of the better young rotations in baseball, they finished only 9th in the NL in ERA and despite some exciting young pieces in their lineup, they finished only 7th in runs scored.  Those mediocre numbers led to a mediocre 80-82 finish in 2010.

The offseason was a curious one as well.  After unsuccessfully trying to re-sign slugging second baseman Dan Uggla, the Marlins shipped him to division rival Atlanta for a young left-handed reliever and a glorified utility infielder coming off a career season.  They also shipped promising young outfielder Cameron Maybin to San Diego for two relievers.  It’s obvious that Florida’s front office felt their bullpen wasn’t as good as it needed to be last year and in that way they’ve improved, but it’s hard to see how this team is better overall on paper.

Having said that, the Marlins still have one of the best rotations in the NL and now seem to have a bullpen that can get them through to the end of games.  Their lineup may appear to have taken a hit with the loss of Maybin and Uggla, but stud outfielder Mike Stanton and other young hitters like Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez appear ready to take a step forward.  The Marlins may surprise some people in 2011.

Starting Rotation
The Marlins entertained trade offers for Ricky Nolasco this offseason when it appeared as though they would not be able to sign him long-term.  After seeing what the Royals got for Zack Greinke, the Marlins decided it was in their best interest to pony-up the cash for Nolasco.  The day after the Greinke trade, the Marlins inked their young right-hander to a three-year, $26.5-million extension that buys him out of his remaining arbitration years.

Nolasco is an enigma.  Despite routinely putting up peripherals among the best in baseball (he finished third behind only Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in K/BB ratio in 2010), he continues to put up underwhelming ERAs; over the last two years his ERA is 4.82.  This could be the year he puts it all together and becomes a true front-line starter.

Josh Johnson moved himself into the realm of elite pitchers in 2010, leading the majors in FIP at 2.41 and posting a 2.30 ERA in 183.2 innings.  He would have been in the Cy Young discussion last year had he not missed five starts due to an injury.

After the two front-line guys, the Marlins have some serious depth.  They signed Javier Vazquez to a one-year, $7-million deal in the offseason after an awful season with the Yankees.  His velocity inexplicably fell off half-way through the year and the Yanks moved him to the bullpen to try and sort out his issues.  His average fastball velocity was just 88.7 mph despite being close to 92 mph for most of his career.  If his velocity returns or he manages to adjust, he could bounce back.  Being back in the National League won’t hurt.  Only Livan Hernandez has thrown more innings since 1998 than Vazquez, so it’s also possible that his arm is finally giving out.

Even if Vazquez fails to bounce back, the Marlins still have some good young arms waiting to make an impact.  Anibal Sanchez, like Nolasco, is very underrated.  Last season he posted a 3.32 FIP and 3.55 ERA in what was most certainly a breakout year.

The fifth spot will likely go to Chris Volstad who was inconsistent in 2010, but at just 24 has a decent ceiling to grow into.  If he falters, Alex Sanabia and left-hander Sean West are also around.  Sanabia was very good last year in 72 innings posting a 3.65 FIP and an excellent 1.99 BB/9 rate, while the 6-foot-8 West was solid in AAA last season when healthy.

Bullpen
Outside of closer Leo Nunez and setup man Clay Hensley, the Marlins were not happy with their bullpen performance in 2010.  To remedy that, they acquired left-hander Michael Dunn in the Uggla trade from Atlanta, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica in the Maybin trade with San Diego, and signed veteran left-hander Randy Choate who pitched last year with the Rays.  Along with the two holdovers, this group has the potential to be one of the better units in 2011.

Nunez had an outstanding year in 2010, posting a 2.86 FIP, 30 saves, and a 3.38 K/BB ratio.  His K/9 rate, HR/9 rate and GB% were all abnormally good for Nunez which means he could see a rather drastic regression in 2011.

Hensley could also see a regression in 2011 after posting a 2.16 ERA, 2.87 FIP and career-best strikeout and homerun rates last year.  Despite the fact that both Nunez and Hensley are solid relievers, counting on them to be as good as they were last year is foolish.

Webb may be the best of this group.  The 25-year-old had a 2.82 FIP in San Diego last season as a part of the best bullpen in the game.  He has all the makings of a good closer and if Nunez and Hensley struggle, he could take over there before the end of the year.

Mujica is another reliever with a lot of upside who had a 3.62 ERA in 2011.  His potential as a dominant reliever is found in his surreal command; he allowed only six walks in 69.2 innings of work last year which led to a 12.00 K/BB ratio.

Dunn is another pitcher with a lot of upside and the stuff to close out games.  After being acquired by the Braves from the Yankees in the Vazquez deal last offseason, he was shipped to Florida (to play with Vazquez) after a 19-innings audition with Atlanta last year where he posted a 1.89 ERA.  His command is an issue, but if he can figure it out, he has dominating left-handed setup man written all over him.  The other left-hander, Choate, had a 3.50 FIP in Tampa last year and is a dependable middle-reliever.

The final bullpen spot will probably go to holdover Brian Sanches who had a 2.26 ERA in 63.2 innings in 2010, but his mediocre peripherals led to a 4.13 FIP.  If someone gets hurt or doesn’t perform in the spring, Adalberto Mendez, Burke Badenhop, Dustin Richardson, Jose Ceda, Jhan Marinez, Omar Poveda, and Evan Reed could also compete for a spot.  Badenhop actually pitched in the ‘pen last year and had a 3.67 FIP in 67.2 innings of work; he could also end up competing for a spot in the rotation.

Catchers
After going with Ronny Paulino last season, the Marlins decided to upgrade their catching situation by signing Toronto All-Star catcher John Buck to a three-year, $18-million contract.  Buck had a career year last season for the Jays, but is not a patient hitter who will likely see a regression in his batting average and power numbers.  His poor defence is not enough to make up for what will probably be a disappointing three seasons at the plate for Buck in South Florida.

The backup catcher will likely be John Baker who was injured for most of last season, but when healthy in 2009 posted a .271/.349/.410 slash line.  He might end up taking some at-bats away from Buck and could actually be the better player.

For depth, the Marlins have Brad Davis and Brett Hayes on the 40-man roster.  Both had some time in the big-leagues last year but are not good hitters.  Non-roster invites Clint Sammons and Vinny Rottino are also around.  Rottino is athletic enough to play the corner spots as well and had a .384 wOBA with 22 stolen bases in AA last year.

Infielders
With Uggla gone and Omar Infante in at second base, the Marlins should be at least a little better defensively in the infield, which is good because they were among the worst defensive teams in the NL last year.  Unfortunately Hanley Ramirez was the worst defensive shortstop in the NL and is probably better suited for third base, but he won’t be moved there for at least a few more years.

Infante is certainly a downgrade with the bat from Uggla and ultimately is probably best suited for a utility-infielder role.  He had a .321/.359/.416 slash line in 2010 despite a career .274/.319/.395 mark.  The Marlins believe Infante will come close to repeating his 2010 season, but most others think it was a fluke.  Ramirez may be awful defensively, but with the bat, he’s still one of the more dangerous hitters in the NL.  If he focuses and puts it all together, he’s a legitimate MVP candidate.

Gaby Sanchez is back to play first base, and was pretty good last year with a .273/.341/.448 slash line, but he’s probably not long for the organization.  Logan Morrison will eventually move to first and Sanchez will have no place to play.  He’s good, but for a first baseman his offensive numbers just don’t stack up.

At third base, the Marlins are going to give top prospect Matt Dominguez every opportunity to win the job.  He has not played above AA where he played in 138 games last season posting a .252/.333/.411 slash line.  He is considered a gold-glove calibre defender, but his bat has been a little slower to develop.  If he’s not ready for The Show, the Marlins are left with precious little options at the hot corner.  Veterans Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs would probably be the front-runners.

If Dominguez struggles, the Marlins may be smart to move Ramirez to third and start Ozzie Martinez at short.  Martinez is proving himself to be a solid young player after coming back from being shot three times in a drive-by shooting in 2009.  Unfortunately, the Marlins appear committed to keeping Ramirez at short for the time being.

Speedster Emilio Bonifacio is also back and can play anywhere in the infield or outfield.

Outfielders
Stanton in rightfield showed off his prolific power with 22 homeruns on only 100 games in his rookie season.  He’s so powerful that 50 home runs could be within his reach at some point in his career and many think he can hit 40 or more this season.  If he hits for average the way he did in the minors, a few MVP awards could be coming his way.  The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has also proven athletic enough to be an excellent rightfielder posting a 7.1 UZR last year.

2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will move to centerfield at least to start the year in 2011, but not many people think he’ll be good enough to stay there since he struggles defensively in leftfield.  He may end up playing third base if there are no other options since he used to be an infielder.  Coghlan came out of nowhere in 2009 and is vastly overrated because of that season.  He may be best suited in a fourth outfielder role.

In leftfield will be Logan Morrison who will eventually move to first base.  He posted a .307/.427/.487 slash line in 68 games at AAA in 2010 and should eventually start hitting for more power.

Scott Cousins will likely make the bench as a fourth outfielder and is a terrific defensive player who hit .297 for the Marlins last year.  He’ll likely be joined by another outfielder such as Bryan Peterson or veteran non-roster invite DeWayne Wise.

Depth chart, lineup, pitching rotation, bullpen, and everything else you may need to see, with a full workup of stats can be found here.

Overview
At first glance, the Marlins don’t look like a team that can improve on their 80-82 record from a year ago, but their rotation has the potential to be dominating, as does their bullpen and with players like Stanton, Ramirez and Morrison in their lineup, the Marlins should bounce back to respectablilty in 2011.
Final Prediction: 88-74, 3rd NL East.

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