Five questions: Florida Marlinsby Ben Pritchett
March 18, 2011
How will the Marlins fill the void left by Dan Uggla?
During his tenure with the Marlins, Uggla averaged 31 home runs and 34 doubles per season. His .837 OPS ranks as second best among active second basemen with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He has two All-Star games to his credit and a 2010 Silver Slugger award.
Let’s look at the second baseman the Marlins brought in to replace Uggla. Omar Infante has an All-Star game in his achievement belt as well (although undeserved). Infante has been a super utility player his entire career. His .355 batting average on balls in play in 2010 was his highest since he was a Tiger in 2002, and 2010 must be considered a career year. He’s flashed legitimate power only once, and that was in 2004 when he squeaked 16 balls over the outfield fence. His .121 career ISOP shows he’s not ready to hit anywhere near the way Uggla did.
Another option to fix the Uggly power outage in Miami could be within the returning Marlins lineup itself. How about Gaby Sanchez? In an interview with MLB.com, Sanchez had this to say about making up for a lost Uggla:
That would be great to even come close to what Dan (Uggla) accomplished here the last five years," Sanchez said. "I definitely worked out a lot harder this offseason on my power and strength. I want to pick up those numbers. He's definitely going to be missed here. We have to pick up the numbers that he put up.
It would be nice to see Sanchez pick up the slack in the power department, but I’m a little skeptical. At age 27, he makes good contact (83.9 percent in 2010), but his ISOP was just .175. Anything more than 25 home runs in 2011 would be a huge season for Sanchez. Is that good enough?
The best options for the Marlins to find a new OPS source will be in one or all among Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Hanley Ramirez. Hanley’s power may be maxed out, but Mike Stanton could theoretically hit 40-plus homers in 2011. He’s just that much of a man/beast.
Morrison is the interesting player here. He saw his power disappear in 2010. Whether that’s the player he will be or if that was just an adjustment to major league pitching is still to be seen, truth be told. One player can’t make up for Uggla, but the Marlins’ team as a whole could fill the void he left.
Who will lead off for the Fish?
Chris Coughlan has been the announced choice of Edwin Rodriguez. I don’t understand why the manager has that much faith in him. Maybe he sees Coughlan’s minor league career OBP of .367 and thinks that will one day manifest itself in the big leagues. After all, he showed flashes of that skill set in the second half of his rookie season, a second half that included a .372 average and a rookie of the year award.
Underlying issues were apparent even in 2009, though. His 15 percent strikeout rate was than in any season in the minors. That turned into 23.5 in 2010. His walk rate is diminishing as well. This trend will erode that OBP, and his knee problems could cut his consistently stellar BABIP (.354 career) as well.
Other options could be Infante, who would be my choice. They could move Infante to third and let Osvaldo Martinezget a full time chance at leading off. Longshots for the job are Emilio Bonifacio(surely not) and DeWayne Wise.
Will Florida have a starter with 15-plus wins?
The answer to this question is yes, but will that pitcher be Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez or more than one of the three? I was explaining Nolasco to somebody the other day by saying what all the experts have said about him for years: "One day Ricky Nolasco will be good, and this is the year."
It’s rather humorous that we hypnotize ourselves to the skill set that Nolasco seemingly doesn’t know he has. He has become a punch line among fantasy writers. He’s the guy we all laugh about at the draft table because some poor soul will draft him on the hopes that he will one day give us what we’ve wanted for years, an ace. As for 15 wins, I don’t see that happening just yet.
With Nolasco scratched off the list, let’s gander upon Anibal Sanchez. He won 13 games in 2010 so you’d think 15 couldn’t be out of the question, right? Wrong. He is one of those pitchers who will last long enough in games to attain high win totals. He’s not dominant enough, and the Marlins aren’t potent enough to give him 15 wins in 2011.
Now it’s time for Johnson. He had the highest quality start percentage (.82) of any pitcher in the NL in 2010, and still won only 11 games. That means the Marlins’ atrocious bullpen led by Leo Nunez squandered win after win for Johnson last year. They can’t possible perform that poorly in 2011, and Johnson is now an elite starter. If the Fish can’t get him 15 wins, it won’t be his fault.
Is Edwin Rodriguez a better manager than Fredi Gonzalez?
The Marlins fired Gonzalez 70 games into the 2010 season. To his benefit, he will be leading a Braves team as the first new Atlanta manager in 17 years. That’s the American dream, to get fired by a bad company to be hired by one of the best. Rodriguez did well with the team he inherited in 2010, but filling his shoes for the long term will be a task. With the Marlins' extremely low payroll, Gonzalez had only one losing season (his first) in four seasons.
At least Rodriguez is optimistic about 2011. As reported by the Sun-Sentinel:
I did say that I’ve known them for many years,” Rodriguez said. “Pretty much everybody at one point I managed them, and I know what kind of makeup they have. There are a lot of winners in that room. There are a lot of guys that have the mental toughness needed to win championships. Why not? Let’s take one game at a time, let your abilities take over and I can feel it. We’re going to be the last team standing come October.
I always have felt, like most baseball enthusiasts, that baseball managers are the most overrated “coaches” in sports. Instructionally, they are essential to success, but game-by-game decision making seems blown out of proportion. Give me managers that inspire, stick up for their players, handle distractions well, and have faith in their team. These managers are the Bobby Coxes and Joe Torres of the world. I must say I am a fan of Fredi Gonzalez, but in fairness to Rodriguez, the Marlins won’t be good enough to even compare the two managers properly. Although, if the Marlins perform anywhere near Gonzalez' Braves, we will have our answer.
Where will the Florida Marlins finish in the NL East?
They're not ready to win the East yet. The Marlins have three solid starters, but lack established depth in the back end of the rotation. The bullpen is filled with young flame-throwers who are going to get roughed around every now and again. The hitting could be better and more balanced in 2011, especially as Scott Cousins, Martinez and Matt Dominguez break through. But they are still a few moves and years away from being in the same conversation as the Braves and Phillies.
The Nationals are much improved and have a far superior offense. Furthermore, the Nats will bolster a comparable starting rotation and a much better bullpen. The poor Marlins will have good intentions in 2011, but as George W. Bush said, “Good intentions are not good enough.” The Florida Marlins will finish dead last in the NL East, and nobody will be there to see it.
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