Springtime Storylines: When do we stop acting as if mere competence is enough for the Marlins?

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Marlins logo.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: the Feesh!

big question: When do we stop acting as if mere competence is enough for the Marlins?

You know the drill by now: everyone starts the season pretending that the Marlins don’t exist, then they start winning and people write the “check out those plucky Marlins!” stories and haul out the old payroll stories complete with the graphs which show that the Yankees spend more money on oxblood shoe polish than the Marlins spend on ballplayers. At the end of the day, the Feesh win 85 games or so and everyone congratulates them on being a fairly decent team, says “just wait until next year” and it starts all over again.

But that shouldn’t be enough. There’s a new taxpayer-fleecing stadium on the way and owner Jeff Loria talks about how he expects this team to make the playoffs, but it took threats from the union and the league just to get the team to give Dan Uggla and Josh Johnson the money they had earned. There was surprisingly little heat applied to the Marlins over that, just as there has historically been little heat applied to them over the fact that they have refused to spend the money they receive from revenue sharing to complement a strong core of players.

It’s a mistake for dead end teams like the Royals to pay veteran free agents, but there is no reason why a team close to contention like the Marlins are couldn’t spend a modest amount of money on some cheap power, which the team lacks. Adam LaRoche or Russel Branyan would have been a better placeholder for Logan Morrison than Gabby Sanchez will be.  The Marlins’ bullpen could have benefited from spackle too, but they once again decided to invite a cast of retreads to camp.  I’m not suggesting that the Marlins go crazy or anything, but when you own an 87-win team that you think should have made the playoffs, doing just about nothing to improve during the offseason is poor form.

But then again it’s Jeff Loria we’re talking about, and poor form is his middle name.

So what
else is
going on?

  • Speaking of those Loria expectations, big Jeff came close to firing manager Fredi Gonzalez last fall, and almost certainly will do so this year if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.  It probably won’t be justified — Gonzalez seems to get about as much from his teams as can expected — but that’s how it’ll go.
  • The Feesh have one of the top power prospects in the game in Mike Stanton, but it’s unlikely we’ll see much of him this year. He was sent down to minor league camp last week and will begin the season in AA. Which is probably the right move. He strikes out an awful lot and could stand to work on his plate discipline.  He simply needs some more time in the oven.

  • Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez seem set at the top of the rotation. Ricky Nolasco will be there too, though he’s coming off a rough season during which he was sent to New Orleans for a spell to figure it all out. Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller Rick
    VandenHurk, Hayden Penn and Clay Hensley will likely all see starts this year. It might be an OK rotation in another division, but Florida just doesn’t have the arms to keep up with the Braves and Phillies.
  • Dan Uggla is totally trade bait. He was all winter, really, but no one bit.  Any contender with a need at 2B, 3B or DH this summer will find that their calls will be answered by the Marlins.

So how
are they gonna do?

The Marlins still have Hanley Ramirez, Chris Coghlan and Josh Johnson, but while the Braves improved and the Phillies remain elite, the Feesh stood-pat and thus really have nowhere to go but down. I think the pen will be a major liability and the overall lack of power means that they’ll top out at third place.

Prediction: Third place in the NL East. You can only exceed expectations for so long.

here for other Springtime Storylines

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.