Springtime storylines: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

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Between 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 2011 season. Next up: The ever-pesky Florida Marlins.

The Big Question: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

We’ve come to expect a particular narrative from the Marlins over the past few seasons. While owner Jeffrey Loria doesn’t spend much on player payroll, we can usually count on the Marlins to be a pesky bunch that will hang around just long enough so that they look like contenders around the trade deadline. However, they ultimately fall short down the stretch.

That’s essentially what we saw from them again last season, as Edwin Rodriguez took over for Fredi Gonzalez in June and led the Marlins to a 46-46 record the rest of the way. The most positive development from an on-the-field perspective was that Mike Stanton flashed elite power potential as a 20-year-old and Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison emerged as potential regulars moving forward.

The Marlins engaged in contract talks with the arbitration-eligible Dan Uggla following the season, but ultimately swapped him to the Braves for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn after he rejected a four-year, $48 million extension. It was a disappointing return for the Fish, especially considering that they traded him to a division rival.

The hope is that Stanton can provide the thump in the middle of the order for the long haul – and while he certainly appears capable of doing just that — I have some concerns about their offense this season, especially if they give 21-year-old Matt Dominguez the opportunity to sink or swim at third base. After losing one of the most reliable power hitters in the game, the Marlins are now banking on productivity from a number of young and inexperienced players.

So what else is going on?

  • Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez already give the Marlins a pretty good chance to win, so if Javier Vazquez rebounds, the starting rotation could be a real strength. It’s fair to expect some improvement with the move back to the National League — and away from Yankee Stadium — but Vazquez is unlikely make a major impact unless he consistently throws in the low-90s again. Back end starter? Fine. But let’s not get carried away just yet.
  • The Marlins plan — at least at the moment — to use Chris Coghlan in center field. The decision is bad enough since advanced metrics haven’t been kind to him in left field, but Coghlan is also coming back from knee surgery and is currently dealing with shoulder soreness. The alternatives aren’t great (Emilio Bonifacio, DeWayne Wise, Scott Cousins), but Coghlan could be a real adventure out there. If Dominguez struggles or begins the year in the minors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coghlan get a look at second base or third eventually.
  • Marlins relievers led the National League in walks last season and finished ninth in ERA, so they made it a priority to revamp their bullpen during the winter. Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Brian Sanches and Burke Badenhop remain, but they added Dunn in the Uggla trade, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica in the Cameron Maybin deal and Randy Choate as a free agent. Bullpens can be pretty fickle from year-to-year, but they should be better, at least on paper.
  • Dominguez could open the year on the major league roster, but there’s not much more help on the way. Now that Sanchez, Stanton and Morrison have graduated from the minors, the Marlins have one of the weakest farm systems in the game. If they’re going to win, they’re going to have to do it with what they currently have.

So how are they gonna do?

While I expect them to play better than .500 ball this year, I just don’t see them finishing ahead of the Braves or Phillies. Sure, Hanley will be Hanley and there will likely be some progression from Morrison and Stanton, but I’m not crazy about their third base situation and I’m betting against a repeat from new catcher John Buck.

So yes, another third place finish it is. On the bright side, the Marlins have a pretty exciting cast of young players under team control for the opening of their new stadium next season.

Chris Archer on joining Bruce Maxwell’s protest: “I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me at this time.”

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Rays pitcher Chris Archer doesn’t see himself joining Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest any time soon, Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports reports. Archer said, “From the feedback that I’ve gotten from my teammates, I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me, at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality.”

Archer continued, “I don’t want to offend anybody. No matter how you explain it or justify it, some people just can’t get past the military element of it and it’s not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates’ feathers on my personal views that have nothing to do with baseball.”

Archer did express admiration for the way Maxwell handled his situation. The right-hander said, “The way he went about it was totally, I think, as respectful as possible, just letting everybody know that this doesn’t have anything to do with the military, first and foremost, noting that he has family members that are in the military. It’s a little bit tougher for baseball players to make that leap, but I think he was the right person to do it.”

Maxwell recently became the first baseball player to kneel as the national anthem was sung, a method of protest popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As Craig explained yesterday, baseball’s hierarchical culture has proven to be a strong deterrent for players to express their unpopular opinions. We can certainly see that in Archer’s justification. Archer was one of 62 African Americans on the Opening Day roster across 30 major league clubs (750 total players, 8.3%).

Major League Baseball issues a statement on Trump’s latest travel ban order

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Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.

The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.

To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.

Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.