Marlins Spring Baseball

Running down the rosters: Miami Marlins

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The hopes are high with LeBron James having one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history and the Dolphins potentially landing Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn as their new quarterback. Also, the baseball team has a new name, a new stadium and a new star shortstop. Let’s see if that does the Marlins any good.

Rotation
Josh Johnson – R
Mark Buehrle – L
Anibal Sanchez – R
Ricky Nolasco – R
Carlos Zambrano – R

Bullpen
Heath Bell – R
Edward Mujica – R
Michael Dunn – L
Ryan Webb – R
Randy Choate – L
Steve Cishek – R
Wade LeBlanc – L

Restricted list: Juan Oviedo (R)
SP next in line: Brad Hand (L), LeBlanc, Alex Sanabia (R), Sean West (L)
RP next in line: Jose Ceda (R), Chris Hatcher (R), Chad Gaudin (R), Sandy Rosario (R)

Along with their $106 million outlay for Jose Reyes, the Marlins spent $58 million on Buehrle and $27 million on Bell, adding stability to a staff that has lacked it for several years. Buehrle won’t contend for a Cy Young, but he’ll be at least a bit above average over the course of 200 innings. Bell’s best years are probably behind him, but he figures to be a quality closer for at least a couple of more years.

The Marlins have plenty of upside elsewhere. Johnson would be a legitimate Cy Young contender if he could stay healthy. Sanchez has posted an ERA in the mid-3.00s each of the last two years. If  those two combine to make 60 starts and either Nolasco or Zambrano can rebound (probably too much to expect both to do so), then the Marlins would be definite threats for the wild card.

Lineup
SS Jose Reyes – S
CF Emilio Bonifacio – S
3B Hanley Ramirez – R
RF Mike Stanton – R
LF Logan Morrison – L
1B Gaby Sanchez – R
C John Buck – R
2B Omar Infante – R

Bench
C Brett Hayes – R
1B-3B Greg Dobbs – L
INF Donnie Murphy – R
OF Scott Cousins – L
OF Aaron Rowand – R

Next in line: C Clint Sammons (R), 3B Matt Dominguez (R), INF Nick Green (R), INF Gil Velazquez (R), OF Austin Kearns (R), OF Chris Coghlan (L), OF Bryan Petersen (L), OF Kevin Mattison (L)

Obviously, much depends on Hanley here. In him, Reyes and Stanton, the Marlins may well possess three of the NL’s top 10 position players. Day one went off without a hitch, but it still remains to be seen whether he’ll make an issue of the move to third base. A pouting Ramirez figures to be an unproductive Ramirez, but if Ozzie Guillen can get through to him — and who better to make the attempt — then the lineup could be dynamite.

What is disappointing is that the Marlins didn’t make much of an attempt to upgrade their bench over the winter. But Bonifacio’s versatility does help there. If Reyes or Infante gets hurt (and the Marlins don’t want to move Hanley back to short), Bonifacio can move back to the infield, opening up center for whichever outfielder is playing better. The Marlins do have plenty of competition for those outfield bench spots: one figures to go to a lefty (Cousins, Coghlan or Petersen) and the other to a righty (Rowand or Kearns).

In the Marlins’ case, I’m skeptical that the whole will be the equal to the sum of its parts. There’s some terrific talent here, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see the team win 95+ games and maybe even overtake the Phillies in the NL East. It also wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Hanley force his way off the team and Johnson spend the bulk of the year on the DL, leading to a fourth-place finish. My guess is that they sneak into the postseason via the wild card, but I’m far from confident.

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.