2013 preview: Miami Marlins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Miami Marlins.

The Big Question: Can the Marlins recover from their latest fire sale?

A little over a year ago, the Marlins opened up the season with a new, reinvigorated outlook. Their Opening Day payroll increased from $57.7 million in 2011 to $101.6 million thanks to three big free agent signings: Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. They had also acquired Carlos Zambrano, bolstering a core that included Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez.

On July 22, the Marlins found themselves at 44-51, 12.5 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals. Feeling a second-half surge too improbable, they traded Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers, then sent Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers two days later. The Marlins went 25-42 the rest of the way, but they weren’t done selling.

On November 19, the Marlins and Blue Jays pulled off one of the biggest trades (in terms of number of players involved) in baseball history. The Fish sent Reyes, Johnson, Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and cash to the Toronto Blue Jays. In return, they received Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, prospect Adeiny Hechavarria along with three other Minor Leaguers. As a result, the roster the Marlins will be opening up 2013 with looks nothing like their 2012 iteration. Those getting their first attempts at an everyday job include shortstop Hechavarria, center fielder Justin Ruggiano, second baseman Donovan Solano, and catcher Rob Brantly. Steve Cishek, with 18 career saves, will start the season as the closer.

Even for a roster that is infused with so much youth, the Marlins took some gambles as well. Logan Morrison, who can never seem to stay healthy, is taking over at first base while injury-prone 37-year-old Placido Polanco will patrol third base. 35-year-old Juan Pierre is the everyday left fielder.

Frankly, it’s tough to see what their game plan is. Despite a payroll that has shrunk below $40 million, they are not entering a rebuilding phase and they do not lay claim anything better than an average farm system, at least according to Keith Law. One year after opening up a new stadium which cost $634 million — $376.3 and $132.5 million of which was paid for by Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, respectively – you have to wonder what, besides retaining Giancarlo Stanton, they are doing to draw fans to games.

2013 is going to be ugly in so many ways for the Marlins and what little remains of their fan base.

What else is going on? 

  • Ricky Nolasco is eligible for free agency after the season. It will be his last opportunity to strike it rich. The 30-year-old right-hander has failed to live up to lofty expectations throughout his career, owning a 4.49 ERA in over 1,100 innings. His ability to miss bats has fallen precipitously in recent years: his strikeout rate was 25 percent in 2009, but was only 15 percent last year. Don’t think the other 29 GM’s in baseball haven’t noticed because the Marlins have had ample opportunities to move him and simply couldn’t. If he can 1.) stay healthy; 2.) post good results; 3.) with an improved strikeout rate, there may be a team or two willing to pay for his services after the season.
  • How good can Giancarlo Stanton be? Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system sees a .973 OPS with 41 home runs. He was at .969 with 37 dingers last year, so it is certainly realistic. That would put him around a 160 adjusted OPS. If achieved, he would join Mike Trout (2012) and Albert Pujols (2003) as the only three players in the 2000’s to post a 160 or better adjusted OPS at the age of 23 or younger. Two things to keep an eye on: 1) will the Marlins trade him, either mid-season or during the off-season? 2) will he surpass his MLB-leading (according to Hit Tracker Online) 494 feet on an August 17 home run against Josh Roenicke at Coors Field? Never forget.
  • Steve Cishek has a chance to become a decent closer. He posted a  2.63 and 2.69 ERA in 2011 and ’12, respectively, fooling hitters with a funky side-arm delivery. He still needs to work on his control – a ten percent walk rate won’t cut it in high-leverage situations over the long haul. But the potential is certainly there.
  • Ugh. Seriously, the Marlins roster as a whole is depressing and ugly with very few long-term prospects. Let’s be honest, Jeffrey Loria and David Samson are bad for baseball.

Prediction: Fifth place, National League East.

Yankees sign top two draft picks

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The Yankees signed first-round draft pick Clarke Schmidt and second-round pick Matt Sauer on Saturday, per a team announcement. Schmidt, a right-hander from the University of South Carolina, is set to earn a signing bonus of $2,184,300. According to MLB.com’s Oliver Macklin, that’s much lower than the typical $3+ million allocated for a No. 16 overall pick. The opposite is true for Sauer, whose projected $2.5 million signing bonus tops the suggested $1.2 million reserved for a No. 54 pick.

Schmidt, 21, boasts an impressive four-pitch repertoire and profiles as a front-end or mid-rotation starter, according to reports from Yankees’ VP of Domestic Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer and ESPN’s Keith Law, among others. He carried a 4-2 record through nine starts in 2017 and turned in a 1.34 ERA before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery last month to repair a torn UCL in his right elbow. While the Yankees won’t see him pitch at any level until late 2018, they seem confident in his makeup and ability to rebound over the next couple of years.

Fellow right-hander and Righetti High School senior Matt Sauer is a different story altogether. The 18-year-old hurler appears destined for the bullpen with a polished fastball-slider combo and a promising curveball and changeup. He dazzled on the mound this year, going 9-1 with an 0.98 ERA and two shutouts over 78 1/3 innings. While the Yankees seem most interested in his pitching skills, Sauer showed some pop at the plate as well, touting a .427 average with 24 RBI through 135 plate appearances.

Three A’s rookies hit their first big league home runs on Saturday

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The Athletics followed Friday’s 3-0 shutout with a rookie-led home run derby on Saturday afternoon, watching not one, not two, but three rookies belt their first major league home runs off of the White Sox’ James Shields.

Right fielder Matt Olson was the first to strike, taking Shields deep on a first-pitch, two-run blast in the first inning for his first home run in 49 major league plate appearances:

Fellow outfielder Jaycob Brugman duplicated his teammate’s results in the second inning with a solo home run, his first extra-base hit of any kind since he made his debut on June 9:

In the third, with a comfortable 4-0 lead backing two scoreless frames from Oakland right-hander Daniel Gossett, Franklin Barreto took his shot at Shields. After getting the call several hours prior to Saturday’s game, he became the fastest of the three rookies to record his first big league homer, going yard on a 2-2 changeup and driving in Bruce Maxwell to give the A’s a six-run advantage.

The Athletics currently lead the White Sox 8-2 in the top of the sixth inning.