2014 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 2014 season. Next up: The Miami Marlins.

The Big Question: Can the Marlins lose fewer than 100 games?

The Marlins lost exactly 100 games last season, the result of their latest gigantic fire sale. The Fish opened up the 2012 season with a $101.6 million payroll, but ended up trading away Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, Edward Mujica, Gaby Sanchez, Heath Bell, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Yunel Escobar by the end of the calendar year.

With most of their talent gone, the Marlins had to fill out their roster with young, inexperienced players and cheap, discarded veterans. On the one hand, this allowed us to watch Jose Fernandez flourish. On the other hand, Jeff Mathis racked up the most playing time behind the dish. The team was not fun to watch, nor even to watch your team play against.

Giancarlo Stanton was the one bright spot on offense. He was the only Marlins hitter (min. 275 plate appearances) to post an adjusted OPS over 95; he finished at 131. The slugger blasted 24 home runs in just over 500 trips to the plate, many of them tape-measure shots. Stanton landed on the disabled list for the second season in a row with a strained right hamstring. He hasn’t exactly been Franklin Gutierrez with his injury problems, but he is starting to get the reputation of someone who struggles to play a full season.

The other bright spot in Miami was Jose Fernandez. The 20-year-old Cuban dominated Major League hitters from the start, allowing two or fewer runs in 11 of his first 15 starts. Ultimately, he finished with a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings. The Baseball Writers Association of America rewarded him with the National League Rookie of the Year award, and the right-hander also finished third in Cy Young balloting. Going into 2014, he is the undisputed ace of the Marlins’ staff and will unsurprisingly get the Opening Day nod.

The Marlins haven’t done much to improve the roster, staying pretty quiet during the off-season. Their big splash was the signing of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million deal. The Fish did add Garrett Jones to replace Logan Morrison at first base, Rafael Furcal to play at second base, Casey McGehee to man the hot corner, and Carlos Marmol to contribute out of the bullpen, but they can all be classified as garbage heap signings.

What else is going on? 

  • Last season, closer Steve Cishek impressed by saving 34 games and posting a 2.33 ERA in 69 2/3 innings. It marks his third consecutive season with a sub-2.70 ERA. Unfortunately, Cishek is eligible for arbitration in each of the next two years, so he will get a raise on his $3.8 million salary for 2014. This means that the Marlins are very likely to trade him, if not by the July 31 trade deadline, then at some point during the off-season.
  • The starting rotation beyond Fernandez has a chance to be productive. ZiPS is projecting a 3.94 ERA for Henderson Alvarez, 4.09 for Nate Eovaldi, and 4.35 for Jacob Turner. PECOTA isn’t too far off at 4.10, 4.41, and 4.07, respectively. No, they don’t knock your socks off, but if the trio can beat the projections even by a little bit, the Marlins won’t  be the 100-game losers of yesteryear.
  • Christian Yelich impressed in 62 games after being called up in late July, posting a .766 OPS in 273 PA. He also stole ten bases in as many attempts. He was Baseball America’s #15 prospect entering the season and he will be the club’s starting left fielder.
  • The Marlins will try to sign Stanton to a contract extension throughout the season. Stanton was displeased with the team’s fire sale in 2012, but said recently he’d consider signing long-term if they showed him a commitment to winning. He said, “[Security] happens over a season or over two seasons. You show me that, and we can get something going.” [Via MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro] 

Prediction: The Marlins have some players to keep your eye on, but unfortunately, the majority of their roster is dreck and it will cost them plenty of games. Reaching the 70-win threshold will be a battle. Fifth place, NL East.

The Yankees attendance and revenue is down, but it makes sense

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There’s a long article in the New York Times today noting that the Yankees attendance is down and that, based on financial figures released as part of their stadium bond disclosures, ticket and suite revenues through last season have fallen by $166 million since the end of 2009.

There is a lot of talk in the article about the exciting young team the Yankees have put together and how much they’ve won so far in the early going. And there is a lot of talk about marketing and demographics — Hal Steinbrenner talks about baseball’s “millennial problem” — but the story of the Yankees’ box office issues, such as they are, is pretty straightforward.

All teams suffer attendance and revenue decline when they play poorly. While the Yankees have not been bad for a long, long time, that’s a somewhat relative thing. They Yankees have sold themselves and sold their fans on the idea that nothing short of a championship is acceptable, so missing the playoffs for three of the past four years is bad for them. Fans don’t want to go see a bad team, be it Yankees fans, Rays fans, Royals fans or whoever.

Despite the recent lack of success, the Yankees have still, perversely, continued to price their tickets, concessions, parking and everything else as though they’re the only game in town. When demand falls and prices remain super high, fewer people are buying your product. Even if you’re the New York Yankees.

The Yankees are good this year. What’s more, they’re good in that exciting way that only young promising players bursting out onto the scene can deliver. It’s a wonderful thing for marketing and stuff, but even under the best of circumstances, ticket sales tend to lag on field success, often by as much as a year. Go back and look at World Series winning teams — especially the surprise winners — and you’ll see that it’s the year after on-field success when the real attendance bumps happen. I expect, if the Yankees continue to play well, their gate will get really nice by the end of the summer, but I suspect we’ll also see a more dramatic bump next year.

Taken all together, this is a dog-bites-man story. The Yankees are not some transcendent institution, immune from market forces. They’re just one of 30 Major League Baseball teams competing against other entertainments for a finite amount of the public’s money and attention. Nothin’ to see here.

David Price had a rocky rehab start last night

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Red Sox starter David Price has been rehabbing a left elbow injury since early March. Last night he made his latest rehab outing for Triple-A Pawtucket. It didn’t go well.

Price allowed six runs — three earned — on seven hits in three and two-thirds innings, requiring 89 pitches to do it. His velocity was good, but otherwise it was a night to forget. This was supposed to be Price’s last rehab start before returning to the Sox’ big league rotation, but one wonders if he’s ready for it.

Price didn’t talk to the media after the game, but Pawtucket’s manager said he was “upbeat” and “felt good.” For his part, John Farrell, upon hearing about the outing, said this:

“There’s no announcement at this point. We’ve got to sit with him and talk about what’s best for him, best for us as we move forward.”

The Sox could really use Price back in the rotation given their injury problems, but rushing him back if he’s not ready is certainly not ideal.

Stay tuned.