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 top 100 Jock Jams

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Why yes, it is a slow news day. So here’s a fun list from Billboad: The 100 Greatest Jock Jams of all time.

You know ’em when you hear ’em. “Seven Nation Army.” “Rock and Roll Part 2.” “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project. Songs that existed before they were used at sporting events but songs you rarely ever hear outside of them anymore and, frankly, kinda don’t want to because they’ve been forever turned into sporting event anthems.

It’s hard to disagree with this list. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” is at number one. I’ll grant that, even if you hear that way less now than you used to, mostly because it was SO overused as, perhaps, the original jock jam from the 1980s-forward. All of the rest make sense.

Baseball lends itself far less to jock jams than the other sports as the intensity level of the game is so much lower for the most part. Also, since the rankings tried to intentionally stay away from songs that relate to only one sport there is no “Centerfield” or “Glory Days” or songs like that. Baseball is represented, though, with “Sweet Caroline” at number 20. Likewise, you might hear any number of these songs when the bases are loaded and the visiting manager comes out to make a pitching change. A lot of players use these songs as walkup music too.

A good time killer on a slow day.

(h/t to my wife, who sent me the link and said “Did you see this? Could be a good garbage post”). Um, thanks?

Yoenis Cespedes plans to run more, lift less this offseason

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Yoenis Cespedes plans to be in The Best Shape of His Life next season.

He didn’t really say that, but this article in the New York Post features Cespedes doing more or less what those Best Shape of His Life stories are aimed at doing: changing perceptions and/or trying to take the heat off of a poor or injury-impacted season.

In Cespedes’ case it was two hamstring injuries this year which limited him to 81 games. He hit the disabled list with a leg injury last year too. So what’s he gonna do? Less emphasis on bulk, more on running:

“I think in the past I have gone into the season where I have spent a lot of time in the gym doing a lot of lifting, so I come in feeling very strong,” Cespedes said through an interpreter before the Mets’ 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Marlins. “But I definitely wasn’t dedicating the time I need to be running, to really give resistance to my muscles.

Of course the bulk was, at the time, supposed to be to what was responsible for his resurgence after he fell off while playing with the A’s and Red Sox. Get strong, hit bombs. He did that, it worked and then the injuries came and now, apparently, that’s not supposed to be a good thing for him.

I get that bodies change and that exercise science is often an inexact science. And, where it is more exact, it’s outside of the total understanding of outsiders like us. But it often seems that guys in baseball do a thing, then do the opposite thing, then go back to doing a thing based on gut feeling. And that injuries are going to come to certain players no matter what they do.