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.

Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph: meet Juan Marichal and John Roseboro

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Last night the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Cleveland Browns. No one is gonna be talking nearly as much about the outcome today, however, as they are the carnage.

Specifically, the carnage that led to Browns defensive end Myles Garrett getting ejected from the game after ripping Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet off, swinging it at him and connecting with Rudolph’s skull as the game came to a close. Things were already chippy as all get-out, but that obviously led to a brawl which will lead to a ton of suspensions, including a possibly record-breaking one for Garrett. For all your analysis on that, check out PFT, obviously.

The incident will dominate the sports shows today because malicious attempts to injure another player with a piece of equipment are pretty rare in professional sports. There was at least one incident in baseball history, however, that was analogous to what went down in Cleveland last night.

It took place on August 22, 1965 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco during a Dodgers-Giants game. That’s when Giants ace Juan Marichal, playing the role of Garrett, took a baseball bat to the head of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, standing in for Rudolph.

The Dodgers and Giants are rivals, of course, and in 1965 the two teams were in a pitched battle for the N.L. pennant, with the Dodgers leading San Francisco by a game and a half as the day began.

Pitchers in 1965 were a bit more aggressive about claiming the inside part of the plate than they are today, and on that day, everyone seemed cranky. Marichal knocked Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills down with some chin music in the top of the second for, it appears, committing the terrible transgression of bunting for a single in his first at bat of the game. In response Koufax fired a fastball over Willie Mays’ head, sending the ball to the backstop. So everyone was even, yeah?

Nah. Marichal responded in the top of third with an inside fastball that sent Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly sprawling to the dirt. At that point home plate umpire Shag Crawford issued a warning, indicating that that the next close pitch from either team would result in an ejection. Walter Alston’s Dodgers, though, were a clever bunch. Sure, maybe a close pitch was going to get an ace ejected in a pennant race, but there are other ways to buzz someone’s tower, right?

Pitchers batted in every game back then, of course, and Marichal came to bat in the bottom of the third. Koufax didn’t throw at him, though. Instead, Roseboro, catching for L.A., threw the ball back to Koufax in such a way as to have it sail close to Marichal’s head as he stood in the batter’s box. He later admitted in his autobiography that it was no accident, he was trying to intimidate Marichal.

Marichal flipped out, clubbing Roseboro with his bat, after which all hell broke loose (all photos, and the original caption from 1965, are from Getty Images):

 

Juan Marichal holding bat, John Roseboro attacked, and Sandy Koufax closes in.

 

Roseboro throws a punch at Marichal while latter swings bat and Koufax comes in to try and break it up.

 

On deck batter Giant Tito Fuentes pulls Roseboro away while Marichal wields bat at Koufax while umpire Shag Crawford and Giant coach Charlie Fox try to break it up.

 

Umpire Shag Crawford wrestles with Marichal while Dodgers Jim Gilliam (19) and Koufax come in. Rear is Giants coach Charlie Fox. Marichal falls to the ground on top of Shag Crawford while Giants Orlando Cepeda joins the melee.

 

Umpire Shag Crawford is shown here wrestling with Marichal as Dodgers Jim Gilliam (#19) and Sandy Koufax join in. In the rear is Giants’ coach Charlie Fox.

 

Identifiable L-R: Dodger Jim Gilliam (19); John Roseboro (with chest protector); Giants Orlando Cepeda (30); Cap Peterson (17); Warren Spahn; and Mgr. Herman Franks (3).

Willie Mays was credited with keeping the brawl from getting worse. Roseboro had military and martial arts training and, as you can see in the second photo, he was not slowed by his head injury — an injury that would require 14 stitches — from trying to take Marichal apart. Mays was the one who ultimately pulled Roseboro away and out of the fracas. He even held a towel to Roseboro’s head which by then had begun to bleed profusely. The fight eventually ended, with several players sustaining injuries due to kicks and accidental spikings of hands and legs and stuff.

The incident delayed the game for 14 minutes but the fallout beyond that was pretty tame compared to today’s standards. Marichal got an eight day suspension which, because of scheduled doubleheaders, caused him to miss ten games. He was also fined $1,750, which is around $15,000 today. Roseboro only missed two games due to his injury. The Dodgers would lose this game thanks to a big homer from Mays off of Koufax, but the Dodgers would go on to win the pennant and defeat the Minnesota Twins in the World Series.

There was additional fallout: Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000 in damages. They’d eventually settle, with Roseboro receiving $7,500 from Marichal.

But there was no lingering bad blood. In interviews after the incident both players admitted that there was much more on their minds in 1965 that might’ve contributed to their aggression on that day. There was the rivalry, of course, and the pennant race. But Marichal had been much more personally distracted by a civil war in his native Dominican Republic that raged in 1965 and would not end until September. Roseboro had been, understandably, affected by the Watts Riots in Los Angeles which had taken place just over a week before this game. When you feel helpless about situation A, you often channel your feelings into situation B and both men said that something like that was probably simmering.

Marichal would play for the Dodgers for two games in 1975, the final year of his career. Roseboro had already retired, but Marichal’s cup of coffee with L.A. allowed them to meet up at a Dodgers old-timers game in 1982. There they posed for this photo: 

Getty Images

“There were no hard feelings on my part,” Roseboro told the L.A. Times in 1990. Roseboro died in 2002. Marichal was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.

Let’s check in with Garrett and Ruldolph in 37 years to see how they’re doing.