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.

Jim Crane thought the heat over sign-stealing would blow over by spring training

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The Astros’ sign-stealing story broke in November, a steady drumbeat of coverage of it lasted through December and into January, when Rob Manfred’s report came out about it. The report was damning and, in its wake, Houston’s manager and general manger were both suspended and then fired.

After that a steady stream of media reports came out which not only made the whole affair seem even worse than Manfred’s report suggested, but which also suggested that, on some level, Major League Baseball had bungled it all and it was even worse than it had first seemed.

Rather than Manfred and the Astros putting this all behind them, the story grew. As it grew, both the Red Sox and Mets fired their managers and, in a few isolated media appearances, Astros’ players seemed ill-prepared for questions on it all. Once spring training began the Astros made even worse public appearances and, for the past week and change, each day has given us a new player or three angrily speaking out about how mad they are at the Astros and how poorly they’ve handled all of this.

Why have they handled it so poorly? As always, look to poor leadership:

Guess not.

In other news, Crane was — and I am not making this up — recently named the Houston Sports Executive of the Year. An award he has totally, totally earned, right?