Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Messy Marlins

Your faithful writer will head to Florida in a couple of days for the annual summer trip to Mom's place in North Palm Beach. The trip is always highly anticipated as Mom is now 85 and needs the company and the help. But it also means weeks by the pool catching up with baseball books from the library and sitting by the pool soaking up the hot Florida sun. It also means a chance to see the son that moved to Florida last year. Can't wait for that! But it also means weeks of watching Florida baseball. Tommy Hutton, here we come. Oh goody.

The Marlins showed early promise this season with a run that kept them tucked just behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. But since that early run, the Marlins have sunk faster than one of those sink or swim items on David Letterman. The team seems totally lost. When they hit, they don't pitch. When they pitch, they don't hit and just as often, they don't hit or pitch. The Florida Marlins are everything the Tampa Bay Rays are not. Those little poor kids that can on the other side of the state simply find a way to chug along despite no payroll and no attendance. The Marlins have a low payroll, terrible attendance and simply can't find a way to get it done. The odds are that Jonah Keri won't be writing a book about the Marlins any time soon.

And it's too bad as the Marlins have some nice players. Logan Morrison has come into his own and Mike Stanton is a young stud who hits towering home runs. Their manager, Edwin Rodriguez seems like a nice guy that is liked by his players. But nice doesn't cut it. They are 1-12 in June. On May 28, they were ten games over .500. Now they are two games under. In most of their games, the score hasn't even been close.

Nothing about the Marlins seems smart. Logan Morrison has brought a lot of attention to the team with his rising popularity on Twitter. Morrison has become a social media star in this golden age of such things all the while backing up his popularity with good play on the field. What do the Marlins do? They tell him to shut up. That's just plain dumb. Ride that wave, Marlins! Sure, ask Morrison to tone down the anti-family material. That's understandable. But to tell him to shut up completely?

So what's up with this team? Well, we begin with Hanley Ramirez. Just two years ago, Ramirez was compared to Albert Pujols as a competitor to the great Albert for the prize of best player of the game. There were indications that Ramirez needed to grow up a bit. His effort seemed to come and go. And that was okay as long as he was producing. But last year, he fell off the table and this year, he can't get off the floor. Last year, his OPS feel 101 points. This year, the Marlins would gladly get THAT Hanley Ramirez back. 211 plate appearances into the season and Ramirez has a 66 OPS+. And yes, this is the same Hanley Ramirez whose OPS+ was over 140 for three years in a row. The shortstop's WAR has gone from 7.6 to 7.2 to 3.7 to this year's -0.2. Ugh.

Absorbing the loss of performance from Hanley Ramirez would be one thing, but trading Dan Uggla and his offense has hurt too. Omar Infante is a better fielder. But Infante is proving this year, that he's best suited to the utility role and not an everyday player (last year notwithstanding). Signing John Buck to a large contract based on an inflated year in Toronto a year ago, was a mistake. He is the same defensively and offensively challenged catcher he was before last year's outlier. The Marlins' bench has been non-existent with the exception of Brett Hayes, who is having a nice season. The Chris Coghlan experiment in center field has gone better than expected in the field, but he can't seem to get his Rookie of the Year batting stroke back.

But there's always Mike Stanton. Stanton week after week hits highlight homers into upper decks all over the continent. But he's only 21 and is still learning. And as such, you have games where he strikes out a lot and pitchers take advantage of his weaknesses. Stanton's on base percentage is good and of course, his slugging percentage is terrific. But he can be had still.

Gabby Sanchez has made a few critics go away (this one included). He seemed the second coming of James Loney. But he's put up great numbers this season including some power that all add up to a 141 OPS+. Sanchez is better than we thought he was. His season, along with Morrison's have been the success stories of the Marlins but it hasn't been enough.

Doesn't it seem like every year, the writers say that if the Marlins' young pitching gels, this team could be trouble for the NL East? Every year we hear that and you know what? It still hasn't happened. Josh Johnson has some of the best stuff in the majors. But he can't stay on the field. Ricky Nolasco started strong along with Johnson, but has gone deep into the toilet since. Chris Volstad has been an absolute disaster. The Javier Vazquez signing ranks right up there with the John Buck signing in the mistake category. Only Anibal Sanchez gives the team a chance to win whenever he pitches. And Sanchez always seems to go against the other team's hottest pitcher. Today, he gets Roy Halladay. Good luck with that one.

A big problem for the Marlins is that there is no starting pitching help in the high minors. One quick look at their Triple A team in New Orleans reveals a bunch of starters that couldn't help the Marlins at all. Perhaps Jay Buente could help, but he's been more of a spot starter and is a bit long in the tooth to be a prospect. It does seem that Jose Ceda could be useful in the bullpen, another problem area for the Marlins of late.

The Fan asks for forgiveness in what has turned out to be a very negative post. Perhaps the Fan is just dreading listening to Tommy Hutton drone one for nine innings. That's enough to turn any good feelings for the team into mush. These yearly three-week sabbaticals to Florida usually make this writer a fan of Florida baseball, but perhaps not this year.

And let's get back to Edwin Rodriguez. This writer has always felt that Rodriguez has the job simply as a cheap placeholder until the Marlins get into their new stadium. But perhaps that isn't fair to the manager. He has to have the tools to work with and he simply doesn't have them. Of course, his insistence on writing Emilio Bonifacio's name into the line up every single day is a huge knock on him from this corner. But the manager seems like a class act. But unless he can get Hanley Ramirez turned around and his pitching staff heading in the right direction, the prediction that he won't be the Marlins' manager in the new stadium will come true. Fair or not, the manager pays for what happens on the field. And right now, the Marlins are 1-12 in June.

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