"I know it's only spring training,' he said, "but it's time to take a look in the mirror. We're better than this. It's time to show it. We need to be playing as a team and we need to hit.'
-Jeffrey Loria | Florida Marlins Owner
As you may or not know, this isn't the first time Jeffrey Loria has been quick to lose patience with his Fish. The day after the Marlins won the 2009 Spring Opener, Loria criticized the teams' defense using similar terms as he did on Wednesday such as "inconsistent" and "unacceptable."
One thing we can all agree on, Spring Training stats mean very little or nothing compared to regular season and post-season stats and standings. Sure, a 5-13 record looks lousy on paper and local media outlets and TV networks such as the MLB Network will be quick to talk about and display the Marlins foddles and ugly plays. Again though, it's only Spring Training. Many teams and players have "surprised" the whole baseball world during their non-telivised Spring games only to leave a tabloid front page with a "Sean Rodriguez continues to hit" headline giving the average fan something to believe in. Like that average fan, Loria might already be vulnerable in to the "Spring Stats are a teams destiny" idea.
It doesn't take a sabermetrician to prove that Loria's claim is not only un-called for but premature. Recent results show that teams can be quite lousy in Spring Training only to have the important stats display a much better record 6 or 7 months later:
You get the point.
"The truth is they're a terrific bunch of athletes,' Loria said about his team, "but you don't see that when those performances happen daily. How many have we lost now, eight?'
It sure is hard for management when it's certain that you and you're colleagues (in this case, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings, and Larry Beinfest) are three of baseball's smartest and most on-task executives in the game. Of course, there's a catch. With the exception (and barely) of this past off-season, Jeffrey Loria has been extremely unwilling to let his boys spend on talent. We're not talking about the Cliff Lee's and Mark Teixeira's of the world, but taking in to context the fact that the Marlins didn't sign a single player to a Major League Contract during the 2009-10 off-season, the fact that they had to be asked to spend before they spent close to $40MM on four years of Josh Johnson, and their lack of ability to shell out a few more dollars to sugarcoat and complete a Dan Uggla deal certainly raise questions as to whether or not Jeffrey Loria even has the right to complain.
As this is his wallet, the lack of funds he's been willing let Michael Hill and Larry Beinfest play with in recent years is a big reason for his opinion of "inconsistent" and "lousy." Sure, there are other ways to win, such as developing and spending on amateur talent. As are signing guys to minor league deals, which the Marlins have not only spent most of their time doing, but have had some success doing so as well -- Jorge Cantu, Brian Sanches, and Cody Rosswere a few notable success stories in that regard.
But there's been a lack of amateur spending, solid scouting, and player development which is crucial to any organization that wants to not only be considered successful, but one that also wants to hang many large and shiny banners as well.
Lack of important winning methods as such are more to blame than your teams' lack of Spring energy and excitement. Perhaps it takes two to tango, Jeffrey Loria.
"Surely, it's nice to have everybody playing, but often there is one guy out and people pick him up,' Loria said. "I haven't seen the effort that I think they're capable of. It's time to wake up.'
A couple of weeks ago as most know by now, Mike Stanton was injured running to first base against a mere college team which promted his unavailability stint. Thus giving playing time to the likes of Bryan Peterson, Scott Cousins, DeWayne Wise, and more. Marlins Manager Edwin Rodriguez can speak to this as well as anybody; you don't want your regulars playing so often even if they are 100% healthy. Is it crazy for someone in the right mind to think that had Mike Stanton been healthy and available to play over the past several weeks that he still wouldn't be contributing to the Marlins "Spring Training Record?" Is it even worth it to try and win Spring Training games by playing Stanton, Morrison, Sanchez, and Hanley only to leave Matt Dominguez, DeWayne Wise, Joe Thurston, and Chris Lubanski sitting in the sweltering heat at Minor League camp? Absolutely not.
Spring Training is all about seeing what you have and going from there. As a manager, you want to be able to find one or two diamond in the roughs in an invited squad that consists of 5-10 has-beens. Seeing Hanley Ramirez range to his right and left right after hitting a three-run home run to dead center year after year suggests the Marlins don't need to play him in a meaningless Spring Training game -- in other words the biggest component of their everyday offense should in fact be left out of a Port Charlotte Rays-Marlins game in the middle of March. You need your regulars for the Regular Season which can eventually lead you to October.
"You know, I haven't seen us win since I've been here (this spring),' Loria said. "And I haven't seen the effort that they're capable of. I'd like us to feel better.'
Josh Kroeger, Emilio Bonifacio, Oizzie Martinez, Bryan Peterson, Scott Cousins, and DeWayne Wise have been on the field for a majority of the Marlins' Spring games. They've each had their share of at-bats and if you factor in the obvious, they are far less valuable than the players who will be playing at their respective positions come Opening Day. Alas, a sad slash line of .276/.276/.345 from Ozzie Martinez has been the best offensively out of that group. However, the Marlins could have easily struck gold with that same bunch of guys -- same goes for any team signing a player to a Minor League Deal. You take risks and let them benefit if they can. If they don't, little is lost.
Last year, C.C. Sabathia went Spring start after Spring start after Spring start yielding a run after run and getting torn apart like a soft tossing AAAA pitcher. Sabathia was quick to be replaced by a Yankee reliever. Sabathia had his name mentioned on the MLB Network and ESPN with a big question mark as to whether or not a lousy 2010 C.C. was in the cards. He certainly proved the skeptics wrong as the big left hander pitched another fantastic season.
Josh Johnson looks to be going through similar issues. He doesn't need to pitch his heart out, but doing so would certainly silence negativity from your owner. Prior to his much better start against the Cardinalson Thursday, Johnson went through several rough patches leaving many with similar thoughts to those of Loria. Prognosticators have a good feeling about Johnson this year (and why not?) but someone with knowledge of baseball in general should understand that a pitcher of Johnson's caliber and history is unlikely to fall apart. At least not because of a few lousy spring starts.
"We have a very young team. I think that they're learning from the whole situation. I don't want to show them or give them the impression that there's panic, because there's not.'
-Edwin Rodriguez | Florida Marlins Manager
Right on, Edwin.
That's the spirit, and he's right. Even with bad outings from more than half of the projected bullpen, there's still time to correct certain flaws and what not as well as simply evening out the mental mindset of a young pitcher. With a handful of players soon returning to the diamond following injuries, it's Rodriguez's job to keep the players even keel as well as getting the players prepared for Opening Day with a different or more manufactured style of play if he feels it's the right thing to do.
The Marlins have a team consisting of some of baseball's best young players. There's no reason to panic, lose patience, jump the gun, or criticize because of "inconsistent" and "unacceptable" play. Perhaps inconsistency comes from a lineup card every day that consists of 5 or 6 different names each time. Each player is different. Each player prepares for the season in a different way, and each player has a different skill set.
Sure, you can imagine Loria's feelings regarding the Marlins poor play. You can imagine what it must be like for an owner to watch his fully-invested group of men miss a routine catch or give up a long ball, but that's what Spring Training is all about.
"The light will come on. But it'd be nice to see it sooner rather than later. -Loria