2006 W-L: 78-84 (4th place)
2006 Pythag: 80-82
Matt Lindstrom, Henry Owens, Kevin Gregg, Aaron Boone, Felix Rodriguez, Alex Sanchez
Jason Vargas, Chris Resop, Wes Helms, Brian Moehler, Joe Borowski, Matt Herges
The Marlins In a Nutshell:
I haven't crunched the numbers, but with the departure of Brian Moehler, Joe Borowski, Matt Herges, and Wes Helms, the youngest team in recent memory may have actually gotten younger still. Unless Alex Sanchez or Felix Rodriguez has embarrassing pictures of Fredi Gonzalez, there may not be a starter (position player or pitcher) or reliever above the age of 28.
All that youth brings with it plenty of uncertainty--when Dan Uggla comes back to earth, will he be any good? is Jeremy Hermida still a star in the making? does a 98 mph fastball a closer make?--but once again, Florida will be a fun team to watch. Without another impact bat, they probably won't come near the powerhouses of the division, but for the second straight year, they ought to make their rivals uncomfortable for a few weeks in July and August.
As you might expect for a young team, there's very little turnover. Depending on what happens in center field, the Fish could start the year with almost exactly the same lineup as they did last year. Judging from their performance last year, that presents two problems: center and right field.
Center field is likely to continue to be a problem. When you've got Reggie Abercrombie and Alex Sanchez competing for a starting job, well...Rocco Baldelli starts to look real good. Last year, Marlins CFers hit 228/298/344; ZiPS projects Sanchez to underperform those OBP and SLG numbers. Abercrombie is also projected for a sub-300 OBP, but to top 400 in slugging. There's no real solution here, except to put whoever plays center in the 8-hole.
Right field is a much rosier picture. Due to injury, Jeremy Hermida only played about half of last season. He didn't hit well, but depending on which projection system you trust, he could be in for a very nice return to form. ZiPS puts him at 254/357/426, while PECOTA likes him to the tune of 283/378/479. Either one would represent a big improvement on last year's mediocrity, and would leave Florida with only the one notably below-average position.
Beyond those two trouble spots, the big question for the Marlins offense is how well all those rookies will maintain their 2006 level of performance. When three starting position players get Rookie of the Year votes, it seems likely that one or more of them will take a step back.
Of the big three--Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Josh Willingham--ZiPS likes their chances of maintaining something close to their 2006 OBP levels, but foresees a drastic step back in power. It's tough to forecast guys with only a single season in the majors, but it seems likely that the Marlins will suffer through at least one sophomore slump.
In fact, a power outage could turn out to be the biggest differences between the '06 and '07 teams. The Marlins had the 4th best slugging percentage in the NL, but there are all sorts of reasons to see their team number of .435 slipping: notably, regression from the rookies and the replacement of Wes Helms with Aaron Boone. While a resurgence from Hermida would help out in that department, the net change will probably be negative.
Last year, the Marlins rotation was an even better story than the starting lineup. Of the six pitchers who logged double-digit starts, five of them were 24 or younger (Dontrelle Willis was the elder statesman), and four of those had ERAs under 4.05.
You have to love that and root for a repeat performance, but something's gotta give. Josh Johnson is already on the shelf, opening up a spot for the much lower-ceilinged Sergie Mitre. Ricky Nolasco, the most underwhelming of last year's youngsters, will have a shot of 32 starts instead of 22.
And really, Anibal Sanchez won't have a 2.83 ERA. He'll probably be lucky to have a 3.83 ERA. That doesn't mean he's bad--far from it, he belongs in this rotation and will be extremely valuable--but it does mean the Marlins will take a hit from their rotation, as well.
The only room for improvement is over the 21 starts that were unfortunately granted to Brian Moehler last year. He singlehandedly made the case for a youth movement, with a 6.57 ERA in 122 innings. Mitre may be a #4 starter at best, but he'll represent a step forward.
Just like the offense, the rotation will continue to be young and studded with under-the-radar stars, but it probably won't be as good as it was last year. That isn't to say this group could put together a hell of a run for a month or two, but it isn't likely to be quite so surprising.
The one part of the team where there could be a substantial improvement is the bullpen. In a way, the 'pen is a year behind the rest of the team; while the Marlins handed starting jobs to unproven 22-year-olds in the rotation and starting lineup, they stuck with Joe Borowski and Matt Herges in the late innings.
This year, it's all about the kids. That offers plenty of uncertainty, as I wrote in a column last week at The Hardball Times. Most of the kids came in the series of trades that brought all the other kids, but two of them--Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens--arrived from the Mets in exchange for Jason Vargas this offseason.
As I wrote at THT, most of those guys still have options, so the Marlins can mix and match all season long. If Lindstrom turns out not to have what it takes, they can send him right back to Albuquerque. If Logan Kensing is tearing it up in the minors, they can make room for him on a moment's notice without losing some other promising pitcher in the process.
As for projecting performance, that's a fool's errand for this group. There are more high-upside relief arms in this bullpen than just about any other in the game, but upside is all most of them are right now. If the Marlins do challenge for the NL East title, it will be in large part due to some electric late-inning performances.
All Together Now
Just like last year, the Marlins will be a fun team to watch. It's easy to make a case for a huge step forward--Hanley and Uggla maintain their '06 levels, the bullpen comes through, etc.--but it's just as easy to see them taking a step back to 70 wins and proving that you can't win on a $25 million payroll.
Once again, the Marlins provide plenty of "what-if" fodder. It's one thing to construct of a team of all free agents, but imagine if the Marlins suddenly had $70M to play with. (Heck, even $50M!) They could have traded a pitcher for Baldelli or Carl Crawford and then signed a top-tier starter; they could've acquired a real platoon partner for Mike Jacobs; heck, they could've even invested in a proven reliever or two.
But, of course, that's not going to happen anytime soon. And as long as there's a team in baseball with a $25M payroll, I'll be rooting for 'em.