Florida Marlins 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Florida Marlins. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.

That was when the Florida Marlins first became relevant. That night, I cried because Charles Nagy couldn’t snag Edgar Renteria’s liner up the middle. They stole what should have been the Championship that lifted the dark veil off the city of Cleveland for good. Since then, we’ve learned a few things.

1) That veil over the city of Cleveland? Yeah, it’s never coming off.
2) People are not buying baseball in the city of Miami. So they’re building a new stadium in hopes that is the answer. It probably won’t be.
3) The Marlins have scouts that continually develop big time talent that supplements big time teams once they price themselves out of Florida. Every once in a while, they steal back from said big time team (see Ramirez, Hanley).

Armed with a new manager, and some new heavy artillery, the Marlins will have to pull off a sneak attack similar to the ones they managed in 1997 and 2003. It’s not going to be impossible, but since they share a division with heavyweights like the Phillies and Braves, and the ever-improving Nats, the Marlins will have to be smoke and mirrors at it’s finest.

What should be expected out of Hanley Ramirez this year?

This is Hanley Ramirez’s team. And if you disagree, think back to the lovely diamond pendant item that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria bought Ramirez when he won the batting title in 2009. A couple of things here. Ramirez hit .342 that year. That’s big time. He’s also hit .332 in a season. His numbers might have trailed off last year, but he still managed to put up really nice numbers as a short stop. He ran far more than I believed that he did off memory (32 steals in 42 attempts).

While I think that Hanley is the possible MLB equivalent of a “coach-killer” (said in NFL circles) his talent is undeniable. I’m scared to death of taking him 3rd overall in fantasy baseball–after Pujols and Miggy come off the board–but really I’m not left with much choice. He’s got the talent to go out this year and go 40/40. He’s only 27 years old, and having a career year in a lot of categories is a strong possibility.

However, he could go the other way. And we think he might go the other way. He could play himself right out of Florida; and basically decide that he doesn’t want to be a Marlin anymore. If he goes in the tank and receives some kind of advice from an agent or peer that he needs to get out of Miami while he’s still got some youth on his side; a lot of GM’s would jump to rescue him. You can’t tell me that you don’t see the possibility of that happening. We think something like that is going to happen in 2011. And we’ll probably draft him in fantasy baseball 3rd overall. And he’ll hit .270 with 15 homers, most of those coming in a stretch run with his new team when we’re already out of it.

We just somehow think that wouldn’t it be perfect irony that they build that pretty, live-fish tank ballpark for their cornerstone short stop; and he’s not even playing there when it opens. Stuff like that happens far too often in sports.

Get to know Mike Stanton

This is the reason that it’s okay that Cameron Maybin didn’t work out. This is the reason that there is a future in Miami. This is the reason that it’s okay to be excited for that shiny new park down in South Beach.

Mike Stanton is a big kid who hit 43 homers last year between Double-A and the majors. He is a windmill of sorts (176 strikeouts in just 359 at-bats), but young power hitters strike out. It happens.

We actually didn’t realize that he’s 6 foot 5, athletic, and basically a quicker sleeker souped up version of Dave Winfield. There’s a lot of hype talk going to guys like Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper, but this guy could quietly end up the best of them all. This is the true cornerstone of the Marlins franchise. If he stays healthy, he is without a doubt a 30 home run guy whose average should rise a little bit as his contact rate improves. He’s only going to be 21 years old this season. If Hanley flames out, don’t beat yourselves up too bad Marlins fans (like there is any of you out there).

The rest of the bunch

Most people entering last year were watching Chris Coghlan very intently after an impressive rookie campaign. He had some injury problems. Instead, Logan Morrison came on the scene and hit .284 in a little more than a cup of coffee. We like Morrison a lot. He’s a grinder. He’ll have a nice little career, maybe even be an All-Star a time or two. Look for Coghlan to rebound and the Marlins to have a pretty solid outfield overall.

The Marlins acquired Omar Infante in the off-season to replace Dan Uggla up the middle. That’s a loss. Infante is unlikely to ever replicate the success that he had last season in Atlanta and should probably be a lifetime utility/bench guy. On the corners, more really impressive young players in Gaby Sanchez and Matt Dominguez. Dominguez was the 2007 1st round pick, so he’s got some good stock right now. If he acclimates himself as well as Gaby Sanchez did last season (.273/19/85) then the Marlins could be a surprise team for at least a while.

Josh Johnson’s year is coming

Look at Josh Johnson’s record the last three years–none of which were great teams–since he had major arm surgery. He’s a power pitcher who throws a heavy ball and had a 2.30 ERA last season. More than anything he’s only going to be 27 and one of these days we think that he’s going to be in the running for a Cy Young award. He was fifth last season. We’re willing to bet he betters that in 2011.

The rest of the rotation is solid but underwhelming all in the same. Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad are the 2 through 5 projected. They would probably all have to have career years all in the same year for the organization to make some noise. It’s highly unlikely. But they won’t allow them to drown too badly either.

Can you believe that Leo Nunez became the 8th Marlins pitcher in history to record a 30 save season? Check the record books, because your uncle might be in there. He also blew a fair share along the way. If he pulls that garbage this year, he’ll likely be in another role.

In dealing Cameron Maybin to San Diego they boosted this bullpen by adding Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb. I had a friend who played ball with Burke Badenhop. Badenhop absolutely owns my boy Jay Bruce. I don’t get it. He has average stuff. If there was like, one big leaguer who I wouldn’t mind facing it would be Badenhop. I’d have a shot against him. But he somehow collects outs.

The Final Verdict

The Marlins aren’t going to finish as the surprise team in baseball, but they may start that way. Before the Phillies get it all together and the Braves fully gel under new management, look for the Marlins to hold a share of first early. The Nationals are a year or two away. Look for the Marlins to win around 85 and finish 3rd in the NL East. And Ramirez to be elsewhere by July 31st.