Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the nouveau riche Miami Marlins. Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Marlins players. Our series will return on Monday with the New York Mets.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Florida Marlins finished last in the NL East in 2011, thanks in no small part to injuries to Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. Their 72-90 record was highlighted by a midseason managerial change (The return of Jack McKeon! It's hard to believe that didn't get the turnstiles moving), followed by a long and public courtship with Ozzie Guillen that culminated in his hiring just days before the season ended.
Guillen is hardly the only new thing about the 2012 iteration of this team - there's also the new name, uniforms, stadium, and free agent signings Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle. The new-look Marlins have been the talk of the off-season, but very little of that talk has to do with the on-field product. It's easy enough to conclude that they should win more than 72 games, but how much more? The mighty Phillies and Braves still occupy the division, and the Nationals should be making strides of their own. One wonders just how long the new free-spending ways will last (and how long people will come to the ballpark) if they can't finish above third after making such a fuss. In any case, the addition of Reyes will create run scoring opportunities for the formidable middle of the lineup, and if the first five pitchers can stay healthy, they have a chance to improve on the runs allowed total of 702 posted in 2011.
2012 will mark the opening of Marlins Ballpark, a move that is expected to mark the genesis of baseball fever in south Florida. Based on its dimensions alone, many expect the park to play in favor of pitchers, but there are too many factors at play to say that definitively. The park features a retractable roof, which will likely cover the playing surface for approximately 70 of Miami's 81 home games. One note on the dimensions: Left field will be deeper than right field, the reverse of Sun Life Stadium. The only left-hander in the projected lineup (aside from switch-hitters Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio) is Logan Morrison. Notably, young power hitter Mike Stanton is right-handed. Again, it's important to note that we don't know how the park will play until actual games take place there, but on the surface this doesn't appear to be a positive move for Stanton (and it could pay off for Morrison).
Manager & Coaching Staff
You probably know Ozzie Guillen for his fiery personality, but how is he in the dugout? He's a so-called player's manager and has a notorious rapport with Latino players, certainly a plus in this clubhouse. He'll fit right in in the National League - he called for the sacrifice bunt 48 times last year, good for second-most in the AL. Fantasy players will be happy to note that he loves the stolen base - he notoriously gave Juan Pierre "the green light" to steal whenever he wanted even as he struggled mightily with his baserunning in Chicago. Expect to see a metric ton of stolen base attempts from Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Emilio Bonifacio during Guillen's reign.
Expected Position Battles
Utility man Emilio Bonifacio is looking for a permanent home in center field, and only Bryan Petersen stands in his way. Bonifacio has the more familiar name and the better chance at sticking, but don't count Petersen out of the running - he can take a walk and steal a base or two. In other news, familiar names like Aaron Rowand and Austin Kearns have non-roster invites, and they will compete with the likes of Matt Dominguez and Chris Coghlan for bench spots. Overall, not much drama is expected in Jupiter this spring...at least not related to who makes the 25-man roster.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Lineup order, while important for trying to project certain fantasy stats, is not the objective here. We're more interested in who is playing what position (and I don't know is on third).
Jose Reyes - SS
Omar Infante - 2B
Mike Stanton - LF
Logan Morrison - RF
Hanley Ramirez - 3B
Emilio Bonifacio - CF
Gaby Sanchez - 1B
John Buck - C
The Marlins had 3 different managers last season (including interim Brandon Hyde, who managed and lost 1 game), so nailing down Ozzie Guillen's preferred lineup is sort of difficult to do based on the past. We can reasonably expect Jose Reyes to lead off and the 3-4-5 to consist of Hanley, Stanton, and Morrison in some order. Apart from that, it's anybody's guess. A sabermetrically inclined manager might put Gaby Sanchez, who has the highest expected OBP of the remaining players, in the second spot, but we're talking about Ozzie. Infante is gritty and brings his lunch pail to work, so my guess is that he'll follow Reyes.
Even less important than lineup order is rotation order. While traditionally a team's best pitcher is named the #1, those arbitrary designations in no way guarantee a certain performance threshold.
Barring any developments on the player acquisition front, there will be no surprises in the rotation, which will boast only one lefty (Buehrle). There's not a lot of recognizable talent in the minors ready to step in, so Miami will be in trouble if Johnson can't play a full season or if Zambrano implodes. New acquisition Wade LeBlanc or 21 year-old Brad Hand would seem to be likely replacements, which hardly instills confidence.
Miami's big splash at the winter meetings was not Albert Pujols or CJ Wilson, but closer Heath Bell, who will take over for Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez). Oviedo continues to occupy the Restricted List following his false identity kerfuffle, but it's possible he can return, likely in a setup role. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot of value here. Steve Cishek has the numbers to be a consistent strikeout pitcher with a low WHIP if he's given a chance, but there are seniority issues that could relegate him to being a non-factor.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Logan Morrison is well-known to even casual baseball fans for his Twitter account and for being demoted to AAA in August (officially for his low batting average, but really for his outspoken behavior). You should know him as a guy who had an unlucky BABIP in 2011 (.265 vs. xBABIP = .317), who has shown patience at the plate, and who will likely be hitting around some talented players, offering protection and RBI opportunities.
Anibal Sanchez flashed top of the rotation stuff early on last season and took a major step forward in the strikeout department, but he crashed and burned in July and August, making those of us who traded for him in fantasy leagues look very foolish indeed. Home runs were the problem during that down period, but he righted the ship in September to finish with a respectable line. Was it a glimmer of false hope? I'm inclined to believe that a true breakout may be around the corner. He added some bite and velocity to his cutter, which he had debuted the year previous, and that was the major difference when it came to inducing swinging strikes. If he can continue to develop that pitch and avoid the gopher ball, which may or may not be easier to do in the new park, a more consistent season may be in the cards.
Spring Storylines to Watch
You won't have to work very hard to keep track of the Marlins this March. Logan Morrison and Ozzie Guillen will be busy overtweeting while journalists look for signs of a poor attitude from Hanley Ramirez or water cooler aggression from Carlos Zambrano (or, you know, political scandals and false identities). Actually, you may have to work plenty hard to glean any baseball knowledge from all that riffraff. One thing you'll want to keep an eye on is the continued rehabilitation of Josh Johnson, who first threw a bullpen session about a week ago. When right, Johnson is a top fantasy option, but shoulder surgery is no joke. Will there be reports that he's uncomfortable throwing off a mound? Will he retain his velocity? Are there signs that Guillen has been directed to be overly cautious with his ace? We won't know anything for sure until Johnson is pitching competitively, but we can look for red flags.
Follow the Team
Broadcaster: Glenn Geffner (Twitter)
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