Send in the dancing bears. Gas up the clown car. The Miami Marlins are officially the biggest joke in major league baseball, and now that the Los Angeles Clippers have pulled their heads out of their nether regions, the Marlins are the leading candidate for worst franchise in professional sports. After essentially holding the city of Miami and Miami-Dade county at gunpoint to fund their new stadium (among other shadiness), and then going on a free agent bonanza in the 2011-12 offseason under the auspices of building a contender, the Marlins notoriously purged the team of nearly all of their name players this winter and stripped the team down to a squad that resembles a second-division AAA team. Season tickets holders and longtime fans (and local taxpayers) were understandably apoplectic.
With fan discontent running at an all-time high, the Marlins simply upped the absurd ante by threatening to sue a pair of season ticket holders for complaining about their crappy seats, and then a few weeks later ejecting a handful of fans for daring to voice their displeasure at ownership's chicanery. The whole thing would be amusing, if only you couldn't help but shed a tear for the plight of the poor Marlins fans. The three that are left, anyway.
The on-field product is just as ugly. Besides the amazing Giancarlo Stanton, who already voiced his displeasure with his team's recent actions, you'd have a hard time naming more than two other Marlins position players. Go ahead, try it. I dare you. Once you get past Placido Polanco, it gets real ugly. Backing up Stanton and serving as the team's cleanup hitter is the mighty Greg Dobbs, he of the .710 career OPS. The team's leadoff hitter is 35-year-old Juan Pierre, who is in his second tour of duty with the team and nowhere near the stolen base demon that he was in his Marlins heyday. The "ace" of the pitching staff is Ricky Nolasco, the perennial enigma who never seems capable of posting an ERA in line with his peripheral numbers.
So amidst all this wreckage, are there no viable fantasy players, other than the awesome Stanton? Yes, actually, there are. Hidden among the mess that is the Miami Marlins, there are a few players who can legitimately help your fantasy team. They're there, hiding in the weeds, waiting to be picked up and utilized and saved from their obscure hell.
Solano is made more interesting as a fantasy backup plan by his eligibility at second base, third base, and outfield. If you're like me and you need an emergency stopgap solution in your infield, you could do a whole lot worse. Solano's minor league numbers are completely uninspiring, but in half a season as Miami's primary second baseman last year, he performed surprisingly well, hitting .295 and stealing seven bases without getting caught. I currently have Solano subbing for the injured Chase Headley in one fantasy league and I've been happy with him thus far.
Solano is no one's idea of an ideal fantasy starter at any position, but in deep leagues where the waiver wire jumble includes names like Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt, he starts to look more and more like an attractive bench option. I like his chances of hitting around .290 with some reasonable contribution in the walks and steals category, making him a reasonable cheap alternative should injuries hit your team.
Fernandez is more of a keeper league stud than a pitcher who will have an immediate impact, but boy did he sure impress in his major league debut. In his first start last week, Fernandez struck out eight Mets in five innings, surrendering just one run on three hits and a walk. The performance was simply a continuation of the dominance that he'd displayed in the minor leagues. In two years on the farm, he'd gone 14-2 with a 2.02 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 138.1 innings, all in A-ball.
Many in the scouting community believe the Marlins rushed Fernandez to the majors in an ill-advised attempt to smooth things over with disgruntled season ticket holders after the tumultuous offseason. For all his dominance thus far, he's still just a green 20-year-old, and there are bound to be rocky roads ahead. There's a good chance that he won't spend the entire season in the major leagues, so don't expect 180 innings of All-Star pitching lines from him. However, he has major league stuff and he's not far away. If you own him in a keeper league, latch on and don't let go.
John Jaso Part Deux? Brantly isn't an elite catching prospect by any means, but his demonstrated ability to draw walks and hit for a good average should make him a viable second tier option at the position for a few years. Power might be a little harder to come by. In roughly 1,000 minor league plate appearances, Brantly slugged just .392 and hit only ten home runs. He's not going to turn into Buster Posey, or even A.J. Pierzynski, but a high-OBP catcher has his place in fantasy circles, and I think I might rather take a chance on him instead of a whifftastic guy like Jarrod Saltalamacchia at this point.
Minor league veteran and erstwhile Rays crapout Ruggiano surprised everybody by slugging .535 in 320 plate appearances with the Marlins last year. The Ruge had always displayed some moderate pop in the minors, so maybe this was just a case of a guy finally getting an extended chance and breaking out. More likely, it's just small sample size shenanigans.
Ruggiano is currently serving Miami's everyday center fielder, and he should see a full season's worth of at-bats for the first time at the major league level. He's stretched as a fantasy regular and is probably destined to produce like the second coming of Cody Ross over a full season. However, like Ross, he absolutely mashes lefties, so if you're in a league deep enough to enable you to micromanage a platoon situation in your outfield, Ruggiano is a worthwhile pickup.
The appropriately named Slowey (his fastball averages about 88 mph) has perhaps the least spectacular pitching repertoire in the major leagues, relying on amazing control and a nonstop torrent of slop to get hitters out. Slowey hasn't won a major league game since 2010, and he was last seen being spat out the back end of the American League after an ugly eight start stretch in 2011. His only truly good year in the major leagues was in 2008, when he posted a 105 ERA+ for a Twins team that came a game shy of the playoffs. So why am I listing him here?
For one, Slowey's bread and butter has always been impeccable control. Case in point: in 2008 he only walked 24 batters in 160 innings. His downfall has been the long ball, but now that he's pitching in a big ballpark (Marlins Park was quite stingy on home runs in its first season), and with no DH to offend the eye in the National League, it's totally within the realm of possibility that he could twirl 170-180 innings of above-league average numbers. As long as he retains his ability to prevent free passes, he's worth a look as back end rotation filler on the chance that he goes all Tewksbury on the league this year.
There haven't been any games to save thus far in Miami's early season, but on the rare occasion that the Marlins find a way to take a lead into the ninth inning, Cishek should be a stable closer option. In addition to his solid strikeout numbers, Cishek is adept at keeping the ball in the ballpark, and as anyone who reads my stuff knows, I love me a closer who doesn't give up home runs. A lot of fantasy owners likely went nuts trying to get Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman to close for them, but Cishek is probably the next step down and could have been had for a song on draft day.