Marlins Must Prove That Talent Trumps Experience

marlinsConsidering that only the Red Sox and Yankees have won as many World Series titles in the last 12 years, you might think the young and talented Florida Marlins would be considered a trendy sleeper pick for a playoff run this season. After all, the squad did win 84 games last year and were in contention in the National League East until the final weeks of the season.

However, while economic frugality is now all the rage in the rest of the world, it is hard in the world of baseball to take seriously a team that pays its entire roster less than the Yankees will probably spend on decorating the restrooms in their new billion-dollar stadium.

But seriously, while being young and talented certainly is much better than being old and unskilled, the decision by the front office to rely almost exclusively on a core of talented young players, without mixing a couple veterans into the everyday lineup, could make it hard for the Marlins to make it into the postseason this season.

Both the Florida team that won the World Series in 2003 and the Tampa Bay squad that reached the World Series last season did so using a strategic mix of youth and experience. Unless they make a series of moves in the upcoming weeks, the Marlins will field a squad in 2009 that is seriously lacking in veteran leadership and experience.

The recent acquisition of veteran Ross Gload from the Royals could signal that team president Larry Beinfest and manager Fredi Gonzalez recognize the weakness and are looking to address it without hampering the development of their young players.

The 33-year old Gload brings to four the number of players on the roster who are 30 or older. However, given that none of the four will likely be part of the everyday lineup it is questionable whether Gload, Wes Helms, Scott Proctor and Alfredo Amezaga have the stature or career pedigrees needed to command respect in the clubhouse and steer a young team through the ups-and-downs of a grueling 162 game season. If the Marlins are in contention after the first couple months of the season watch for them to make moves similar to what they did in 2003 when they brought in Jeff Conine and Lenny Harris for the playoff stretch drive.

There is no question that the Marlins have done their typical great job of retooling the team by trading veterans at the height of their trade value in exchange for talented young prospects. However, with the good comes the bad and for the Marlins in 2008 the bad was their team fielding. Only the Washington Nationals committed more errors among National League teams last season than the Marlins. For Florida to be successful in 2009, they must limit their mistakes and not put added pressure on their young pitching staff.

Offensive production should not be a challenge for the Marlins in 2009. The squad ranked fifth in the National league in runs scored in 2008 and was second in home runs.

hanleyThe man who makes the offense go is 25-year old shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Arguably the most talented player in the game, Ramirez has scored at least 119 runs in each of his three full big league seasons while also increasing his power production from 17 homers in 2006 to 33 in 2008. For that reason, Gonzalez plans on moving Ramirez from leadoff to third in the lineup.

ugglaThe rest of the infield is nearly as potent offensively. Second baseman Dan Uggla (32 HR, 92 RBI) and Jorge Cantu (29 HR, 95 RBI), who will move to first base after playing third a year ago, provide pop in the middle of the lineup.

The outfield also includes a pair of offensive threats in right fielder Cody Ross (22 HR, 73 RBI in his first season as a full-time starter) and left fielder Jeremy Hermida (17 HR, 61 RBI). Catcher John Baker (.299 BA, 32 RBI) should provide more offensive production after seeing his first major league action last season.

One thing that could accelerate the need to acquire additional veterans is if either of the two newcomers slated to start the season as everyday players struggle early in the year. Emilio Bonifacio, who was acquired in the off-season from the Nationals, has earned a spot in the lineup and though second base is his natural position he will start at third base. Center fielder Cameron Maybin is penciled in to replace Ramirez as the leadoff hitter and it will be vital for him to live up to the potential he displayed while hitting .500 with nine runs scored in eight games after a late season call-up in 2008.

While the Marlins should have little difficulty scoring runs, they will try to reduce the number they surrender in 2009 after ranking 11th in the National League in earned run average in 2008. The pitching staff has the potential to be outstanding, but they will be relying on a number of pitchers who have battled injuries and inconsistency throughout their brief careers.

nolascoRicky Nolasco (15-8, 3.52 ERA) and Josh Johnson (7-1, 3.61 after returning from Tommy John surgery in July) had breakout performances in 2008, but both must prove that they can maintain that level of performance. Chris Volstad (6-4, 2.88), Anibal Sanchez (2-5, 5.57) and Andrew Miller (6-10, 5.87) all have great talent, but must display consistency for the Marlins to be successful.

With former closer Kevin Gregg now calling Wrigley Field home, the Marlins will look to Matt Lindstrom (3-3, 3.14) to fill the role of closer after two seasons as a solid set-up man. Leo Nunez (4-1, 2.98 for Kansas City) and Proctor (2-0, 6.05 for the Dodgers) will lead the remainder of the bullpen staff.

There is little question that the Marlins have the talent to compete in 2009 and beyond, but with the Mets, Phillies and Braves all poised to make a run at the postseason it will be tough for the young Marlins to make a dent in the East. With 12 games scheduled against the Mets, Phillies and Braves during the month of April, it shouldn’t take long to discover if the Marlins will be a serious playoff threat or if they will be using 2009 to set the stage for future glory.

To read more from Dean, go to his sports blog: Sports Then and Now

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One Comment

  1. Nkappel

    April 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Nice article Dean. If you believe in this sort of thing, it’s worth mentioning the Marlins won the World Series in 1997 and 2003 (six years apart). Now, six years later, can they do it again? If you ask me, i say They can make the playoffs at least. I’ve got them penciled in as the wild card in the NL.

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