I was eagerly awaiting the time the Marlins would come out in FanGraphs’ 2010 Organizational Rankings. I had imagined that they would end up around this area, and while I am a bit disappointed with seeing them ranked 22nd, I am by no means surprised.
The frustrating thing about the Marlins is that with good, young players like [Hanley Ramirez, Cameron Maybin, Chris Coghlan, Josh Johnson], and others all under contract or club control, they should be able to contend; even on their small budget, there has to be enough money left over to add a couple of non-terrible relievers, and/or another starting pitcher. Yes, the Phillies are very, very good, but with a bit of effort the Braves would be within striking distance. The Marlins could have a reasonable chance a wildcard spot (and maybe more), especially with the Nationals floundering and the Mets being the Mets. As it is, the Marlins will probably be around .500 this year, maybe a bit better, maybe a bit worse.
It would be hard to say that isn’t an accurate assessment of this team as it stands. The club is close, but so much of our contention would depend on pitchers like Chris Volstad or Anibal Sanchez improving to league average, something that is hard to expect.
Here’s Dave Cameron on the organization as a whole:
With Hanley Ramirez and now Josh Johnson locked up for a while, along with some promising rookies and one of the most impressive prospects in the game, the Marlins have the beginnings of a good team. The question, as always, is payroll. Even with the new money spent this winter, the team simply doesn’t have the type of financial flexibility needed to fill out a roster well enough to really contend. They’ve spent just over $40 million on the current team, which isn’t enough unless you’re building around a legendary core of homegrown talent. The Marlins aren’t.
So, despite their strengths in player development, and the talent on the roster that is good enough to keep them from being terrible, the Marlins aren’t really contenders. They’re a player development machine that can put together teams that play respectable baseball without costing much money, but unless the agreement with the player’s union leads to a significant expansion of the payroll, they’re going to remain a quality also ran.
It’s too bad, too, because there are some good baseball doing good things in Florida. But the lack of investment in the team significantly limits their upside. It’s a good step that they didn’t tear the team apart this winter, but until they actively start adding pieces to help the team take the next step, it’s tough to see their organizational blueprint as one that any teams should want to follow.
I don’t know if any of you read Cameron’s last organizational rankings piece on the Marlins, where he lambasted the organization in large part due to the ownership (no Marlins fan would argue against lambasting Jeffrey Loria, I don’t think). Cameron’s piece this offseason was much lighter because the team has taken steps towards improving the ballclub and keeping premium players like Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson around for a while. The payroll restrictions still keep us on the low end of the spectrum, but given the two teams that came before us (the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago White Sox), I feel like the teams are even in terms of their current situation. Both teams have excellent players for the immediate season and in the near future, but lack something, whether it’s depth in the minors, quality in the majors, or ownership/GM issues, that restrict to this tier of rankings. I understand it.
So what will it take for us to get to the next level, whatever level that is. What can make this organization join the Colorado Rockies or Minnesota Twins in terms of “competitive mid-market teams?” With the team expected to increase payroll in the near future (hopefully), I think the process of finding the right players to hold onto and to let go will be crucial to the success of the organization. When a mid-market team succeeds in doing this, it can help build a nucleus for the team for years (see Hanley Ramirez with our team and Carl Crawford with the Tampa Bay Rays). However, when a team fails in doing this, it can yield long-lasting ramifications (see Travis Hafner with the Cleveland Indians). So identifying which players are worth and which aren’t will be key. For my money, I would say the next target is Ricky Nolasco. If he impresses this year, and the payroll expands as it should moving towards the new stadium, Nolasco should be in line for a nice little extension and a decent payday. I’m certain the Marlins are considering it and are just waiting to see another strong year from him for them to keep him around for another three to four years as Johnson’s 1-2 partner.
After that, it will depend on the kids. The Marlins system is not deep, but it is top-heavy, so it sets up nicely heading into those 2012-2014 seasons. Those years should still have Ramirez, Johnson, and Nolasco as a core to supplement the young stars like Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, and Matt Dominguez. If these players pan out well, the major league team should be set for five or six more seasons. If not, we’ll have to wait and see how well the Marlins prepare the other youngsters in the farm and how the young pitchers of today develop.
Either way, I think it is still an exciting time to be a Marlins fan. The 2010 team is one transitioning from the 2006 era to the 2012 “new stadium era” club (with a few 2006 holdovers). Still, I think we face an important season this year that will answer quite a few questions about the future of this team. Will Nolasco be around for the new stadium open? Will Cameron Maybin be one of the core players of the future? Will Chris Coghlan be a part of that core? Which young pitchers will be in the rotation of the new era? This season will answer these questions, and we, as Marlins fans, will be along to watch it unfold. If we get a chance to compete, all the better. But I’d be happy to have the answers to some of these questions and look forward to the day when the team is back in the playoffs and competing again.