Once again, the season for the Marlins has ended, but here at Marlin Maniac, we remain ever vigilant about the Fish*. This offseason is yet another important one for the Fish, as the team has some interesting questions to answer in order to move on to a new Marlins era. As I did last season, I thought of a few things that I think will be important for the Marlins to address this offseason in order to head into 2011 with the best chance to sneak into playoff contention. Let’s examine what the team should explore in the next few months.
*OK, not entirely ever vigilant. Medical school has been really difficult, and finding the time to blog as often as I can has been extremely difficult. I’m trying however, and rest assured I have been on top of Marlins news.
1. Find the next manager.
While I do not think that managers have a great influence on how the games end, I do believe that the team would benefit from getting this managerial situation resolved quickly. The players would undoubtedly like to know who will be leading them in 2011, and I would like this aspect of the offseason to go away quickly so that we could move on to more important things. This is especially important given the fact that some of the managerial options, including (surprisingly) Bobby Valentine, might be interested in some personnel decision-making.
It would be beneficial for the Marlins to have a manager set up and ready to go before the team makes major personnel decisions, if only because managerial decisions are improved by having the known quantities available to the managers for the longest amount of time. I think the Marlins will resolve this issue first and foremost before moving on to the team’s actual problems, which is why I have it listed here first.
2. Fix the bullpen
I think this is the Marlins’ first personnel priority for this offseason, at least in the eyes of the front office. I think the Fish are far more interested in fixing the situation in relief than they are in fixing the catcher position; whether or not this idea is correct is another story. There are a number of relievers available this offseason, though a good many of them are either out of the range of the Marlins in terms of price or of no interest to the team. A name like Rafael Soriano, who is the best reliever on the market, is an impossibility; not only will he be an expensive get, but he’s also likely to cost the Marlins a first-round draft pick as well.
Rather than look at those top names, the Fish are likely to explore “reclamation projects” of the bigger-name variety. A name that has been floated around pretty often is Brian Fuentes, a name that was also around our team a few years ago when he was coming off his best season. Now, he has had a bit of a resurgence but otherwise came off as just average for a reliever this season. He has Type B arbitration status this year and could be of interest to the Marlins as a potential closer option, especially if the team lets Leo Nunez go via trade due to his expected salary bump. Among other names include J.J. Putz, Aaron Heilman, Kyle Farnsworth, and the possible return of Will Ohman.
The question will be whether any of these guys is much better than the players the Marlins have in-house. That may sound strange given how poorly the Fish ‘pen played this year, but such is the nature of a bullpen; unless you pay for a top-notch performance, it is rare that you will get your money’s worth. It will be interesting to see whether the Marlins do go for a big name or settle for one of the guys listed above at market rate and hope that they perform for their salary. After this season, if the team goes with its previously tried-and-true strategy of bargain hunting for cheap arms, the fans may not be as happy as they were in seasons past.
3. Address the catcher situation, and with intelligence.
I think the catcher position is probably more important for the Marlins than picking up a premium bullpen arm. The Marlins will almost assuredly let Ronny Paulino go after his poor finish and 59-game drug suspension that will force him to miss the first eight games of next season. One of the team’s options will be John Baker, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery, but he will at least need a platoon partner against lefties.
The Fish will scour the market for a catcher, but they need to be smart about their choice. I heard recently that they may have interest in Jason Varitek, who would be a “good tutor” fo the young pitchers. Varitek hasn’t been a good catcher for three years, will be 39 years old next season, and despite the decent SLG this year, will likely be closer to his 2008-2009 version than his 2010 edition. He’s also not very good defensively, other than his supposedly mythical game-calling skills. I don’t know if the team can manage to go through the season with Varitek taking up a good number of PA.
Rather, I think the Marlins can go after a defense-first catcher who will not be an awful liability at the plate. We know that Baker is a terrible defensive catcher, so supplementing him with someone who can help with the run game would be beneficial. It would also help guys like Chris Volstad who are awful at holding baserunners. This search is probably more difficult than it sounds, however. Jose Molina and Gerald Laird are the two most respectable defensive catchers available in the free agent market this year, and neither possesses anything in the way of offensive skill. If you had to bank on one name, look out for John Buck, who is more of an offense-first catcher who may be within the team’s price range and still be a useful option.
4. Consider extensions for Ricky Nolasco and Dan Uggla
I’ll talk a little bit more about this part as we go on, especially with regards to Nolasco. I did want to mention that this goal is more for the 2012 season and beyond than for 2011, as both players are mortal locks to be on the team next year. The Marlins could not justify dealing Uggla after that excellent season, even though technically that would be the right time to do it. With Nolasco, teams are wary due to two seasons of underperforming his peripherals, and that list of wary clubs likely includes the Marlins as well. These are the only two names likely to receive consideration for extensions this season, but neither is a lock to receive one and the team will be very careful about doling out deals to either player.