2011 Marlins Season Preview: FanGraphs Organizational Rankings
By Michael Jong
Recently FanGraphs debuted their 2011 Organizational Rankings, and I was curious to see when the Marlins would show up this season. It turns out this season the writers of FanGraphs had the Marlins at a lower ranking than the team occupied last season. This year, FanGraphs has the Marlins ranked at 27th, the fourth worst overall organization in baseball in terms mid- to long-term health.
OK, before any of us get our panties in a bunch because of the poor ranking, especially from a group of writers whom I respect a good deal, let’s take a look at the criteria involved in the organizational rankings.
"Present Talent – 30 percentFinancial Resources – 30 percentBaseball Operations – 25 percentFuture Talent – 15 percentThe only area that isn’t necessary to put a winning roster on the field is a team’s minor league system, which is why it was the easy call for the least important of the four sections. Developing players from within is a great way to make up for deficiencies in other areas, but teams can win without a heavy emphasis on prospects. With a large payroll and a front office that targets the right veterans to acquire, a team can consistently reload their big league roster each winter, essentially using the other 29 Major League teams as their farm system of choice.The other three areas are all pretty vital. The baseball operations department got the lowest weight of the three areas in part due to correct assertion that it’s the most subjective variable to judge. While we can make some reliable claims about how different teams operate, and make some inferences about others based on things they’ve said or done, it’s harder to know the internal processes of an organization than it is to project their future revenue streams or to evaluate the roster they’ve put on the field. There is still a strong need for a quality staff, ranging from the front office to coaches on down to scouts and player development officials, but this area can be tricky to evaluate, so it gets a lower weighting than it otherwise might if there were more objective ways to measure the skill of various organizations in this regard."
Essentially, there are four things that are going into these rankings. Here’s how the Marlins graded out in each category:
"Major League Talent – 77.22 (19th)Minor League Talent – 75.00 (t-20th)Financial Resources – 62.00 (30th)Baseball Operations – 79.44 (17th)Overall Rating – 72.88 (27th)"
Don’t worry much about the rankings, because it’s the numbers that are ultimately important. One look at the weighting system and it’s clear where the Marlins took a dive; the team’s financial resources and ownership played a huge role in how poorly the club ranked. The truth is that we can quibble about how badly the future or minor league talent was ranked (tied for 20th surprisingly rates pretty well given the minor league system’s poor state of affairs) or the present talent’s rankings (consider that the Milwaukee Brewers, who ended up ranked 22nd overall, had a present talent score of 77.73 and ranked 15th, the Marlins score isn’t bad either), no one can quibble with how poorly the Marlins generally ranked in financial resources. No Marlins fan would stand up and defend Jeffrey Loria and how he has treated the organization in terms of financial backing, so it’s understandable that the Marlins would be ranked so lowly on the totem pole based on that aspect alone.
The Marlins have the worst financial resources ranking among the 30 major league ballclubs, and that is of little surprise. The question to me is one of why the number is so far down compared to the rest of the league’s values. When you think of teams on shoestring budgets, you think of the Marlins, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Tampa Bay Rays, and perhaps the Oakland Athletics first and foremost. Those are the four teams that have had or are having major problems finding stable stadium situations and the four teams most likely to be admonished by Major League Baseball about penny-pinching in the face of the current collective bargaining agreement. Two of those teams, the Rays and the A’s, have yet to be ranked, but the Pirates came in just a step behind the Marlins at 28th and a smidge under the team’s overall ratings score. Part of the reason for that was that the Pirates have a significantly better minor league system, but part of it is also that, despite the two teams’ similar spending ways, the Pirates received a financial resources rating of 70.38, while the Marlins received one of 62.00.
I’m not certain about the reasoning behind that, but it doesn’t seem very appropriate. In the last few years, the Pirates have had little need for extensions, so their lack of players locked up long-term is understandable. At the same time, the Marlins have locked up three core, young players in multi-year deals at affordable rates in Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, and Ricky Nolasco, and their willingness to do such things shows that they are spending some money. Yes, the team’s payroll has been lower than that of Pittsburgh’s for all but one season since 2006, but does the difference between a $40M annual payroll and a $25-30M annual payroll deserve a financial difference of such magnitude? I don’t believe so.
Also, some of the benefit the Pirates received had to come from the finances they receive from PNC Park, the team’s beautiful home stadium that debuted in 2001. However, the financial impact of the Marlins’ new stadium coming in 2012 has not been accounted for, even though the team is increasing funds to accomodate for it. Yes, it remains to be seen whether the Marlins will continue to increase payroll once the new stadium opens, but it seems like the Fish are making smart financial decisions with a payroll that is acceptable at around $40-50M a season. The Marlins have upped their 2011 commitment up to close to $60M. The last time the team did this, it imploded its roster the following season, but in the past it did not have the promise of a new stadium. It can be reasonably assured that there will be at elast a modest increase in the average payroll from 2012 onward, at least for the short-term future.
Again, it’s understandable that the writers of FanGraphs docked the Marlins for their poor spending. But without transparency in how these “more objective” numbers were derived, I cannot tell how they came up with a such a huge gap between the Pirates and the Marlins. The Rays seem like the next logical comparison for the Fish in terms of payroll capacity, so it will be interesting to see how they are ranked. I feel as if the Fish got hit a bit harder in this category than they likely deserved based on comparison to other teams.
The Rest of the List
The Marlins were ranked as the 19th strongest club in terms of current standing. Baseball Prospectus has 13 teams with a chance of making the playoffs that are greater than the Marlins’ odds, and given that the rankings between the 19th and 15th best players aren’t all that far off, it isn’t a stretch to agree with this assessment. Still, I feel the team was a bit undersold due to the way “current talent” is defined. According to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, current talent is an evaluation of all players that are team-controlled over the course of their team-controlled years, and in my eyes, the Marlins have quite a strong core of players under control. The Marlins will have Ramirez, one of the five best players in baseball, until 2015. The club has Johnson, one of the ten best pitchers in baseball, until 2014. The team also has Mike Stanton, a potential future five-win player, under team control for five more seasons. The same can be said for Logan Morrison, who appears to be a three-win player at worst in his prime. Along with Nolasco, that core appears to me to be better than the group held by Milwaukee for example; the Brewers’ best players include Zack Greinke, essentially even with Johnson and controlled until 2013, and Prince Fielder, who will certainly be gone after this year. They also have Ryan Braun until 2015, which is similar to the situation with Ramirez.
I used Milwaukee as an example, but essentially I feel the present talent was not projected well moving forward and was compared more at its current level. Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison are going to be premium players in the future, and the team should have received more credit for their development while under Marlins team control. Having said that, I don’t find this overlook too egregious. As for the remainder of the rankings, I have little to no quiblles and in fact feel that the team’s minor league system could be ranked lower given its barren state; the Houston Astros’ system had a ranking of 65 and I don’t feel it is so far behind the Marlins’ group. In other words, the rest of it is fine, and the evaluation as a whole isn’t all that far off. To quibble about three or four spots in a subjective list is fairly meaningless (then again, it is preseason), so I won’t worry much about it. Ultimately, I’d rather dwell on what happens in the 2011 season than worry about how well the Marlins rank in FanGraphs’ organizational rankings, though the list as a whole has been interesting so far.