We’ve been remiss on keeping up to pace with our baseball off-season coverage, focusing lately on basketball, hockey, and, of course, the NFL playoffs. But don’t worry, we’re already planning the 2009 RotoRob Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit, so before you know it, baseball coverage will be coming down the pike en masse.
Led by an improved pitching staff – especially the bullpen – the Florida Marlins put the brakes on a two-year losing skid, winning 84 games in 2008 to finish a mere 5.5 games back in the Wild Card race.
There are plenty of questions that need addressing here, but the Marlins have yet again put together a roster of talented youngsters that appears to be on the cusp of greatness.
While the team doesn’t have many free agents to deal with, arbitration will be an issue for the cash-strapped Marlins, who ranked dead last in payroll in 2008. I mean, Wes Freaking Helms was their top paid player at $2.4 million last season.
Jorge Cantu and Jeremy Hermida have already signed and avoided arbitration. But Alfredo Amezaga, Ricky Nolasco, Cody Ross and Dan Uggla are still eligible. And given that behind Hanley Ramirez, Uggla was the team’s top power hitter (which was a real strength in Florida last season as the club ranked fourth in the NL in slugging), he won’t come cheap.
As mentioned, the bullpen helped revitalize a pitching staff that was dead last in the NL in 2007, but it had to work hard – the rotation only managed 74 quality starts – just 12th in the NL. Missing Anibal Sanchez for most of the season definitely hurt in this regard, but the Marlins are committed to keeping him healthy in 2009, and to wit, have prohibited him from participating in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. But not to worry, with H-Ram, Matt Lindstrom, Amezaga, Cantu, Renyel Pinto and Rick VandenHurk all expected to participate for their respective nations in the WBC, Florida is sure to be well represented.
With Matt Treanor now in Detroit and Paul Lo Duca not being offered arbitration and probably out of the team’s price range anyways, the Marlins desperately could use a veteran catcher. But there’s really not much out there that fits their minuscule budget, so this could be a serious issue with John Baker and his whopping 61 career games heading the depth chart at present.
Not surprisingly, the Marlins haven’t exactly been making waves in the free agent market, although they did sign steroid boy Jay Gibbons to a minor league deal. Gibbons, who last played in the majors in 2007, was in Indy ball last year. Yikes. Oh, Florida also gambled on reliever Scott Proctor, who once upon a time had a live arm before he hurt it. Still, he could prove to be quite useful and may help solidify an improving bullpen.
In reality, this club’s improvement will virtually be completely organic as it matures. I expect Florida to make a serious run at the Wild Card and its first playoff appearance since 2003.
Of the team’s four free agents, two have already signed elsewhere.
Luis Gonzalez, OF: When Gonzo signed with the Marlins last season, we weren’t impressed, and I think we nailed that one right on the head. His batting eye continues to slide and he scored all of 30 runs in 136 games. Uh, ya. Could this be the end of the line for the 18-year-vet? Oh, come on! He’s just eight years removed from a 57-homer season. But wait….Gonzalez has hit five more dingers than that in the last four years combined. No problem!
Mark Hendrickson, LHP: Once upon a time, we recommended him, but in 2008 Hendrickson had an awful season as a swingman with an unacceptably low K rate. And now he’s an Oriole, for one year and $1.5 million. Remind me again why B-More has been crap for so long?
Paul Lo Duca, C: Lo Duca, a Mitchell Report poster boy, was rancid enough with the Nats to get released, winding up signing a minor league deal with Florida. He was brought up to the majors and actually hit well and did a fantastic job of getting on base in a very limited role. The Marlins failed to offer him arbitration, and now he’s stuck trying to find a job in a market that is loaded with veteran catchers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lo Duca doesn’t find a gig until well after Spring Training has started.
Arthur Rhodes, LHP: After a fantastic season split between Seattle and Florida, Rhodes landed in Cincy for two years and $4 million, a deal we already discussed earlier this month.
Next: We’ll take a little swim across the Gulf of Mexico and check in on Houston. Just 10 teams to go!