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September 9, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Florida Marlins

by Kevin Goldstein, Jay Jaffe and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade -- whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we look at the Florida Marlins. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.


Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of hope:
At long last, the Marlins will move into their new ballpark next season. Theoretically, that should mean more revenue and a larger payroll, though with owner Jeffrey Loria's reputation as the majors' number one skinflint, that's not quite the given it might otherwise be. At the very least, the Fish will be playing in a dedicated baseball stadium instead of a repurposed football stadium; the new park features only a few more seats -- 36,000 -- than the current one ropes off for non-football events, and the team can't do any worse than its current last-place ranking in attendance. Florida might even have Ozzie Guillen as manager, which will make for more entertaining quotes, not to mention inevitable friction with the higher ups. And who doesn't love a little Ozzie-flavored drama?

Signs of disaster: Buster Olney reports word of Loria and team president/Loria stepson David Samson playing a bigger role in personnel decisions, which certainly sounds ominous. Given that the Marlins are headed for their fourth manager in three seasons, how much more meddlesome can they get? As if that's not bad enough, there is concern about Hanley Ramirez's availability to start next season. The three-time All-Star set career lows in all three slash stats by hitting .243/.333/.379 while battling lower back and left shoulder woes, and he took a considerable PR hit via a hatchet job by former Marlin and current special assistant Jeff Conine, who questioned his on-field efforts. Ramirez will undergo surgery next week to stabilize his shoulder, and there's a chance it could be open surgery instead of arthroscopic, with a rehab that extends into next season. If he's unavailable, that's a good amount of star power -- not to mention a potent middle-of-the-order bat -- missing.

Signs you can ignore: As dire as it may look with ace Josh Johnson having made just nine starts this season due to shoulder inflammation, the Marlins' distance from any playoff race provided less incentive to return. He doesn't have a long history of shoulder problems, and it's probably best to think of this in terms of him being ready for 2012 with an additional winter of rest. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's Bold Move

Next year, the Marlins will move into a sparkling new ballpark. But they have some work to do in the dugout and on the field if they want to make their debut season in the new park one to remember.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon is expected to return to his role as special assistant, and the Marlins should try and convince Bobby Valentine to leave his prominent role with ESPN and help lead the young Marlins team into their new park. Valentine, 61, has won in both the United States and Japan, and his experience and leadership capabilities with young talent should allow the Marlins to continue their development of so many good young players like Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison. Just like McKeon, he'll get instant respect from the few important veterans that matter, like Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, which will be critical as they try climb out of the cellar.

The boldest move the Marlins should make is to go against their history of not pursuing top free agents and enter the market with an overwhelming, record-breaking offer to free agent left-hander C.J. Wilson. He would give them a top-notch left-handed starter at the front of the rotation to put between Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. The Marlins have less than $50 million currently committed to their 2012 payroll, and they should get a revenue boost from their new park. If Florida wants to become competitive in the tough N.L. East, this type of move is a necessity, especially because of the rotations in Philadelphia and Atlanta, and the one that's emerging in Washington. -- Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 86-76

Neither the offense nor the pitching was very good in 2011, but without many players overperforming, the Marlins should be significantly better in 2012 but not at the level of the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves. Hanley Ramirez is a good bet to rebound at least into the .850 OPS range, and Mike Stanton should be able to repeat his 2011 season for a decade. The Marlins need Josh Johnson to be on the mound more often to make this projection a reality, but with Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad all having lower FIPs than ERAs this season, at least one of them will blossom into the much-needed No. 2 starter. ZiPS gives Sanchez in particular high odds of a breakout 2012.

Worst-case scenario: 68-94
The team doesn't have a great deal of depth at the major league level, so a few untimely injuries or down seasons by the front-line talent would be very difficult to make up for elsewhere. Florida has enough players to always field a team that will put up a fight, but if Johnson isn't healthy and Ramirez doesn't have an expected rebound in 2012, it will find itself right where it is this year: struggling to win 70 games. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Marlins have long been able to stay somewhat competitive in the National League East despite some thrifty (ok, downright cheap) ways. That's come to an end with a potential last-place finish in the division, and also coming to an end is the constant pipeline of talent that kept the team dangerous. The upper levels of the system are a who's who of what's not, other than glove-first -- or more accurately, glove-only -- third baseman Matt Dominguez, who is spending September auditioning for the big league job in 2012. Still, patient Marlins fans might get rewarded, as scouts finished the year raving about 2010 first-round pick Christian Yelich, an outfielder with power, patience and surprising speed who hit .354/.423/.568 after the All-Star break for Low Class-A Greensboro. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here
Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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Premium Article Clubhouse Confidential... (09/08)
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Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: The H... (09/08)
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