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August 18, 2010

On the Beat

Fish Future is Bright

by John Perrotto

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The Marlins' playoff hopes may not be dead, but they're close to expiring. They are 12 ½ games behind the Braves in the National League East and 10 games in back of the Phillies in the NL wild-card race. Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report gives the Marlins a miniscule 0.7 percent chance of playing in October.

"The first thing we need to concentrate on is just getting back above .500," said Marlins interim manager Edwin Rodriguez, whose team is 57-61. "Once we get above .500 then we need to try to win every series and see what happens. It's a longshot but we're not giving up yet.

It's a big longshot. However, Rodriguez sees the day when the Marlins will be a favorite to make the postseason. In fact, he believes the day is coming very soon.

"I definitely can see our team contending next year," Rodriguez said. "I don't see any reason why we can't. We've got some of the best young players in the game and a pretty solid team all the way around. We're not giving up on this year, but we will definitely have some big expectations next year and for many years after that. This is a team that hasn't come into its own yet."

There are three big reasons why Rodriguez and so many others in baseball are convinced that the Marlins can step up to the status of the elite. Those reasons are right fielder Mike Stanton, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and right-hander Josh Johnson. A fourth reason is that the Marlins move into their baseball-only stadium in the Little Havana section of Miami in 2012, which should help increase their revenues substantially.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how important Ramirez and Johnson are to the Marlins' future is that penny-pinching owner Jeffrey Loria reached for his checkbook, let the prodigal moths fly out of it, then signed both to lucrative long-term contracts. Ramirez is in the second season of a six-year, $70 million contract that runs through the 2014 season. Johnson signed a four-year, $39 million contact in January just days after Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association made the rare joint announcement that the Marlins had agreed to follow the collectively bargained rules concerning the use of money received through revenue sharing.

Ramirez, 26, is 12th in the NL in VORP with 36.5 this season and has contributed 32.0 WARP since becoming the Marlins' shortstop on Opening Day in 2006. Johnson, 25, is fourth in the NL with 6.4 SNLVAR this year and has been worth 12.0 WARP since the beginning of last season.

Nearly every organization in baseball would love to have two building blocks who are that accomplished at such a young age. However, a third cornerstone player is rapidly emerging in his rookie season and has the raw talent to become even more valuable than Ramirez and Johnson.

That is Stanton, the 20-year-old right fielder. He has a .309 TAv and 2.9 WARP in 57 games since being called up from Triple-A New Orleans.

When asked what he thought Stanton's ceiling might be, Rodriguez never answered the question. It was not a case of Rodriguez trying to avoid putting excess pressure on the youngster but because Stanton is such unique talent.

"He's already done a lot of great things and he is only 20 years old and been in the big leagues barely two months," Rodriguez said. 'It really is hard say what he might be able to do. He has so much talent but he also has a great work ethic and a great attitude. I've only seen him get frustrated one time in two months and that only lasted for a few minutes. He's a hard worker. He's always at the ballpark early, taking extra hitting or working on his defense. He has the chance to be a great player and is the type of kid who really wants to be a great player."

While second baseman Dan Uggla is not a great player, he's been a pretty darned good one since the Marlins stole him from the Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings during the 2005-06 offseason. He is 12th in the NL with a .312 TAv this season and has 21.1 WARP3 in five seasons.

At 30, Uggla is an old man by the standards of the Marlins' young roster. However, the Marlins are trying to sign him to a multi-year contract extension. Uggla can become a free agent following the 2011 season, but Ramirez hopes the slugger will be around beyond that. Of course, Rodriguez also hopes to be around past this season.

Ramirez, who had been managing the New Orleans club, replaced the fired Fredi Gonzalez on June 23. The Marlins had a 34-36 record at the time and have gone 23-24 under Rodriguez's stewardship.

"It's been a lot of fun," Rodriguez said of getting his first chance to manage at the major-league level."I managed a lot of our guys in the minor leagues and the goal there is to get them to the major leagues. To have a chance to not only see many of reach their goal but manage them again in the major leagues has been special. I've seen a lot of these players develop over the years and I know how much talent they have. That's why I really believe we have a chance to be a good team for a long time."


When Theo Epstein walks past a Salvation Army kettle during the holiday season, don't be surprised if he stops and drops in a couple of bucks. The Red Sox general manager has jokingly suggested that he and others in the organization need to live right this offseason to avoid a repeat of the injury problems his team has suffered this season.

"We'll get together and start walking some old ladies across the street to change our karma if we can," Epstein told CSNNE.com. "It happens to everyone. It's probably (happened) to us more than it ever has before and more than it has to anybody else this season. But you just have to deal with it. It's a part of the game. Let's just hope we saved up some karma maybe for the rest of this season or after that."

The Red Sox have used the disabled list 22 times this season, involving 19 different players. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is in the midst of his third DL stint because of rib injuries. Nine Red Sox who have been All-Stars have landed on the DL this season and the Red Sox have lost 742 player games to the DL.

Yet Epstein hasn't given up on this season, as the Red Sox are 5 ½ games behind the Yankees and Rays in both the American League East and wild-card standings. He has tried his best to avoid becoming frustrated.

"Just when we feel like we have our team back, it seems like the other shoe falls and something else happens," Epstein said. "It's just the way it's been. We've got to deal with it and just go with the players that we do have."


Joe Torre's original plan was to decide if he would return as Dodgers' manager by mid-September. However, Torre has amended that timetable to when the Dodgers have either clinched a post-season berth or been eliminated from the pennant race. His contract expires at the end of the season.

"When I stopped doing (negotiations) this spring, I didn't want to be a distraction," Torre said. "If we're in a pennant race, this is not taking precedence over that. I'm not letting that get in the way—as long as we have air to breathe."

The Dodgers' oxygen supply is getting scarce. They trail the Padres by 11 games in the NL West and the Phillies by seven in the NL wild-card standings.

There are many close to the Dodgers who believe Torre will not return next season as he is said to be weary of the continuing economic constraints and soap opera caused by the divorce proceedings of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt. It will be interesting to see who replaces Torre should he leave. Hitting coach Don Mattingly has generally been assumed to be the heir apparent, but ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine and Tim Wallach, manager of the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque farm club, would also likely merit strong consideration.

"I have to let (ownership) know, that's only fair," Torre said. "If they have to search for another manager, I know the assumption is it's Donnie (Mattingly), but I don't think it's cut and dried at this time. It's not fair to him, really. They're the ones that have to make that decision—ownership, (GM Ned Colletti) and all that stuff."

Many believe Torre would like to become the Cubs' next manager, succeeding Lou Piniella, who is retiring at the end of the season. However, Torre insists retirement might also be the path he takes.

"I'm certainly not losing sleep over it," Torre said. "I have to make a decision and that will be it. I still have no idea what I would do if I don't manage. Do I enjoy this? Sure. I hate losing like anybody. I enjoy the process, but it's a long time from mid-February until, I'd like to think, the end of October. Not a lot of time for yourself. That weighs heavily."


The Brewers are third in the NL in runs scored with an average of 4.75 a game. However, those numbers are somewhat skewed by the fact the Brewers have scored in double figures 10 times this season. Thus, their 56-64 record is not as impressive as the offensive numbers.

"We've had some big games, and if you put the total number of runs out there, yeah, we're right up there amongst the league leaders," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "But we don't have those runs on a consistent basis. If we had consistent numbers instead of the gigantic numbers on some days, we'd end up with a better win-loss record."

Macha would like to see his team try to rely less on home runs and more on putting the ball in play. He believes third baseman Casey McGehee and right fielder Corey Hart are the only two regulars who consistently try to hit the ball to all fields.

"I know how much we've stressed hitting the ball the other way," Macha said. "I think the best you can do whenever that happens is be as reinforcing as you can on the bench when they come in. Make sure everybody knows how pleased you are with that type of (approach)."


MLB Rumors & Rumblings: There are indications that White Sox bench coach Joey Cora could be the frontrunner for the Mariners' manager opening. … The Cardinals continue to look for a third baseman and have their eye on the Tigers' Brandon Inge, who is expected to be placed on waivers today.  … One of the Mets' off-season priorities will be to try to find a taker for center fielder Carlos Beltran. … The Braves plan to keep first base prospect Freddie Freeman at Triple-A Gwinnett until the minor-league season ends, but he will get a chance to supplant Troy Glaus in the lineup once he arrives in the major leagues.


Scouts' views on various major-leaguers:

Brewers closer John Axford: "He's like the old-school closers because he can go multiple innings for a save, which is a good thing on a staff where there aren't too many pitchers you can trust. He'll put you away when he gets two strikes but he needs to get ahead of hitters more consistently."

Twins closer Matt Capps: "Even though he throws pretty hard, he isn't the classic blow-you-away closer. He throws a lot of strikes and attacks the hitters, but I wonder if his inability to consistently blow guys away might not hurt him in the postseason when you're facing so many quality hitters."

Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse: "He hasn't looked right all year. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt that he'll get stronger the more he pitches after (forearm) surgery, but he's never been a guy you can truly rely on. He's too erratic."

Angels catcher Jeff Mathis: "He doesn't hit enough to play every day regardless of how good he is behind the plate. He doesn’t have any pop or plate discipline, and even mediocre off-speed stuff eats him up."

Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco: "He's not the prototypical third baseman with power, but he is a really good hitter. He doesn't have a weakness against certain types of pitches or location and he always puts the bat on the ball. You can tell he's a real student of hitting."

White Sox reliever J.J. Putz: "He's had a nice comeback season after being hurt last year but he's starting to run out of gas. The White Sox have ridden him hard and you can see he is tiring out. His velocity is down and he's not hitting his spots."

Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez: "He's got the stuff to be a No. 1 starter, but it comes down to one thing with him: He's got to throw strikes more consistently and be more efficient with his pitch count. If he can do that, he's a guy who'll win 20 games some year."


Three series to watch with probable pitchers and all times Eastern:

Angels (60-60) at Twins (69-50), Friday-Sunday August 20-22
Dan Haren vs. Brian Duensing, 8:10 p.m.; Trevor Bell vs. Kevin Slowey, 4:10 p.m.; Jered Weaver vs. Scott Baker, 8:10 p.m.

Giants (67-53) at Cardinals (65-52), Friday-Sunday August 20-22
Madison Bumgarner vs. Jake Westbrook, 8:15 p.m.; Tim Lincecum vs. Chris Carpenter, 7:15 p.m.; Barry Zito vs. Kyle Lohse, 2:15 p.m.

Reds (68-51) at Dodgers (61-59), Friday-Sunday August 20-22
Homer Bailey vs. Vicente Padilla, 10:10 p.m.; Johnny Cueto vs. Chad Billingsley, 10:10 p.m.; Bronson Arroyo vs. Clayton Kershaw, 4:10 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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