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September 27, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Florida Marlins

by Ken Funck, Kevin Goldstein 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 of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Florida Marlins goodbye.

The overview

The Marlins did almost nothing to address a very thin bullpen and—surprise!—their bullpen was a problem area for most of the year, ranking 19th among the 30 major league teams in ERA and second in blown saves. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was on double-secret probation with owner Jeffrey Loria when the season started—after almost being fired at the end of last year—and he was about to be fired when shortstop Hanley Ramirez's hustle incident occurred. Gonzalez handled that well and the Marlins felt like they couldn't fire the manager without implicitly endorsing Ramirez's actions, so the club leadership waited a bit before finally taking down Gonzalez. Bobby Valentine was on the verge of a deal to become the next manager, but, reportedly, a phone call did not go well and the Marlins decided to go with an interim manager. So if your perception is that Loria tends to change his mind, well, you'd be correct. And if you're thinking the Marlins sometimes suffer because they don't spend on the bullpen and team depth, you'd be right on that as well.

There are bright spots for the Marlins, though. Mike Stanton was called up from the minors and gave every indication that he is going to be a superstar, bashing 20 homers in his first 91 games, despite the fact he's still a couple of months shy of his 21st birthday. Josh Johnson dominated before getting hurt near season's end, and Dan Uggla posted his usual 30-homer season. Logan Morrison got on base in nearly every game he played, and Gaby Sanchez is competing for the National League Rookie of the Year award.

GM Larry Beinfest's challenge is to try to build a team with relative pennies, which is why sustaining a reliable relief corps was difficult. But given that the Marlins are scheduled to move into a new ballpark in 2012 and that leaked financial documents showed that Loria has been making more money than anybody realized, there might be more pressure on the team to spend in this offseason. The Marlins, as always, seem to have a great core of talent, but better complementary pieces are needed. —Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Ramirez and Uggla continued their slugging ways, while the successful debuts of Morrison and Stanton in the outfield corners gave fans hope for an even more complete lineup in 2011. Johnson made good on his off-season contract extension by leading the league in ERA, while Anibal Sanchez continued his comeback from shoulder surgery with a full season of health and effectiveness.

What went wrong: While ex-Marlin Miguel Cabrera was busy posting MVP-level numbers for the Tigers, the youngsters received for him in the trade have yet to grow from minnows to Marlins. Toolsy center fielder Cameron Maybin has experienced minor league success but has not been able to permanently wrest playing time from the likes of Cody Ross and Emilio Bonifacio, while lefty starter Andrew Miller is looking more and more like a lost cause.

The key number: .288/.367/.504. These are the combined slash stats for Ramirez and Uggla during their five years together manning the Marlins' middle infield, a time in which both players have earned pennies on the dollar of their true worth. While neither is known for his defensive artistry, receiving such outstanding production from what are normally offensively-challenged positions gives the Marlins a tremendous competitive advantage. Florida's inability to leverage that advantage into a playoff-caliber team has brought the motives of baseball's most penurious franchise into question. With Uggla due for a large raise in arbitration and Ramirez earning eight figures starting in 2011, the Marlins had best brush the cobwebs off their change purse before it's too late.

What won't happen again: Chris Coghlan won't lose half a season to a shaving-cream-pie-related injury. Talk about your sophomore jinxes—the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year started the season slowly, coming to the plate 113 times before his first extra-base hit, then tore the meniscus in his knee while "pieing" Wes Helms during a post-game interview. Next year Coghlan should be healthier, more productive, and more discriminating in his celebratory activities. —Ken Funck, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Eye on the bottom line: Close attention will be paid on just how the Marlins spend their money. This was a franchise that cried poverty when negotiating a new ballpark and then reportedly turned a nice profit by pocketing its share from Major League Baseball's revenue sharing plan. Marlins president David Samson has denied any impropriety and the only way to prove that is by opening the wallet. It will start with Uggla, who is eligible for arbitration but is looking for a contract similar to the six-year, $70 million deal given to Ramirez. The Marlins have yet to budge at this point and might open up trade talks for the two-time All-Star once again. The Fish would like to sign 14-game winner Ricky Nolasco to a multiyear deal, but those talks were going nowhere as of early this month. The Marlins could be in the market for a No. 1 catcher if they decide against offering arbitration to Ronny Paulino. Yorvit Torrealba, Bengie Molina, and John Buck are viable free-agent candidates, or the Fish could try to work out a deal for the Nationals' Ivan Rodriguez, who reportedly wants to return to South Florida. Leo Nunez has yet to prove he is a consistent closer, so the Fish could hope to land a reasonably priced deal with Brian Fuentes or Octavio Dotel.

New man at the top: There will be plenty of managerial changes this winter, and few will have as much intrigue as the Marlins, who could be waiting to see if Ozzie Guillen finally wears out his welcome on Chicago's South Side. Guillen lives in Miami and is a former Marlins coach, but his relationship with Samson could end up as turbulent as Guillen's relationship is now with White Sox GM Kenny Williams. Yankees bench coach Tony Pena is high on the list, but the Fish may be unwilling to wait for New York's postseason to end before talking to him. Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa and former Mets second baseman Wally Backman are believed to be among about a dozen candidates that were being considered as of mid-September. The Marlins have not played particularly well down the stretch, likely ending any hope for interim skipper Edwin Rodriguez. —Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

It took a little longer than expected, but the Marlins may finally have the late-inning power arm they anticipated when acquiring Jose Ceda from the Cubs in 2008. Shoulder surgery cost him all of 2009, but he returned in June and had twice as many strikeouts (50) as hits allowed (25) in 40 1/3 minor league innings before getting called up in September. Physically resembling a young Lee Smith, Ceda's control issues have resurfaced in the big leagues, but with mid-90s heat and a devastating slider, he'll be fine in the end. —Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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

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

Related Content:  Florida Marlins,  Miami Marlins,  Marlins

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