Philadelphia, PA – The Miami Marlins were big players in free agency this past offseason. Now they hope all the free spending will translate into success on the field.
Money has always been at the root of the Marlins' problems, but the move to a brand-new ballpark with a retractable roof in Miami for the 2012 season opened up the pockets of the front office. The Marlins figure to have a steady stream of income now that they are playing in a baseball-only park and were quick to leave their former Florida brand behind.
A beautiful new stadium is one thing, but filling it with a winning team is another. The Marlins figure to have done that.
Miami's first move actually came towards the end of last season when it reached an agreement with former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen to replace the retiring Jack McKeon, who took over as manager on an interim basis after Edwin Rodriguez resigned.
Guillen has roots with the Marlins, serving as the franchise's third-base coach in 2003, when the club won its second World Series title.
With Guillen on board, the flood gates opened for new personnel. The Marlins dished out a combined $191 million to ink shortstop Jose Reyes (6 years), left-handed starter Mark Buehrle (4 years) and closer Heath Bell (3 years), and also added pitching depth by trading for Carlos Zambrano and Wade LeBlanc.
Miami was also in the running for the services of first baseman Albert Pujols and starter C.J. Wilson, sending out a clear message to the rest of the National League East that it is ready to compete after finishing last season 18 games under .500.
The Marlins finished 11th in the NL with 625 runs scored, something they don't expect to repeat with Reyes at the top of the order and Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo (formally Mike) Stanton and Logan Morrison hitting 3-4-5.
One challenge for Guillen is keeping Ramirez's head in the game with the former All-Star shifting from short to third.
Still, it's a nice problem for the fiery Guillen to have and he is a manager who usually gets the most out of his players.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Marlins, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 FINISH (72-90) - Fifth Place (NL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Jose Reyes (SS), Heath Bell (RHP), Mark Buehrle (LHP), Carlos Zambrano (RHP), Austin Kearns (OF), Aaron Rowand (OF), Chad Gaudin (RHP), Wade LeBlanc (LHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Javier Vazquez (RHP), Jose Lopez (INF), John Baker (C), Burke Badenhop (RHP), Chris Volstad (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Jose Reyes (SS), Emilio Bonifacio (CF), Hanley Ramirez (3B), Giancarlo Stanton (RF), Logan Morrison (LF), Gaby Sanchez (1B), John Buck (C), Omar Infante (2B)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Josh Johnson (RHP), Mark Buehrle (LHP), Ricky Nolasco (RHP), Anibal Sanchez (RHP), Carlos Zambrano (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Heath Bell (RHP)
MANAGER: Ozzie Guillen
IS REYES THE ANSWER ON OFFENSE?
Perhaps the best position player on the free agency market other than Pujols, Reyes should bring an instant spark to the Marlins similar to what speedster Juan Pierre did for the club during its 2003 run to the championship.
Reyes led the NL with a .337 average in 126 games last year with the Mets, swiping 39 bases and scoring 101 runs. All that came despite missing time with a hamstring injury a season after an oblique ailment caused him to sit out a number of games in 2010.
Since his first full season in the majors in 2005, Reyes leads all players in triples (93) and is second in stolen bases (338) and instantly gives Miami one of the top leadoff hitters in the game.
That will also slide projected center fielder and fellow flash runner Emilio Bonifacio down to the second spot in the order. Bonifacio finished last season as the leadoff hitter when Chris Coghlan couldn't stay healthy and hit .296. Should he approach that average again this season, Bonifacio will team with Reyes to give opposing pitchers and catchers fits when on the basepaths and supply plenty of RBI opportunities for the sluggers further down the order.
Bonifacio also gives the Mets insurance incase injuries again plague Reyes, but the Marlins are hoping that isn't the scenario given the $106 million they invested in Reyes over six guaranteed seasons.
Reyes, never one to shy away from the spotlight, should instantly become a hit in Miami as the 28-year-old Dominican Republic native should blend in well in the Latin community.
IS JOSH JOHNSON STILL THE ACE OF THE STAFF?
The short answer is yes, but the addition of Buehrle and Zambrano to the staff certainly makes it deeper.
Johnson, though, will still be the ace assuming he returns to form after missing most of 2011 with a shoulder injury. The 6-foot-7 righty was off to a great start before going on the disabled list, posting a 1.64 earned run average over nine starts. Run support has prevented Johnson from racking up wins in the past, but that shouldn't be an issue this year.
Florida had trouble replacing Johnson, but his absence did see Anibal Sanchez take a step forward. The righty had a 3.67 ERA over 32 starts, but managed just a 8-9 record.
The addition of the consistent Buehrle will slot Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco down a spot in the rotation and give Florida a much-needed left-handed presence. Buehrle has won at least 10 games and made 30 starts in 11 straight seasons and already has an established relationship with Guillen due to their time together in Chicago.
Guillen also hopes to get along with Zambrano, who ended last season on the disqualified list after a meltdown following a start in Atlanta on Aug. 12. The right-hander was tossed from the game, cleared out his locker and told the Cubs he was going to retire. He backtracked from that statement and will now look to keep his career on track in Miami.
WHO IS JUAN CARLOS OVIDEO?
Ovideo was formally known as Leo Nunez and, with the signing of Bell, is also now formally the Marlins' closer.
Ovideo was placed on the restricted list late last season and it was eventually revealed that he was pitching under a false name and was also a year older than he had indicated. The Dominican Republic native used fake documents to sign a pro baseball contract and remains on the restricted list.
He did reach a one-year agreement with the Marlins this offseason, but should he return to the club it will be in a set-up role due to the presence of Bell despite a career-high 36 saves last season.
Bell, the former Padres closer, was the first domino to fall in the Marlins' busy offseason and leads the league with 132 saves since becoming a full-time closer in 2009. He posted 43 of those last season.
X-FACTOR: HANLEY RAMIREZ, 3B
While Reyes will certainly have a big say in how Florida's offense operates, the success of the lineup will still boil down to how Ramirez bounces back this season.
The 28-year-old former All-Star hit a career-worst .243 with just 10 homers, 45 RBI and 20 steals in 92 games a season ago. Ramirez missed time last year with a back injury before sitting out the final 52 games of the regular season because of a sprained left shoulder.
In the fourth season of a six-year extension signed in 2008, Ramirez will look to bounce back this season offensively while making the switch to third base following the addition of Reyes. Initial speculation was that Ramirez, another one of Miami's Dominican-born players, wasn't happy with having to switch positions, but he has since gotten on board with the move.
Still, it is easy for Ramirez to say he is happy with a position switch -- shortstop is the only position he has ever known. Offensive struggles early on in 2012 could cause some unrest with the right-hander and that is something Guillen will have to keep an eye on.
Fans of the Marlins have been teased before with the franchise winning two World Series titles only to see the ownership revert back to small-market ways after each championship. However, with steady revenue expected with the new ballpark, Miami doesn't appear to be in danger of any future dismantling. The Marlins were able to add a key piece to each aspect of their team with Reyes, Buehrle and Bell, instantly making them contenders in the NL. In fact, given the injury concerns with the Phillies and Braves and the inexperience of the Nationals, the Marlins could very well exceed expectations and emerge as the surprise champions in the NL East. Regardless, the future appears to be very bright for the Marlins in sunny Miami.