Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
The Miami Marlins might not contend for the division, but they might be dangerous enough to threaten the Tigers' playoff chances in a late September interleague series in Miami.
The Tigers won't face the Miami Marlins until the last series of the regular season in late September, so a team preview at this point will probably be irrelevant by the time the team actually heads down to Miami. However, it's the middle of Spring Training and we won't get many more opportunities to say optimistic stuff about the Marlins this year.
Manager: Mike Redmond (1st year)
2012 record: 69-93, 5th in NL East
SB Nation blog: Fish Stripes
Series vs. Tigers: September 27-29 @ Marlins Park
To say that the Marlins struggled at the plate in 2012 would be quite an understatement. They scored 609 runs on the season, or just 3.75 runs per game. The Houston Astros were the only team in baseball to score fewer runs, and they didn't have anyone nearly as talented as Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Reyes, or Hanley Ramirez on the roster.
Newcomers Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco will likely lead off the order, with Stanton moving up to third in the order after mostly hitting fourth or fifth last year. Manager Mike Redmond has used former Tigers catching prospect Rob Brantly behind Stanton early on in Spring Training action, but expect either Logan Morrison or Justin Ruggiano to hit cleanup once they are healthy enough to return to game action.
Brantly will then slot into the fifth or sixth spot, with lighter-hitting players like shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Donovan Solano rounding out the order ahead of the pitcher's spot. Neither guy has much power, but Solano got on base at a .332 clip after Omar Infante was traded away last season. If either Pierre or Polanco miss any time, expect Solano to move towards the top of the order. Former Tigers prospect Gorkys Hernandez will be a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitting type player off the bench. Former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and journeyman Nick Green will likely compete with Solano and Polanco for playing time in the infield.
It might be fair to ask how long Ricky Nolasco will be in Miami given his $11.5 million salary, but for now he is the ace of a very young pitching staff. Nolasco was 12-13 with a 4.48 ERA/3.87 FIP/4.17 xFIP in 191 innings of work during the 2012 season. While his BABIP and home run rate have both dropped in recent years, his strikeout rate has been steadily declining since 2009.
Jacob Turner was 1-4 with a 3.38 ERA in seven starts with the Marlins after being traded last July. While this is still too small of a sample to accurately project the 21 year old right hander's future performance, he did show promise with a couple of good outings against the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals down the stretch.
Henderson Alvarez is a hard-throwing left-hander that the Marlins acquired in their blockbuster trade with the Toronto Blue Jays (more on that below). His major league numbers with the Blue Jays last year aren't pretty -- 9-14 record, 4.85 ERA/5.18 FIP/4.42 xFIP, and a strikeout rate so low that it would make your mother cry. However, at just 22 years old (he turns 23 in April), Alvarez has time to sort things out. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and left-hander Wade LeBlanc will likely round out the rotation, with veteran lefty John Maine pushing for a roster spot during Spring Training.
Right-handed closer Steve Cishek saved 15 games for the Marlins in 2012 and will likely retain his job to start off 2013. Cishek was excellent as a setup man for Heath Bell, allowing just five runs in 27 2/3 innings when entering the game in the 7th or 8th innings. Jon Rauch signed as a free agent last month and will likely take on a setup role in 2013.
Bust out the nametags
The biggest story of the Marlins' offseason was easily the giant salary dump trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Marlins sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and Mark Buehrle -- who made a combined $37.95 million last year -- north of the border for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, and three other minor leaguers with no MLB experience. They promptly sent Escobar across the state to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor leaguer Derek Dietrich, a middle infielder with the kind of bat that would fit right in with the Tigers minor league system.
The Marlins also made a few other moves during the offseason, bringing in left fielder Juan Pierre and third baseman Placido Polanco from the Philadelphia Phillies. Pierre will be looking to replicate his excellent 2012 numbers while Polanco needs to shake the injury bug and prove that he can still be an everyday player. Veterans Casey Kotchman, Chone Figgins, Austin Kearns, Kevin Slowey, and Kevin Kouzmanoff are all non-roster invitees to Spring Training, though I would wager that only Figgins has a reasonable shot of making the team.
Spring Training storylines
Things got off to an auspicious start when top prospect Jose Fernandez beaned Giancarlo Stanton with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball less than a week into practice. Since then, more and more injuries have crept through the locker room. Jeff Mathis broke his collarbone, all but handing the Opening Day catching duties to former Tigers prospect Rob Brantly. Outfielder Justin Ruggiano, one of the few pleasant surprises of the 2012 roster, has been dealing with a sore back. Logan Morrison won't be ready for Opening Day after offseason knee surgery.
Player to watch: Giancarlo Stanton
I was going to give Jacob Turner this dubious label, but then I watched this.
Unless you're interested in keeping tabs on Turner, Stanton is the only reason to turn on a Marlins game this season. Despite turning just 23 years old last November, he already has 93 home runs and 232 RBI in his big league career. He doesn't hit arbitration until after this season, meaning that he's going to put up Herculean numbers for approximately the league minimum again in 2013. It's anyone's guess as to how long Stanton will be in Miami once his salary skyrockets, but for now he will have to contend with trying to break that eyesore of a fountain in left-center field of Marlins Park.
The Marlins are a mess. The roster is barren, fans are upset, and it looks like Stanton's best years as a Marlin will be spent trying to topple the New York Mets for fourth place in the division. This team will get better as the year goes on and the young talent develops, but don't expect this team to be contending anytime soon.