I printed out my tickets for this weekend – Yankees at Phillies and Tigers at Yankees — so it is time to put on a serious baseball cap again and settle in for another year. My theme for the today is that the Marlins are not as good a team as they say they are.
Spring training optimism aside, I do not project them in the post season. Baseball is played up the middle from catcher through center field, including the 2d baseman and the shortstop. The Marlins are weaker, rather than stronger, up the middle.
Catcher: John Buck ‘s hitting skills are in decline. His batting average is sub .250 and he is not achieved the 20-home run season that brought him to Miami from Toronto.
2d Base: Omar Infante had a great, but sub .300 year last year but now he is a year older and step slower. He is still rated as above-average fielder and he will not contribute many errors to a historically error-prone team. What remains to be learned is how he will pair up with his new shortstop. Infante knows how to hit them where they ain’t but has his speed diminished sufficiently that getting himself to second is a thing of the past for him.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes is getting all the ink. He had a pre-free agency year last year, worsened somewhat by a tricky hamstring. How many times does a soon-to-be free agent not deliver when his contract is settled. He gets an F in health in Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster and even though he is truly a skillful player, we have to wonder what happens when he is injured as well he might be?
Center Field: The depth chart has Emilio Bonifacio in center field and it is Boni, according to the new manager, who will move to shortstop. The idea is to keep Hanley anchored to third base (note to readers – please take notice of my avoidance of “hot corner.”) That opens the door to whichever scrub (Petersen, Coughlin, Cousins) or non-roster invitee, Rowand, survives baseball’s March Madness. Boni, by the way, is enormously fast and a great base runner, but we have never seen him in a day-to-day role over an extended period in center field. I am confident, however, that he will get to every ball hit within his range.
On the way up the middle, you pass the pitching mound and that has me worried as well. Going into the spring, the top five starters appear to be J. Johnson; M. Buehrle; R. Nolasco; A. Sanchez and C. Zambrano.
Johnson: elite-level, high quality, commanding pitcher who is injury prone and has a history of hiding his pain to his and his team’s detriment. He can do 200 innings, but he is more likely to turn in 120-150.
Buehrle: He got a four-year contract at age 33 so we know his agent is glib. I like pitchers with ERAs below 3.50 and he is not one of them. I like pitchers whose HR/9 ratio is below 1.0. His is 0.9. Summing it up, his risk/reward ratio is high enough to make me nervous.
Nolasco: He defines “it depends.” We never know which Ricky is going to show up on any given day. The good Ricky is a joy to watch. The not good Ricky makes you cringe when a good left hand bat comes to the plate.
Sanchez: He is getting better each year and a break out year for him may well convert me to a believer. After all, there may well be an extra wild card available this year.
Zambrano: They say Ozzie will have him under control. Right. Two temperamental Latinos, one keeping the other calm.
I should write a word or two about Heath Bell, the big bullpen addition (6″3″ and 230 pounds.) He is 34 and got a three-year contract so it is clear that the Marlins believe in 37 year old pitchers. He is definitely a quality closer and the team has had a good history of getting a lot of mileage out of the revolving door they have installed on their bullpen. However, usually that occurs in the last year of their contract.
It will not be a Pittsburgh Pirate sort of year, but the Phillies and Braves still look better and the Nationals might well slip ahead of the Marlins. The Marlins will, however, be looking down at the Mets.