30 Teams in 30 Days: Florida Marlins Roundtable

Marlins

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeau and Ted Hill from Marlins Diehards.

Question 1 – Can the Marlins continue to field a competitive team with such a small payroll?
Matt: I think the Marlins “competitiveness” has been slightly exaggerated. Sure, they have maintained a record in the vicinity of .500 for most of the last decade, which is better than teams like the Pirates and Royals, but they have only made the playoffs twice in their franchises history (’97 & ’03) and their 87-win third-place finish last season was the best record outside of those seasons. I find it utterly shameful that the Marlins have refused to spend even the money they received from revenue sharing in an effort to field a true contender. Let’s face it; 75-85 win seasons are only meaningful if they are building towards something better. Indications are that the Marlins are pocketing an enormous share of their revenues, rather than committing to winning, and that’s just despicable. So, no, the Marlins won’t field a really competitive team until they’re willing to spend at least $50-$60 Million on player salaries.

Ted: I think I’d generally agree with Matthew’s points, yet I would point out while the team isn’t spending the revenue sharing money on salaries for the big league club, they have been using some to maintain there great scouting and development departments. That’s the way they operate, at least for now. If when the new stadium comes in 2012 and it provides a revenue stream higher than what we have been at, that should allow the team to spend a bit more money on player contracts, but specifically player retention. I still don’t ever envision them getting in bidding wars for the best free agents along with the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, etc.

As for this year’s team, they have a good young corps. The major question is the pitching and specifically the bullpen. The team has shown a pretty good track record of finding bullpen arms, especially reclamation projects, but sometimes that just doesn’t work out. As of right now there are a lot of spots open and not many roles defined. If the pen can shape up decently and the young starting pitching can stay healthy they have a shot at a playoff berth.

Matt: Ted makes a good point. The Marlins do a great job with drafting and development. However, it’s still reasonable to believe that ownership is sitting on a huge profit margin. Recent reports are that Selig encourages teams to spend somewhere between 40-50% of their revenues on players. However, his baseline expectation is somewhere well below that. Which means, for him to publicly chastise the franchise, the Marlins must have been well under that ultimate bottom line. No amount of spending on scouting makes up for that. Let’s keep in mind, the Marlins are getting somewhere between $50 an $80 Million before they ever sell a ticket, a parking spot, a hot dog, or a foam finger at the ballpark, not to mention whatever (albeit relatively modest) tv contracts they’ve got. It seems reasonable to expect a team to spend at least that much money on players. Last season’s payroll in Florida was $36 Million and it’s only a fraction higher this year.

Jeff: Fellas, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. It’s my opinion that the Marlins ownership isn’t spending the money because of lousy attendance. No one goes to these games….even when Pujols is in town…..even when the Marlins were good. For crying out loud, they won 2 WORLD SERIES since ’97. That can not be understated. Ask any Cubs fan, or Rangers, or Astros, or you see what I mean? If the fans would show some support it would be tons easier to spend the dough.

The Cubs ownership has it made. Their fans show up no matter how crappy the on-field product is. The Marlins are the anti-Cubs. No one shows up for them even in a World Series season.

Lastly, it’s important to note that I do NOT like the owner sitting on all that money. But I think the fans are more to blame than him. He’s doing what I would do in a similar situation. But thats just me.

Eugene: The revenue sharing is supposed to help teams that don’t have the best attendance to field competitive teams. I understand that the attendance is crap, but they aren’t in the red with money from the Yankees and Red Sox. That’s the reason Selig made the comment about their spending. If nothing was said, then Johnson wouldn’t have gotten his extension and Uggla would probably be on a different team. Of course we’re talking about Jeffrey Loria, the man who ransacked the Expos offices and took everything, including the front office staff and manager, when he sold the Expos to MLB; people joke about the Cardinal owners being cheap, but they are nothing like this.

I’ll hold off from totally condemning them until they have a season or 2 in their new ballpark (if/when that happens). If they get the new ballpark, increase spending, and have better attendance, then this issue is just a blip on the radar. If they get a new ballpark and nothing changes, then we’ll have the real issue.

Daniels: The Marlins do a great job with drafting and development but they also do a fantastic job at trading their huge talent at the exact right time. It remains to be seen if Cameron Maybin lives up to the hype he garnered in 2008 when he came up and hit .500 in 8 games. But the Marlins turned their two top players in to a pile of prospects and one of those players got busted down to A-ball within a year.

All that said, yes, the Marlins will continue to field a team with .500 talent. I keep waiting for the wear and tear of playing in front of an empty football stadium to take its toll on these guys — but it just doesn’t. Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla have never played a game in front of a good home crowd. Maybe it’s like being born deaf so you never know what you’re missing? The Marlins have been great at self-motivation — be it knocking the Mets out of the playoffs on consecutive years or making it their personal mission in September to not allow teams to clinch against them.

And, let’s not get crazy here. The first shot in the war between the fans and the team was Jeff Loria cutting payroll to $14M. The fans responded by not showing up. Speaking for myself, I’d be furious that my team could build a .500 team for $20M and refused to sign two or three big free agents to bring the total up to $50M. By the time the new stadium opens, it could very well be too late.

Question 2 – Who will fill out the rotation behind the Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco?
Daniels: I don’t know that there’s a lot of drama in the Marlins’ rotation. I would expect it to be Johnson, Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Sean West, and Chris Volstad. Sanchez pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA last season in 16 starts after missing almost 3 months of the season. West and Volstad didn’t have great seasons, but they seem fully capable as back-end starters.

Eugene: They have a lot of options. I think Andrew Miller will be in the mix along with those Daniels named. I like him better than West.

Question 3 – Will Leo Nunez be the closer for the entire season?
Matt: Well, the face that the Marlins idea of competition is Mike MacDougal and Derrick Turnbow certainly increases his chances of holding onto the job. I actually think Leo Nunez has a chance of becoming a pretty solid closer. He’s only 25, and although his ERA was a little high last season, he had solid WHIP and K/9 rates, especially considering his walk rate was the highest of his career. If that goes down to just his career average, I think he holds onto the job and registers 35-40 saves.

The biggest danger to Nunez isn’t MacDougal or Turnbow, but Jose Ceda, who is among the Marlins top prospects. However, as Ceda missed much of ’09 with injury, I don’t think the Fish will rush him into a high-intensity role. He may make the major-league roster out of Spring Training, but probably as a middle reliever.

Eugene: I’m not sold on any of these guys. Nunez is young and did OK as the closer. MacDougal is an intriguing possibility, but doesn’t do anything for the long-term of the club. Turnbow’s time is past him, so he won’t be an option.

Question 4 – Where will the Marlins finish in the standings?
Matt: I think the Marlins are destined for a mirror image of last season. Honestly, I think that is all ownership is shooting for. They’ll finish in second place, neck-and-neck with the Braves, but well back of the Phillies and not even a serious contender for the Wild Card.

Daniels: Eventually, the strain of never playing a home game in front of a good has to catch up with these players. Fredi Gonzalez already deserves sainthood for keeping these guys motivated. I think this might be the year it catches up with them. The entire division has made marked improvements (including the Nationals). I think the Marlins crash under .500 this season and actually finish behind the Nationals.

Jeff: As seemingly every season, the Fish will come into 2010 with little expectation — and, as they often do, I predict they’ll outperform those expectation — I’m not sure a 2nd place finish is too far out of the question, but let me add 3 points to that, 1) they will need incredible luck in the health department, 2) their your up-and-comers will have to be here-and-readies, and 3) all that being said, wild-card hopes will have to wait, too much strength in the West.

Eugene: I see the Marlins as 3rd, behind the Braves and just ahead of the Mets. I don’t like the bullpen here, and see quite a few blown games.

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