Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Miami Marlins.
2011 record: 72-90
Finish: Fifth, NL East
2011 final payroll: $57.7 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $100 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 11th
Hashtags: #freehanley, #ozziesaid, #lomotweeted, #hanleystewed, #forwhomthebellclose, #thetaoofz
In the interest of self-preservation and relevance, and in the pursuit of profit (this time outside the game's welfare system), Jeffrey Loria and the merry Marlins lit up the early hours of the winter meetings.
From a recent history of empty ballparks and embarrassing payrolls, and months after having been scolded for hoarding other people's money, the Marlins became players.
To a new name, a new neighborhood, a new stadium, a new uniform, a new manager and the same old vibe, they added three premier free agents – shortstop Jose Reyes, starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell – before Christmas, at a cost of $191 million.
So, the vibe was new, too.
Leaning on their faith in manager Ozzie Guillen, they acquired Carlos Zambrano from the Chicago Cubs, who'll cover all but $1.55 million of the $18 million coming to the mercurial right-hander in 2011.
And, even as spring nears, the Marlins are among the favorites to land Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban outfielder expected to draw interest from at least a half-dozen clubs.
The plan was to go big, so big that even South Florida couldn't ignore them, and now the Marlins are selling out exhibition games against college programs.
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They cannot completely escape their history, however. The recent contracts are back-loaded. And Pujols chose the Los Angeles Angels in part because the Marlins refused to include in their offer a no-trade clause. It's the kind of unbending philosophy that raises suspicions that the new Marlins aren't all that sure this thing is going to work.
We'll soon learn whose hands are fullest with these Marlins:
The defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies, who weren't pushed at all in 2011.
The staggering Atlanta Braves, who lost the wild card in the final moments of the regular season and were so alarmed they basically stood pat.
The blossoming Washington Nationals, who've been the "next" team ever since they got Scott Boras' cell phone number.
Ozzie Guillen, whose new owner has been known to sour quickly on his field managers, and whose new third baseman might not be completely sold on being a third baseman, and whose new starter – Zambrano – has a serious impetuous side.
Or Loria, whose new manager is Ozzie Guillen.
The Marlins were a reasonable 55-55 when Ramirez sat down with a shoulder injury and finished with 72 wins and in last place. Clearly, they are better. Right-hander Josh Johnson returns from a bout with his own achy shoulder to lead an improved rotation. Right fielder Mike Stanton is a beast, and a superstar waiting to happen. The left side of the infield – Reyes and Ramirez – could be great on both sides of the ball.
Heck, they should be better. Four years ago, the payroll was $21.8 million. Two years before that, $15 million. Today, it's around $100 million, with room for Cespedes.
Still, how much better are they? Will Ramirez's ego allow him to play third base? How long before the old Z leaks into the new Z? And will Logan Morrison tweet about it?
Ramirez recently told the Associated Press, "We're the new Marlins. I'm also a new Hanley."
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Maybe so. But, as Guillen reminded everyone in his personal blog, "Everyone loves each other in February, but the key is to love each other in September."
The Marlins should contend for a wild-card berth, if not better. More, they're going to be damned entertaining.
The Marlins could have three pitchers in their rotation – Anibal Sanchez, Buehrle and Zambrano – who have thrown no-hitters. The most important man in their rotation, however, is Josh Johnson.
He last threw an official pitch in mid-May. He rested his shoulder for the remainder of the season. He's throwing again, says he is feeling no discomfort and that he'll be ready for camp. The Marlins' season could hinge on it.
Johnson, 28, made nine starts in '11. He allowed more than one earned run in two of them. He has won 36 of his last 49 starts. His career ERA is 2.98.
While the Marlins go about winning over their town, they'll only win the season if Johnson helps lead them, by making as many as 28 starts and throwing as many as 200 innings for the second time ever.
Marlins in Haiku
Please, my good Hanley
Take, for the good of the team,
Ten steps to your right
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- Ozzie Guillen