It's the last year for the Marlins in a ballpark nobody likes, so it's only appropriate that we say goodbye properly. The photograph above reminds us of the lame-duck stadium. Empty seats, rain falling.
The name of the park has turned into a drinking game of sorts. This year, it's called Sun Life Stadium. It's also been known as Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, and Land Shark Stadium. No wonder no one goes there; the natives don't know what to punch into their GPS.
Marlins Ballpark (or whatever they wind up calling it) is supposed to be ready for 2012 play, complete with a retractable roof. The franchise will then be known as the Miami Marlins (multiple Estefans are nodding in agreement). Come for the novelty, stay for Hanley Ramirez(notes).
As for the 18 years of Marlins baseball that we've just witnessed, that story is well documented. Florida has just two playoff appearances to its credit over that time, a pair of wild card berths – and in both instances they went on to win the World Series. This is not the sort of business model fantasy owners should look to replicate – you want to be the Atlanta Braves, good every year, get in position to win, then hope to spark some late-season magic. But if you're misguided enough to feel that championships are the only thing that really matter, then you'll drink a toast to the curious way this expansion franchise has done things. The garage sale the Marlins held after the 1997 title was one of the strangest, and saddest, things in modern sports.
I've yet to see anyone quite that optimistic, but the expectations are lofty for the 21-year-out outfielder. Bill James projects 38 homers. RotoWire calls for 36. The Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball Magazine was a little more tempered at 33, though that doesn't speak for the entire staff (I produced that number – I'm sure some of my colleagues are more bullish). Stanton combined for 43 taters last year, clocking 21 in the minors and then whacking 22 in 359 at-bats with Florida; no one doubts his power potential.
But how much batting-average risk does Stanton bring to the table? He struck out in 34 percent of his at-bats last year, and his career batting average in the minors was an ordinary .274. Who makes the better second-year adjustments, the kid or the pitchers around the league? Because buzz-heavy young stars seldom come at an affordable price, I doubt Stanton will be on any of my rosters this spring. It's not that he can't step forward in Year 2, I just don't like pricing in a production upgrade (or even a full-season extrapolation) at the table, not from someone who's never played a full year.
We can all agree that New York just wasn't the place for Vazquez. He had two trials with the Yankees and both ended miserably. His three-year stretch in Chicago wasn't so hot either, though he did pile up the strikeouts over that time.
So on the surface, Vazquez going back to the NL and to a low-pressure environment like Florida makes sense. But is there anything left in his arm? Vazquez's average fastball clocked in at 88.7 mph last year, a significant drop from the low-90s heater that we've seen for just about the rest of his career. Was an undiagnosed injury at play here? (Vazquez, for what it's worth, denies any physical problem.) Mechanical issues? Radar readouts don't tell a complete story, of course, and we have to consider that Vazquez also had problems with his slider and curve last year. But if we're not seeing easy gas coming from his right arm in the spring, take it as a red flag and let someone else take the plunge.
Nolasco was on the Universal Sleeper list into 2010, as most took note that he pitched far better than his 5.06 ERA in 2009 would suggest. He struck out better than a man per inning, after all, and his peripherally-suggest ERA was almost two runs lower (in large part due to a very low strand rate).
Alas, the Nolasco hard-luck story last year was similar, if not as extreme. He struck out 8.39 men per nine innings, and had a snappy 4.45 K/BB rate. His xFIP checked in at a tidy 3.55, but the ERA we have to pay taxes on wasn't much fun – 4.51. A slightly bloated HR/FB rate (12.4) was part of the story here, and his strand rate was again below league average.
It's an interesting coincidence that Nolasco and Vazquez are on the same staff, because Vazquez for years was one of the poster boys for the "underachieve your peripherals" club. Does Nolasco pay a price for being around the plate too much? Does he lose more effectiveness than he should with men on base? Do these disappointing seasons reflect something about him, or is this simply a case or a guy who's due for a year where his ERA lives up to the sum of the parts? Let's debate this one in the comments, gamer.
Who's the man in the ninth?
Leo Nunez(notes) lost his closing job during the final quarter of 2010, with Clay Hensley(notes) stepping in nicely (seven straight conversions). But all signs point to Nunez being given the job to lose to open the new season, with Hensley settling into the top setup role. The Marlins are also paying Nunez $3.65 million for the season, so if they're not in the playoff hunt in the middle of the year, they'll probably be looking to get out from under that salary.
I'll take the rest to go – what's the rest of the Fish Wrap?
Logan Morrison(notes) looks like a Nick Johnson(notes) clone (and that's meant as a compliment), an on-base machine with an outstanding grasp of the strike zone. … Someone had to buy high on the John Buck(notes) career year, and this is unlikely to end pretty. … Matt Dominguez(notes) might get a shot to win the third-base job on the strength of his glove, but will the 21-year-old hit enough to stick there? He's coming off a very pedestrian year in Double-A (.252/.333/.411). … Chris Volstad(notes) hasn't done much right since his impressive 2008 debut, but remember he's still just 24 and he's got a first-round pedigree. … Josh Johnson(notes) had five terrific months in 2010, then shut it down to rest his sore shoulder and back. If he's healthy for a full year, put him on the very short list of Cy Young favorites. He's been a steal during early mock season, going off the board as the No. 17 starting pitcher in mixed leagues.
Empty seats courtesy of the Associated Press