Pressing Questions: The Miami Marlins

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

For the Marlins, it's out with the old and in with the new. New name — it's "Miami" now. New stadium (see photo above). New uniforms. New manager. And, most importantly, a new wallet — one that actually opens.

Since 2000, the Marlins haven't paid more than $60 million to field a team. Three times in that span they shelled out less than $22 million in annual payroll. In 2003, they won a World Series on a $45 million budget. Penny pinching has been an art form for this franchise. But things are about to change. The Marlins are diving full-on into a complete makeover, with the hope of becoming Latin America's team central to the cause. To that end, the team has hired volatile, outspoken (and fan favorite) Ozzie Guillen as the manager. It was squarely in the hunt for Dominican-born free agent Albert Pujols, but "settled" for another Dominican, Jose Reyes, instead. The team also figures to go hard for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, an outfielder that has drawn comparisons to Adam Jones and Chris Young, among others.

As it stands, the Marlins are committed to a payroll north of $80 million, and that figure stands to jump up significantly if they sign Cespedes . It'll still likely be a modest sum by MLB standards, but it represents a clear philosophical shift. The question now is whether the changes made can put a significant dent in the 30-game discrepancy between them and the Phillies last season. If so, they'll have to score a lot more runs than they did last season, when they finished 23rd in MLB in that statistic. Of course, adding Reyes was a step in the right direction …

How much of a difference will Jose Reyes make to this offense?

There's no reason why Reyes shouldn't thrive in Miami, at least while he's healthy. The health issue is a significant factor here, though, as Reyes has missed at least 29 games in each of the past three seasons. And last season he had two DL stints because of his hamstrings, the same problem area that he dealt with in '04 when he missed 66 games. Reyes is at his most lethal in the running game, but pushing him too much in that capacity could spell trouble. However, holding Reyes back in that department might prove difficult for manager Ozzie Guillen, who likes to be aggressive on the base paths, three times finishing among the top 9 in steals in his time as manager of the White Sox.

If Emilio Bonifacio, one of the league's most prolific bunters, lands the No. 2 spot in the order, it's easy to imagine Guillen pressing the speed button often. And as much as that'll play well for Reyes' roto bottom line, it's also conducive to a 15-day DL stint or two. Put Reyes down for 130 games and draft accordingly — he hit .337 with 39 steals and 101 runs last season in 126 games, so a second-round price tag is fair, especially given the talent scarcity at SS.

Josh Johnson is making his way back from another significant injury. Can we expect a strong return from him?

An inflamed shoulder derailed Johnson's '11 season after just nine starts. Considering how well things were going for him at the time (and where he was drafted), it was a major blow to the Marlins and his fantasy owners.

Over the '07 and '08 seasons, Johnson missed a combined 238 games because of arm injuries, including Tommy John elbow surgery. In '10 he missed the final 23 games of the season because of shoulder problems that ultimately led to his issues early last season, when he was shutdown. So, despite reports from Johnson and trainers that he's feeling great and on track to be the team's opening day starter, you have to take the positive spin with a grain of salt. Fact is, in the past six seasons, Johnson's averaged just 119 IP, only once cracking the 200 IP plateau. When Johnson is on the hill, expect the best. He added a curveball last season, giving him a fourth quality offering and making him as tough as anyone to hit. But projecting him for much more than 150 IP is a highly risky proposition.

In a standard Yahoo! default league with an innings cap, falling 30-40 innings shy of a full load doesn't hurt as much and, in that environment, I'd reach for him a bit earlier than where he is currently going off the board (27th-highest starter drafted) according to MockDraftCentral. I see him as more in line with a potentially innings-capped Stephen Strasburg, who is going about 10 spots higher among the SP crowd.

Hanley Ramirez was one of the biggest busts of '11. Where would you consider drafting him this season?

A shoulder injury knocked Han-Ram out of action last season just when he was starting to dig himself out of a gigantic hole. Through June 20th, Ramirez was hitting .200 with four home runs in 200 ABs. About the only positive contribution he was making for those owners that almost certainly had to use a top 5 draft pick on him in the spring was in the stolen base department. But, over his final 138 ABs, he raised his average 43 points and hit six home runs. Unfortunately, the shoulder issue ended his turnaround two months early.

The Pressing Question here is whether Ramirez's shoulder is healthy and, if so, does that mean Han-Ram's deity status in fantasy baseball will be restored? This past week, team president David Samson offered good news on the shoulder:

"Looks great, feels great, (he'll be) ready for opening day. We think he'll be ready to go (for the start of spring training). He is swinging a bat. He took some B.P. We'll see what happens when he reports, but we feel pretty good."

Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez didn't sound quite so optimistic, however, talking to MLBN Radio in early January:

"Everybody talks about, well, he's hitting, he's swinging and I'm really happy he's doing that being the hitting coach of the Marlins, but at the same time what I worry about is not just the BP fastball, but what about in-game situations, that check swing? That's where a lot of strength goes into holding on to your swing. Or when you get fooled on that slider down and away, it's all shoulder there. That's the big test. That's the one where Hanley is going to have to be very careful."

If the shoulder does, indeed, check out as fine in the spring, the Marlins lineup sets up very well for Ramirez. He'll have two 40-SB threats in front of him in Reyes and Bonifacio. And Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez are a potent trio behind him. And a move to third base, although not well received by Han-Ram, should lighten Ramirez's physical burden. In early mock drafts, I've seen Han-Ram go anywhere between late-Round 1 and late-Round 2. His ADP at MockDraftCentral is No. 18 overall, one spot ahead of Reyes and four spots higher than Stanton. Personally, I probably wouldn't risk my first-round pick on him, but I wouldn't hesitate to take him at any point in Round 2.

Any idea how this new ballpark will play?
Marlins Ballpark has a retractable roof that is expected to be closed for roughly 85 percent of the team's home games. That should mitigate heat, wind and humidity factors. As for the layout of the park itself, the shortest distance from the outfield wall to the plate is down the right-field line at 335 feet. It's 340 feet down the left-field line, and it opens up fairly significantly in both power alleys. The alignment should play best for pull-inclined power hitters, and gap shoppers like Reyes. But, for the most part, the dimensions are similar to their former home at SunLife Stadium, which generally favored pitchers.

FanGraph's Steve Slowinski tackled the Marlins Ballpark question in greater detail, but the takeaway here is that the ballpark effect isn't likely to be significant enough to have it be a factor in why you draft a Marlins player or not. The best guess is that this park should play within the neighborhood of neutral. In other words, it shouldn't figure too heavily into whether or not Mike Stanton leads the NL in home runs - and, for the record, I think he will.

Any fish on the farm worth casting a line for?

The Marlins are actually devoid of significant talent at the upper levels of their minor league system. Of the Marlins' top eight prospects for '12, as ranked by Baseball America, only one (Matt Dominguez) has played above the High-A level. And Dominguez is a glove-first prospect completely undeserving of mixed league attention among the roto crowd.

Scott Cousins, who infamously plowed over Buster Posey last May and knocked him out for the season, is an intriguing potential 15/15 type, but he looks like the Marlins' fourth outfielder, at best, to open the season and he'll only warrant attention if/when one of the team's current starting outfielders gets knocked out of the lineup by injury or ineffectiveness. And even then, playing time could be hard to come by if Chris Coghlan stays healthy this spring and makes the team.

So, if the Marlins end up having a rookie make an impact for this squad, it'll most likely be Cespedes, who will probably play at least a couple months of Triple-A ball for whichever team signs him. He's got 20/20 upside, and he'd be worth a serious look if he signs with Miami and manages to make his way into the lineup this summer.

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