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Marlin's 2007 Preview

Eddie Altamonte

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Florida Marlins
2006 Finish: 78-84, 4th place

Beyond the Box Score
Falling in the forest
Despite a young, energetic team that was the talk of baseball, the Marlins fell to dead last in attendance. They averaged 14,372 fans per home date, 15 percent lower than the next worst home draw, the cross-state Devil Rays.

Lagging results
For all the pride the Marlins take in their stockpile of pitching prospects, their lack of position prospects has become notable. That led to a .467 combined winning percentage for their six minor league affiliates last year. Only their Gulf Coast League entry managed a winning record, and even that was fairly modest (29-24).

Let it fly
Catcher Miguel Olivo's lack of patience at the plate became historical last year. His nine walks (five unintentional) were the fewest ever for a player with at least 100 strikeouts. The previous mark was shared by Rolando Roomes (1989 Reds) and John Bateman (1963 Colt .45s). Olivo went nearly the final four months with only one unintentional walk. That came on Aug. 8, courtesy of the Nationals' Tony Armas Jr.

Quick start
With his devastating combination of speed and power, Hanley Ramirez evokes memories of some of the top two-way leadoff threats of the past. While he might not stay in the role much longer, he's already put himself in the record book. His seven leadoff homers in 2006 tied Nomar Garciaparra's major-league record for a rookie. Ramirez passed Chili Davis and Kaz Matsui for the NL mark with his sixth leadoff homer.

Back to even
The '06 Marlins became the first team in the modern era to return to .500 after falling 20 games below the break-even mark. After opening 11-31 they rallied to 68-68 on Sept. 3 before tailing off a bit down the stretch.



Coming off an upside-down year that saw them win 78 games when most expected them to lose 100-plus, the Marlins will try to build on that surprising step forward in 2007. They will do so with a new manager, Fredi Gonzalez, who promises to be on the same page as management in a way predecessor Joe Girardi never was.

Rotation
Dontrelle Willis was supposed to be the lonely anchor of a kiddie rotation. Instead he found himself providing top-notch leadership to a group of surprisingly quick learners. Until the 2006 Marlins, no quartet of rookies had ever won at least 10 games in a season. Not content to stop there, the Marlins also watched Anibal Sanchez throw the majors' first no-hitter in 28 months, Josh Johnson contend for an ERA title before running into September injury problems and Scott Olsen turn things around after a slow start that incurred Girardi's wrath. Toss in No. 5 starter Ricky Nolasco, who must address nagging inconsistencies in his performance, and the Marlins are well-positioned to pitch their way into playoff contention again.

Bullpen
During the past three seasons the Marlins have resurrected the careers of closers Armando Benitez, Todd Jones and Joe Borowski. All got to South Florida with their value diminished and their careers at a crossroads only to get pointed back in the direction of riches elsewhere. While the Marlins were considering a possible second go-round with Benitez, the in-house options weren't all that encouraging. Young Taylor Tankersley probably has the moxie to handle the role, but he seems better-suited to setting up. Durable Kevin Gregg was acquired from the Angels to handle right-handed setup duties and help eat up precious innings.

Middle Infield
For seven years the Marlins' fan base -- such as it is -- was spoiled with the nightly glovework of Luis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez. No one could have imagined how well their rookie replacements would fill their shoes. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez overcame midyear shoulder problems to run down teammate and keystone partner Dan Uggla for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Ramirez's all-around skills caused no less an authority than Ken Griffey Jr. to cite him as the one active player he might choose to begin a franchise. Uggla, a Rule 5 pick from the Diamondbacks, slugged his way into the record books as well, breaking Joe Gordon's 68-year-old mark for homers by a rookie second baseman. Uggla's defense was supposed to be horrible, but hard work with Marlins infield guru Perry Hill lifted Uggla past respectable and maybe even all the way to above-average.

Corners
So much for Miguel Cabrera falling victim to boredom as he was forced to play alongside a collection of rookies. All the Marlins' franchise third baseman did was make his third straight All-Star team, put on a show at the Home Run Derby and come within five points of the Marlins' first batting title. Cabrera's defense also improved notably in the second half after some early season troubles. While he could wind up at first down the road, Cabrera's decision to lose 15 pounds or so in-season bought him at least another few years at the hot corner. First baseman Mike Jacobs gave the team its only semblance of left-handed power while playing with a stress reaction in his foot for much of the year. His defense left much to be desired.

Outfield
Outfield Josh Willingham isn't the most graceful presence in left field, but what he lacks in range he makes up with hustle and positioning. His bat is another story, more than living up to his nickname: Hammer. In a less-competitive year he might have walked away with NL rookie honors. Jeremy Hermida will get another crack at right field after suffering through an injury-plagued debut. His power stroke never showed up as he dealt with hip and foot problems. Center field remained wide open heading into late January. Alex Sanchez, signed to a minor league deal in the offseason, is as good a bet as any to seize control. Sanchez's plus speed on the bases fits with the organization's philosophy, but his circuitous routes on defense provide nightly adventure.

Catching
Three organizations gave up on Miguel Olivo before the Marlins got hold of him. Olivo put up career-bests in all three triple crown categories and did a better-than-advertised job of handling a rookie-laden pitching staff. He also gunned down 34 percent of attempted base stealers. Olivo has vowed to be more selective but also realizes he had a .444 average and slugged .922 when putting the first pitch in play.

Bench
Wes Helms has taken his resurgent bat and corner-infield versatility to the division-rival Phillies. That left the Marlins searching for his replacement without much to spend on the slot. With the club still searching for a permanent answer to the center-field problems, versatile Alfredo Amezaga is expected to return to his primary role as an infield utility man. Young Robert Andino, a slick-fielding middle infielder, could make the club as well. Matt Treanor is a solid receiver with a modest bat behind the plate. In the outfield the Marlins can boast the surprising pop of Cody Ross along with switch-hitter Joe Borchard and possibly Reggie Abercrombie, although he figures to head back to Triple-A for much-needed seasoning.

Management
General manager Admin Beinfest never complains about the payroll constraints he must work under. Instead he does the best he can each year to fill out the roster with as much depth and talent as possible considering the modest funds at his disposal. This year it should be a payroll in the $25 million range. Considering that Willis' salary increased to $6.45 million and Cabrera stands to get a similar raise through arbitration, that didn't leave much for veteran pieces elsewhere. No matter. Under Beinfest, who is locked up through 2010, the Marlins have managed to resurrect the careers of a number of supposedly fading veterans. Should local politicians put the finishing touches on a long-sought stadium deal, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has vowed that the payroll will jump right back up. At its height in 2005, that was in the $65 million range.

Final Analysis
While last year's 78-win surprise was a great accomplishment, it might be just as remarkable should the Marlins make the 10-win improvement Beinfest has targeted for them to become a bona fide playoff contender. Holes in the bullpen and the bench will make it difficult for Gonzalez to open his managerial career with a winning record. He might have to settle for continuing the growth and development of a still-young roster with an eye toward 2008, which was the target year all along for management to return this franchise to contention.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/base...on/marlins.html
 

marlin2266

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Fair & balanced.

He did fail to mention that Helms is replaced by Aaron Boone.
 

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