What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
These dreamer pieces featured here at The Outside Corner have mostly come in the form of telling a story about how so-&-so team surprised everyone and won the World Series because so-&-so player did such a great job. This piece will buck the trend slightly because the Marlins don’t need to dream to be World Champions, they are a legitimate threat to dethrone the Cardinals headed into 2012. If after reading this article you absolutely aren’t convinced that the Miami Marlins don’t have the talent to make a run at the World Series, then I haven’t done my job as writer. Because the truth is, they are.
The Miami Marlins. If you say it aloud enough times it actually sounds natural, like it was meant to be. Some fans ridiculed such a shift, but if the Marlins were hoping to make a name for themselves as a “Miami” franchise, such a move needed to be made. Miami embraced the Heat when Shaq, LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh came to town. They embraced the Hurricanes at the pinnacle of their college football dominance, and even dished some love out to the Miami Dolphins, who couldn’t win under one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Dan Marino. This is a city that loves its teams and the Marlins needed to tap into that market. But how exactly do you go about becoming a beloved Miami franchise? Easy: hire the world’s favorite Latino manager, spend a lot of money on flashy, big name free agents, change your name, change your colors, change your uniforms and build a new Mecca for the local baseball fans. In essence, cease to be the Florida Marlins and transform into something completely different, and you could be accepted with open arms. A championship might not hurt either.
It isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. At first base, they have the capable Gaby Sanchez, who at 29 years old has reached his physical prime. Sanchez was born in Miami, played baseball for the University of Miami, was drafted by the Marlins and now is the starting first baseman for the newly minted Miami team. He may not be the face of the franchise, but he provides the necessary local connection and annual 55+ extra base hits to keep himself in the lineup. The Omar Infante experiment at second base wasn’t particularly successful last season, but you could certainly do worse than solid defense and a .276 batting average from a stopgap. At shortstop they acquired one of the best in the business in Jose Reyes. Reyes is a career .292 hitter that’s normally a lock for 50 extra base hits, 40 stolen bases and at end of the year, a gold glove award. Last season, he stepped his game up to a whole new level and hit .337. The Marlins hope he can do it again, but would hardly consider him a bust were he to hit .290 again. The biggest obstacles standing in Reyes’ way are his hamstrings, though. He’s going to need to stay on the field in order to make the $100 million commitment the Marlins invested worth it. That $100 million not only bought the Marlins a shiny brand new shortstop, but also a dynamic third baseman in Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez’s disappointment in the Marlins has been well documented, but at the end of the day this move was inevitable. Ramirez hits like a third baseman (career .306/.380/.506 hitter) and has the defensive tools to compete for a gold glove at the hot corner.
In the outfield, the Marlins will bring back one of the bright young stars and best Twitter personalities in the business in Logan Morrison. Though his Twitter campaign to help the Marlins reel in C.J. Wilson may have failed, Morrison should find plenty of opportunity to help his team on the field as he projects to be the everyday leftfielder for the foreseeable future. Roaming the territory to Morrison’s left (otherwise known as center field) will be Chris Coghlan. While Coghlan has failed to live up to the hype generated after his rookie season when he hit .321, he still offers the adequate bat, glove and range to keep him a solid option. In right field, the Marlins have perhaps the brightest young star in baseball today Mike Stanton. Last season, the 21-year-old Stanton slammed 30 doubles, 34 home runs and posted a slash line of .262/356/537.
With a top of the lineup featuring Reyes and Ramirez and a middle featuring Sanchez, Stanton and Morrison, the Marlins won’t have any problem putting up runs in their new ballpark. But can they prevent runs from being scored? On paper, it actually seems as though the Marlins may have one of the top five staffs in their league. Josh Johnson will be entering 2012 as the staff ace and with a clean bill of health. The six foot seven inch southpaw owns a career ERA of 2.98 and could challenge for the Cy Young award. The Marlins added another lefty in pricey free agent Mark Buerhle. Buerhle is a lock for 200 innings and a relatively low ERA. At 33 years old, he has a lot of miles on his arm, but is pitching as well as he ever has. Their number three starter will be righty Anibal Sanchez, who has posted an ERA south of four for three years running. The fourth and fifth starter spots appear to be settled by a three-way battle between righty Ricky Nolasco, lefty Brad Hand and the newly traded for and controversial Carlos Zambrano. At first glance it appears that Zambrano and 21-year-old Hand have the inside track at the final two spots in the rotation.
The bullpen will be anchored by another pricey free agent in newly acquired Heath Bell. Bell is coming off three consecutive 40+ save seasons and is widely considered one of the elite closers in the game despite declining k-rates. Edward Mujica appears to be primed to take his place among the premier setup men in the game coming off a season in which he posted a 2.96 ERA. The remainder of the bullpen will be rounded out by young arms Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, Randy Choate, and Omar Poveda. It still remains to be seen whether or not the former Leo Nunez and current Juan Carlos Oviedo will be pitching in the major leagues in 2012, though the Marlins agreed to terms on a six million dollar contract for next season should he be granted a visa to work in the United States.
Finally, perhaps the biggest addition to the Miami Marlins this offseason came in the form of Ozzie Guillen assuming the role of manager. Guillen is one of the most respected managers in baseball and has gained a reputation for speaking his mind and connecting with perceived trouble players. Guillen will certainly have his hands full this season as he inherits Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano. Both are tremendously talented ball players but neither seem to be able to go through a full season without causing a buzz because of their attitudes. Guillen himself has the same reputation, though to be fair his passion for the game and ability as a manager have never been questioned.
Perhaps my favorite part of this team is their dark side. Ozzie Guillen may end up hating Hanley and Zambrano on the same team, they may be too fiery for his taste and the clubhouse could implode upon itself. Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson could spend most of the year on the DL and Juan Carlos Oviedo could be stranded in his homeland. The new ballpark may not be enough to capture the Miami fans interest, after all they rarely sold out when they were still the Florida Marlins. It would all be so entertaining that you couldn’t possibly look away even if you wanted to. On the other hand, they may have one of the best offenses, defenses and bullpen in the league and are lead by a proven winner in Ozzie Guillen. They could be the 2012 World Series Champions.