With a young, talented team and a solid farm system, the Miami Marlins have positioned themselves very well for future success. Contention likely won't come in 2014, but this team could start turning heads in 2015. However, despite the club trending in a positive direction, the Marlins aren't a flawless team. In fact, their two biggest weaknesses don't have much to do with the product that will be on the field at all this season. The two biggest weaknesses for the Marlins going forward won't just disappear any time soon. The two biggest weaknesses for the Miami Marlins are owner Jeffrey Loria and the club's position in the NL East.
The negativity surrounding Loria isn't a new thing. He's hated from Montreal all the way down to Miami for his antics, and those antics have really begun to negatively effect the Marlins in recent years. If you want to pinpoint an exact moment when things began to get ugly with Loria in Miami, I'd probably go back to 2006, when Loria and his hand-picked front office personnel fired manager Joe Girardi after just one season in which he won the NL Manager of the Year award.
Imagine what the Marlins would have been like in 2007 and beyond if Girardi hadn't been fired. Maybe the Marlins increase their win total in 2007 and make a playoff run. Maybe Miguel Cabrera never gets traded. Maybe the Yankees have to go in a different direction to place Joe Torre, and the Braves go in a different direction to replace Bobby Cox (because Fredi Gonzalez was never hired to replace Girardi, and thus, has no major league managing experience). That one firing by Loria helped change the course of history for at least three teams, and the Marlins ended up the worst of the bunch.
Loria's interference in decisions relating to personnel is negatively effecting Miami. What kind of owner opens up his wallet to sign a trio of marquee free agents one winter, and trades all three the next winter after only one of those three was actually not worth his contract? Well, an owner like Jeffrey Loria, of course. What kind of owner chooses a hotheaded franchise player over a manager, and then trades the player two years after firing the manager? Jeffrey Loria, of course. What kind of owner orders his GM to trade his best trade chip three and a half weeks before the trade deadline for a package of mediocre talent, then letting the GM go ahead and film a season of Survivor? Jeffrey Loria, of course.
The people of Miami are pissed at Loria after the way he conned the city out of millions upon millions of dollars to build Marlins Park. Baseball fans hate him for the same reason. Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton are still content in Miami for now, but what happens in the three seasons before Stanton hits free agent? Will Loria order David Samson to trade him in the summer of 2016 for a pair of relief pitchers, and then give Samson his blessing to film a new reality show in Borneo?
What if Loria continues to make "suggestions" about Fernandez, his team's newest ace, and the 21-year old Cuban gets hurt? Could you imagine the fallout? Fernandez's agent is Scott Boras, and if he found out about Loria possibly damaging Boras' new meal ticket, you'd better believe there would be hell to pay. The Marlins aren't in a position where someone can talk Loria down from his meddling.
And that brings me to the second biggest weakness the Marlins face – their placement in the NL East. There's obvious nothing that the Marlins can do about this. They can't simply fire the rest of their teams in the division and replace them with teams that suit the club better. But if Miami wants to compete in the NL East (where they have never won a division title, mind you), something needs to change.
Think about the four other teams in the NL East. The smallest market of the four belongs to the Braves – and the Atlanta metro is still the ninth-largest market in the country. Miami is 30% smaller of a market than Atlanta. Though the Braves have been thrifty in recent years, all four of Miami's competitors have the ability to continuously field payrolls in the top half of baseball. Meanwhile, aside from their 2012 blip on the radar, the Marlins have crossed the $60 million payroll mark just once in their history. The Marlins don't need to spend like drunken sailors (hello, Phillies and Mets), but their lack of spending does put them at a competitive disadvantage.
The NL East also possesses another unique challenge for the Marlins in that while the Braves and Nationals can spend money, they also have young teams and have continually developed great players. What's better than having a lot of money? Having a lot of money and great young players to keep around long-term. The Phillies and Mets are on the downswing right now after nice runs near the top of the division. This should be a prime opportunity for Miami to pounce, but aside from Stanton, Fernandez, and Christian Yelich, their young talent isn't ready yet.
That core isn't good enough to compete for the playoffs with the older, but still comparatively young, cores in Washington and Atlanta. By the tike Jake Marisnick, Andrew Heaney, and Colin Moran are ready to roll, Stanton (and perhaps Fernandez) could be on his way out the door…meaning the rebuilding process will need to start all over again, and by that time, the larger market teams in the division could have their cores locked up (like the Braves just did with Freddie Freeman).
If there's a bit of good news for the Marlins, it's this – there's an easy fix for both of their weaknesses. If Loria simply lets the baseball people he's hired do their jobs and stick to his art galleries, the Marlins will be better off. Maybe guys like Fernandez, Stanton, and Yelich will be willing to stick around for the long-term (like Hanley Ramirez was before he was excised in the purge of 2012). Loria clearly has the money to pump into this team and make it one of baseball's best, which hasn't come close to happening in a decade.
Imagine if Miami didn't trade either Ramirez or Jose Reyes last summer. Those two along with Yelich, Stanton, and newly-signed free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia would make for one hell of an offense. And while not trading either of those players wouldn't have netted Miami either Henderson Alvarez or Nate Eovaldi, any rotation headed by Jose Fernandez is one I wouldn't mind going to war with. There are clearly talented people in Miami that know how to build a solid baseball team – but they just need the opportunity to build a long-term winner as opposed to tearing the club apart each year or two.