Marlins hope youth will serve them well in 2013
Miami enters year with inexperienced ballclub, first-year manager
MIAMI -- Another year, another fresh start for the Miami Marlins.
Only this time, instead of the Marlins rebranding in their new ballpark, the organization is regrouping after a season that didn't play out as planned.
No one saw such a dramatic about-face coming after all the hope and hysteria the franchise had entering 2012. Just 12 months ago, the Marlins were a hot commodity, complete with major free-agent signings (Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell) and the addition of a high-profile manager (Ozzie Guillen).
They were reality TV stars, selected as Showtime's choice for "The Franchise." With all the in-your-face personalities playing in a lavish retractable-roof ballpark in the shadows of South Beach, the Marlins had a rockstar presence.
But all the sizzle didn't translate into wins, and now the spotlight has gone away. So have Guillen, Reyes, Bell, Buehrle and the nucleus of the squad, as 12 players on the Opening Day roster have been traded.
"This was just a redo," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "This is just a reset. It's just sheer disappointment. There is a payroll component. But this is just, almost like, kind of starting over."
In a year, the Marlins have gone from brash favorites to a youthful, low-cost club looking to prove doubters wrong.
Rather than being led by the unpredictable Guillen, Mike Redmond takes over, and at 41, he is the youngest manager in club history.
The roster has been completely overhauled. When the season gets under way, only Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison will be returning starters from last year's first game.
In the rotation, only Ricky Nolasco was with the team when 2012 began.
The new "New Marlins" are inexperienced, and they face an uphill challenge to avoid finishing last in the National League East for the third straight season.
Redmond and his staff understand they will be asked to develop and teach as much as employ in-game strategy. Rounding out the roster remains a work in progress.
"We can go play right now," Beinfest said. "We're young, though. We have inexperience in a number of areas. We have some uncertainties."
To have success in 2013, the Marlins will need to grow up in a hurry. There is urgency to develop and make strides in the standings, but there also is perspective. No one is openly predicting playoffs, but an objective is to get better and put the foundation in place for a better future.
How fast the club can again become a contender depends on how quickly the young nucleus comes together.
1. Can a first-year manager get the most of a young squad?
Three years after retiring as a player, Redmond is back in the big leagues as a manager with no previous MLB coaching experience. The former catcher did manage two seasons in the Minors in the Blue Jays' system. Now he's taking over an inexperienced team looking to make a name for itself. In 2012, the White Sox and Cardinals showed tremendous promise with first-year managers Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny. The Marlins believe Redmond fits the same profile. He's a leader. He's energized. He's respected, personable and extremely knowledgeable about the game. But does Redmond have enough talent around him to mold Miami into a surprise team in the tough NL East?
2. Will Stanton buy into the new direction?
It's no secret that Stanton was not happy with the 12-player trade with the Blue Jays in November. The 23-year-old slugger said so on Twitter, and he vented frustration over the trade in an interview with MLB.com's Peter Gammons. For the Marlins to make some noise, they absolutely need production from their All-Star right fielder. Injuries plagued Stanton for much of 2012. If healthy for a full season, the sky's the limit for the power-hitting outfielder. The Marlins certainly would like to find out. Foremost, he has to be healthy and dedicated to wearing a Miami uniform.
3. What are the chances Nolasco will be traded?
Entering the final year of his contract, Nolasco's name already has been mentioned in trade rumors. During the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Nolasco's agent, Matt Sosnick, went on the record saying the right-hander wants to be traded. For now, Miami intends to keep Nolasco, who is the highest-paid player on the team, scheduled to make $11.5 million in '13. The franchise's all-time wins leader, Nolasco still may find himself on the move -- if not by Opening Day, then certainly by the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Until then, he is the most experienced starter on the staff, and he is the frontrunner to take the mound in Game 1.
4. Who's on third?
When Jose Reyes signed a six-year deal last December, the Marlins felt Hanley Ramirez was going to be their third baseman of the present and future. The club was so hopeful of that happening, they even traded third-base prospect Matt Dominguez to the Astros in July as part of the Carlos Lee deal. But now with Ramirez and Dominguez gone, the front office searched almost until Christmas for a third baseman. They are hopeful they found one in free-agent pickup Placido Polanco. But will the 37-year-old, who was limited to just 90 games due to lower-back problems in 2012, be able to hold up for a full season? Miami certainly hopes so. If he needs a breather, there will be other options getting a look in Spring Training, including Greg Dobbs, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Zack Cox and Chris Coghlan.
5. Is Justin Ruggiano ready to claim center field?
Ruggiano was one of the surprise stories in 2012. But can he carry his success over into '13? He showed power and the ability to play a steady center field. But he has never played the position for a full season at the big league level, and the front office is exploring all their options. Bryan Petersen and Gorkys Hernandez are other choices if the team doesn't bring in someone else.
6. How is the rotation shaping up?
You don't trade away your ace and No. 2 starter in the same deal and not feel a sense of loss. The Marlins did just that, dealing Josh Johnson and Buehrle to the Blue Jays as part of their megadeal. Now, the Marlins will be looking to pick up the nearly 400 innings the two combined to throw in 2012. That's a significant number, and the organization is hopeful some young guns are up to the challenge. The front four in the rotation right now are Nolasco, Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi. Only Nolasco and Alvarez have more than a year of big league seasoning. The fifth spot is up in the air, with Wade LeBlanc considered the frontrunner.
7. Can the bullpen lock down games?
Steve Cishek has shown he can close. But what about the setup relievers? In October, Bell was shipped to the D-backs, and the Marlins are left looking to fill setup spots. The team feels they have a number of big league-ready arms. Several of them lack substantial experience. Ryan Webb is in the mix for the eighth inning. And Mike Dunn is a hard-throwing lefty who will look to make his mark in the late innings. A.J. Ramos, a September callup, may wind up securing a spot.
8. Will Tino Martinez's insights improve the offense?
Only the Astros scored fewer runs than the Marlins in the National League last year. Seeking a change, Martinez was hired to replace Eduardo Perez as the hitting coach. A former first baseman and a World Series champion during his days with the Yankees, Martinez was an accomplished player. What he has yet to do is coach at the big league level. The Marlins had their struggles with runners in scoring position. Martinez has a young lineup that he will look to connect with.
9. How much impact will Juan Pierre make?
After the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, Pierre said the team "shocked the world." Ten years later, Pierre is once again in Miami, returning after signing a one-year, $1.6 million free-agent contract. The veteran will play left field and lead off. With his work ethic and professionalism, Pierre should make a difference. His teammates will find out quickly that the veteran is in the batting cages by 7 a.m. during Spring Training. But can he get on base enough to make a difference? Pierre was a catalyst in '03, and he will again hope to provide a spark in '13.