The boom or bust cycle in Florida isn’t currently coming up roses. Will they find revitalization on the backs of their young players once again?
Major League Talent – 77.22 (19th)
Minor League Talent – 75.00 (t-20th)
Marlins Top 10 Prospects
Financial Resources – 62.00 (30th)
Baseball Operations – 79.44 (17th)
Overall Rating – 72.88 (27th)
Some may quibble with this ranking for the Marlins, and maybe even point to some hardware and the team’s penchant for collecting young talent quickly. The problem with that line of reasoning is that the hardware wasn’t earned so recently any more, and the young talent coming up in the pipelines right now isn’t as elite as it has been in the past.
Last year, the team owned the fifth-lowest payroll in the league at $57 million. As low as the number is, it might have been lower if not for a public admonishment from the commissioner’s office before last season which may have prompted the signing of team ace Josh Johnson to an extension. Even if you go with Cot’s number ($47 million), it was the second-highest payroll of the team’s existence, and yet, despite making money on an organizational level according to the leaked revenue sharing documents, the payroll level is not impressive.
The approach has worked before, when the young talent was impressive in both quantity and quality. Now, however, the talent on the way is flawed. Their number one prospect, Matt Dominguez, does come at a position of need – the Marlins have mixed and matched at third base for some time now – but is known for his glove more than his bat. Their best pitching prospect, Chad James, walked over five per nine last year and, according to maven Marc Hulet, has the upside of a #3 starter. There are some interesting players on the list, but most have an asterisk of some sort attached.
It’s possible that things will change, however unlikely it seems with Jeffrey Loria at the helm. In 2012, the team will have a new ballpark in a more central location with a retractable roof. The third-smallest park could put more butts in the seat – at least more than the 18,593 per game that showed up last year (third-lowest in baseball). There’s some exciting young present talent that is still under control at reasonable rates, and if more ballpark receipts meant more spending… well if you put the rosiest glasses on you can see a future with a healthy, robust team in teal.
And predisposition means a lot when appraising this team. With a friendlier eye, you could see a group that probably has their act straight. They have focused on their farm system, and regularly turn out strong major league regulars. Their front office regularly trades players at the height of their value, and even with the occasional miss (cough-Miguel Cabrera-cough), they have acquired many good young players from other organizations. They put a premium on cost control and avoid free agents. You could even laugh away the profits they’ve racked up as a quirk in the revenue sharing system; Yes the team made about $32 million in 2008 and 2009 combined, but they took in $90 million from revenue sharing – you could say they needed the infusions of cash.
Replace that friendly approach with a cynical one, and everything changes. Loria is a vulture of an owner that has ruined two franchises. His pump-and-dump strategy consists of acquiring young talent, contending, and then conducting fire sales before that talent gets too expensive. And it’s that strategy that has led to a disillusioned fan base, not necessarily the south Florida rains or the ballpark. Used to getting his way, Loria backed the local government into a corner until they gave him the ballpark he wanted. Still on the dole from baseball’s richer teams, his Marlins had to be publicly called to the mat before they signed a young star to a long-term contract.
Most likely, the truth is somewhere in between. There are shrewd aspects to the Marlins’ strategy, and yet the on-field results have been lacking, and there’s a sense that the team could improve with an infusion of free agency cash. With a new park in 2012, and the promise of the All-Star game in 2015, the next five years promise to give us an intriguing set of data with which appraise the team’s leadership. Maybe then we can decide which eye they deserve – friend or foe.