Footprints in the Snow: Marlins
The Florida Marlins finished second in the NL East, six games behind the Philadelphia Phillies and were in the thick of the wild-card race up until the final weeks of the season. When you think of the bright, young pitching staff in Florida anchored by Josh Johnson and featuring Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad, you reason that the Marlins finished well in 2009 because of their hurlers. That notion is actually a fallacy -- only Johnson finished with an ERA under 4.00 among the starters who compiled at least 25 starts. The Marlins stayed in the race because of their hitting, plain and simple. Three hitters -- Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Cody Ross -- bopped 24 or more home runs, and as a team the Marlins finished fifth in the National League in runs scored.
The landscape in Miami might change a lot this offseason. Florida has already shipped under-performing Jeremy Hermida to Boston and many expect Uggla to be exchanged soon for a multitude of cheap, young players.
Who Might Leave
Nick Johnson, 1B; Brendan Donnelly, RHP; Kiko Calero, RHP; Ross Gload, INF.
Just about every arbitration-eligible player that the Marlins have is on the trading block, save one -- Josh Johnson. Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Ricky Nolasco and Cody Ross will all be shopped around, creating some uncertainty about what position players like Chris Coghlan and Emilio Bonifacio will play in 2010.
The positions that Florida will likely try to fill when they ship these players out will depend on who actually gets shipped. Uggla is the most likely to be in a different uniform before the new year, so they'll look for a less expensive option at second base, unless Bonifacio moves over or Coghlan leaves the outfield. The Marlins will also look for a first base option, should Johnson leave.
The Marlins also may look to shore up the middle of their rotation and they have a definite need for bullpen help, maybe even a new closer. Florida is unlikely to be able to afford to keep both Matt Lindstrom and Leo Nunez. Lindstrom is most likely to be dealt, which would leave Nunez in place to close out games. But if Nunez departs, and most feel that won't happen as the Marlins feel he's the better suited to be the team's closer, Florida may look for a new shut-down relief pitcher to pitch the ninth inning.
When it comes to matters of the pocketbook, the Marlins' first rule is to spend less unless it's time to pay for a World Series title. The Marlins have successfully bought the championship twice, but 2010 won't be a year they'll make a run for No. 3. Expect the team to work from a shoestring budget and to offer up many of the arbitration-eligible candidates.
The Marlins entered 2009 with a payroll of just under $37 million. They'll be hard-pressed to come in under that number in 2010, but you had better believe that they will try. This is where Uggla, Cantu and Ross come into play. If the Marlins want to make sure they come in under the $40 million mark, at least two of these, if not all three players must be dealt for as many prospects as the team can manage in return, especially since Florida has made it known that they would like to re-sign first baseman Nick Johnson.
The cost-cutting measures the Marlins would like to put into place isn't the only area of instability for Florida. There is some shaky news on the injury front as well. Both Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu ended the season hurt, but are expected to be ready to begin spring training on time. Marlins center field prospect Cameron Maybin also had shoulder surgery in November. Florida was counting on him to start the season in center. If he's unable to make that happen the Marlins will have to retool the outfield, which could have a trickle-down effect on the entire roster. Expect the Marlins to be a little younger in 2010, but that's not necessarily a bad decision. They won't go overboard with the youth movement, at least not enough to endanger their hopes for another deep run of contention. They won't be good enough to threaten Philadelphia, but the 2010 Marlins could press for the wild card with a few good transactions this winter.