Thursday, March 13, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Florida Marlins

Unable to locate a Florida Marlins fan who is not currently employed by the club, we offer our first Know Thy Enemy penned by an enemy of the enemy.

Hanley Ramirez is good.

The 2008 Florida Marlins are not.

With that out of the way, I'd like to take a look at one of the most unique franchises in sports. No other organization in any of the 3.37 major sports (the NHL does not count for a whole number until the Stanley Cup Finals are free of teams named after Disney movies) has had an existence involving such a self-inflicted roller coaster of talent. From a collection of castoffs like Charlie Hough and Orestes Destrade to the 1997 world champions with a collection of mercenaries, back to cellar dwellers, then back to the 2003 title, the Fish have been sabotaged by bad owners and saved by great GMs—occasionally at the same time. And they've won more titles in the past dozen years than the rest of the NL East combined—and more than the Phillies have won in their entire 120+ year existence.

Since their existence, the Marlins have played their games in a football stadium. As part of the effort to convince voters to approve a taxpayer-funded new stadium, then-owner Wayne Huizenga gambled that a high-priced team of stars would bring success, draw fans, and get the deal passed. As Meat Loaf once warbled, two out of three ain't bad. The 1997 Marlins won 92 games and the World Series in only their 5th year of existence, but it wasn't enough to sucker the fans into giving a billionaire millions of dollars. With the stadium deal dead, Huizenga claimed that the successful team lost him tons of money, and held the fire sale to end all fire sales.

Here's where it gets good.

General Manager Dave Dombrowski (and Larry Beinfest, who took over in 2002) was commanded to get rid of all of the high priced talent. Every GM in the league knew this, and knew they could lowball him on their offers because he couldn't keep his players. He dumped them all for prospects, and the 1998 Marlins lost 108 games, yet 5 years later, they were hoisting the trophy again.

WHAT THE HELL DID THEY DO?!?!?!

a) turned Charles Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Manuel Barrios into Juan Pierre and Mike Lowell
b) turned Mark Kotsay into Dontrelle Willis
c) turned Al Leiter into AJ Burnett
d) turned Edgar Renteria into Braden Looper
e) turned Cliff Floyd into Carl Pavano (before he sucked)
f) turned Kevin Brown into Derrek Lee
g) turned an injured Matt Mantei into Brad Penny
h) used the first round draft pick (#2 overall) they got from sucking to draft Josh Beckett

That's five starting pitchers, their closer, and three of their biggest bats from their 2003 title team that came from the dismantling of the 1997 squad. Add another seven guys on the bench, and that's 16 guys on the 2003 25-man roster that came from the fire sale. A second title in six years made Dombrowski seem like a genius, despite having moved to Detroit (where he brought them from 119 losses to the World Series in under five years).

After the 2003 title, another fire sale was mandated by the new owner, the Despicable Jeff Loria, who will hereafter be referred to as "the Despicable Jeff Loria." After running the Montreal Expos into the ground with his penny pinching and refusal to give fair value to his young stars, the Despicable Jeff Loria worked out a sweetheart deal where he sold the Expos to MLB, who eventually moved them to Washington, and bought the Fish from John Henry, who then bought the Red Sox. Following the '03 title, the Despicable Jeff Loria decided that if he wasn't going to get his new stadium, he'd sell off the players.

This time around, Beinfest has picked up several promising young players, including Hanley Ramirez, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, Sergio Mitre, and lots of other guys who haven�t started shaving yet.

Which brings us full circle, back to the 2008 version of the Marlins—not quite as bad as the 98-01 teams, but not as promising as the 96 or 02 squads either.

As previously stated, Hanley Ramirez is very, very good. Dan Uggla is a solid young player who hit 30 home runs last year, while hitting .245. Quick, make a list of second basemen who have successfully tried to imitate Pete Incaviglia. Mike Jacobs is a first baseman with one of the most perfect swings you've ever laid your eyes on. If healthy, he can hit 30-35 homers this year. Maybin, Jeremy Hermida, and Josh Willingham make for a powerful young outfield that will be solid for years to come, but probably not this year. Defensively�... let's be nice and just say that the Marlins will likely give up more runs than they score.

On the mound, they have young hopefuls in Miller, Sanchez, Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, and the cast of Major League 3: Back in the Minors.

The bottom line for the Fish is that by the time their (finally approved) new stadium opens in 2011, several of the players on their 2008 rosters may be playing at an all-star level. Whether they are doing that in Miami or someplace else remains to be seen, though if the Despicable Jeff Loria is still running the team, my magic 8-ball points to no. As far as 2008 is concerned, expect them to lose often, but get better as the year goes on.

Prediction: 70-92, 4th place

Alan Lewis is a Mets fan who would rather write an 800 word preview of a second-division team that he doesn't care about than do the job that he receives a salary for.

2 comments:

Rob said...

Alan Lewis also likes couches and consuming Zebra Cakes. He is in love with D'Brikshaw Ferguson (sp) and constantly talks about the J-e-t-s, Jets, Jets, Jets. For some unknown reason (cough, cough) he is also cheap.

Alan's Sweaty said...

I haven't seen Alan in a long time, but this blog post is great. I always knew he was a great writer...I just wish he would find more time to see me.