Miami Marlins: fantasy season preview

08/03/2013 § Leave a comment

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Just over a year ago, in early December 2011, rumours emerged that the Miami Marlins were offering Albert Pujols a ten year contract. The Marlins had already wrapped up deals with Heath Bell, an all-star closer, and Jose Reyes, the defending NL batting champion. They looked to be assembling a lineup for the ages.

Ultimately, the Marlins dalliance with Pujols never came to fruition, but the club would go on to pursue CJ Wilson and lock Mark Buerhle into a four year contract. The Marlins had developed a great core of all-star caliber talent in Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Johnson, Logan Morrison as well as 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan.

An aggressive approach to the free agent market coupled with strong player development had the Marlins sitting pretty. Moreover, the arrival of a new contemporary stadium was just the right cherry to top off the Marlins’ proverbial sundae. 2012 was going to be a big year.

THE GREAT MIRAGE

What a difference a year can make. The team struggled out of the gate and the dismantling began in earnest. The Marlins were not even a half season deep into their latest incarnation when management began to blow things up. Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica and Gaby Sanchez were all shipped off before the trade deadline. When the offseason came, no one was safe. The Marlins paid the Diamondbacks a large sum to take Heath Bell off their hands and then, in November, came The Trade. For all intents and purposes, Miami wanted rid of anyone and everyone making major money from its roster.

The Toronto Blue Jays capitalized on the Marlins’ desire to jettison their expensive players. Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck, as well as Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle, just a year into his massive, multi-year contract, were all shipped to the Jays for a collection of prospects and back-up big leaguers.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH IS NOTHING NEW; OR MIAMI FANS VS THEIR OWNERSHIP

Now, the Marlins franchise is not unfamiliar with an overhaul. After winning World Series in 1997 and 2003, management ridded their rosters of expensive players and turned their attention to player development for the medium term. However this time, the Marlins had not reached the precipice of baseball glory, so this dismantling would be a little harder to swallow.

“In order to maintain an untenable position, you have to be actively ignorant.” –  Stephen Colbert

Marlins’ owner Jeffery Loria has never been particularly popular with fans. Many in Montreal still hold him responsible for the Expos’ demise. Since going to Miami, he has engineered a large influx of public money into a still-widely derided stadium. Loria’s latest overhaul has rightfully generated many questions from Marlins fans. In the months following the trade with the Blue Jays, Loria remained silent on the team’s intentions and plan moving forward. Clearly, this was an untenable position.

On Sunday, February 24, Loria took out a full page letter to Marlins fans in three major Miami-area newspapers. In that letter, we find the following passage:

“An organization is only as good as its connection with the community. We know we can do a better job communicating with our fans. That starts now. From this point forward we can ensure fans and the entire community that we will keep you abreast of our plan, rationale and motivations.” – Jeffery Loria

Loria is not a stupid man. He has made millions in the world of art dealership, so he obviously has some planning and negotiating skills. Loria’s has been actively ignoring this situation up until now. What remains to be seen, is how he will handle this situation moving forward. Marlins fans have every right to ask questions. Why has communication become a priority now and not in November? Only Jeffery Loria can answer this question. If he hopes to regain some semblance of goodwill in Miami, he will need to less actively ignorant and more actively engaging fans. The Marlins roster has been stripped bare. Marlins fans are working themselves into an unctuous lather, and rightly so.

A similar dismantling project in Houston is well on its way under the tutelage of Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow has gone to great lengths to lay out a vision for the future and chart out a plan to get there. Thus far, Astros fans appear to be buying into Luhnow’s plan. Luhnow was a fresh face taking over a broken team.

This year’s Marlins team counts Ricky Nolasco (9 million), Placido Polanco (2.75 million) and Juan Pierre (1.6 million) as its three highest paid players. This will not be a competitive team.

If Loria wants to stake this team’s future on player development and the accumulation of assets and avoid attempting shortcuts, he is privileged to do so. That said, he should leave no stone unturned when it comes to communicating his vision for this team to fans. If he does not, then Marlins fans have every right to take their hard-earned dollars and move on.

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Giancarlo Stanton:

Likewise, many fantasy owners may want to take their finite auction budget and look elsewhere for value. The big exception to that sentiment is Mike “I prefer Giancarlo” Stanton.

How old would you guess Stanton is? I was shocked to learn that Stanton is still just 23.

At 23, there are many trends to like from Stanton’s brief career. He has improved his OBP and his Isolated Power in each of his first three seasons. Stanton has an 80 power tool and as a result, that is going to force pitchers to take him more seriously and be more cautious.

There is a serious possibility that Stanton will one day put up 50 home runs and he’s still young enough that you can make several fantastic seasons out of him. Those who play in leagues that use OBP or SLG should consider Stanton a top 5 pick.

Stanton has experienced some nagging injuries over the last year, so keep tabs on him in Spring Training. There isn’t a whole lot behind or in front of Stanton in the lineup so bear in mind that his counting stats may suffer. That said, he tweeted his displeasure with the Marlins following The Trade and may have a big enough chip on his shoulder to surprise us.

After that, there are a lot of unknowns in Miami for fans and fantasy players alike. And so, in a nod to one of Stephen Colbert’s better segments, it’s time for Better Know a Miami Marlin!

Justin Ruggiano:

After a career bouncing around the minor league circuit a few brief cups of coffee in Tampa, Ruggiano found himself a home with Florida’s other big league team. That said, there are a number of caveats that require mentioning; least of which is Ruggiano’s exorbitant .401 BABIP. Of all MLB players with at least 300 plate appearances, only Joey Votto had a higher BABIP. Simply, balls just seemed to find holes for Justin last year. While he has some speed, it is simply too difficult sustain a rate that high, so you should expect his batting average to regress somewhat.

(Check out Chris Cwik’s great piece over at Fangraphs.)

On the plus side, he doesn’t have a ton of competition for playing time heading into 2013, and he may very well find himself hitting behind Stanton in the lineup, so he’s absolutely worth a flyer as a 5th OF or bench player to see what he’s got. He could also be a helpful source of cheap speed.

Juan Pierre:

You can say one thing about Juan Pierre; he has a knack for sticking around baseball. Pierre parlayed a minor league contract with the Phillies into 130 games played last season. If you draft Pierre, it’s pretty much as a speed only guy. He does have the luxury of sitting atop the Marlins lineup, so there is some potential for runs there as well, but don’t expect much in the way of pop. Pierre does still show skills for getting on base (.351 in 2012) and his BABIP isn’t really elevating his OBP.

Steve Cishek:

While there is a lot to like about Cishek as a potential closer, I wouldn’t be too bullish heading into 2013. Cishek strikes out a lot of batters, gets groundballs and doesn’t give up too many long balls. That’s the right formula for success, but it’s hard to anticipate the Marlins winning many games this year. I would rank Cishek in the bottom tier of closers heading into 2013. If you stand to benefit from a reliever with good rate stats and high strikeouts, Cishek could provide some solid help for some owners.

Logan Morrison:

Morrison has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons and it remains to be seen if he will crack the opening day roster. He has never received a full season’s worth of plate appearances. This could create a fanastic buying opportunity for the adroit fantasy owner, especially in NL only leagues where first base is wafer thin.

As fantasy owners, we can tend to focus too much on upside; sometimes, playing time and opportunity is worth taking over unquantifiable potential. Logan Morrison, once healthy, stands to hit in the middle of the Marlins order and play every day. He has shown in his career that he is capable of piling up a lot of extra base hits. Morrison strikes out, but not an unmanageable amount. Moreover, he has suffered from some well below average BABIPs over the last two seasons. If his BABIP heads back towards the mean, Morrison can easily put up a .260-.270 average. Coupled with some reasonable HR and RBI counts, Morrison could be a tremendous return on investment given his current projected draft values.

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Ricky Nolasco: 

Ricky Nolasco is the perfect example of why you can’t always expect players to revert to the mean. Nolasco always finds himself with an ERA in the 4.5 – 5 region, despite his peripherals indicating that he should be fairing much better. For whatever reason, balls seem to find holes on Ricky. Since 2009 out of all qualified pitchers, Nolasco ranks 7th worst with a BABIP of .319. This is not likely to get better this season given the misfit toys the Marlins have collected to play defense behind him.

Part of Ricky’s problem has been declining velocity, which is at least partially responsible for a declining strikeout rate. In 2009, Nolasco was throwing 91.5 mph on average. In 2012, that number dipped down to 90 mph. Over that same time, Nolasco has seen his strikeout rate drop from 25% to 15%. In a nutshell, Nolasco is not quite the same pitcher he was in 2009. This is partially the reason why over four seasons, we have not seen his ERA fall more in line with his FIP.

For those in mixed leagues, I see Nolasco as being more of a streaming guy at this point in his career. Simply, he’s not reliable enough to leave in there every day. This privilege is not available to those in NL-only leagues where the pickings are much slimmer, but if you draft Ricky, proceed with caution.

Casey Kotchman:

I have a soft spot for Kotchman. He plays fantastic defence at first base, but doesn’t seem to generate the offence needed to guarantee him a job there. Kotchman has bounced around seven teams in six seasons. The Marlins brought him in to provide insurance lest Logan Morrison not be ready for opening day.  Kotchman did have a great year in Tampa Bay in 2011 largely bolstered by a strong BABIP. As I’ve said before, first base isn’t as deep as it used to be, especially in NL only. Kotchman is worth keeping an eye on in Spring Training to see if he breaks camp with the big club.

If you find yourself in a keeper or dynasty league, the Marlins recent trades have significantly bolstered their farm system. Baseball America ranked the Marlins system as the 5th best in MLB this offseason. Here are a few guys worth watching:

Christian Yelich:

Yelich has been the Marlins minor league player of the year in both 2011 and 2012. He topped the Florida State League in OPS and was second in batting average at .330. He is incredibly fast and has defense is strong. He has shown a knack throughout the minors to get one base. Best of all, there is very little blocking him en route to the majors. Marlins fans should expect to see Yelich in the middle of their lineup perhaps as early as the middle of the 2013 season.

Andrew Heaney:

After prolonged negotiations, the Marlins were able to sign Heaney, their first round pick in 2012. He progressed with each start in the minors last season eventually touching 97mph on the gun. Heaney has a nice loose delivery. As a lefthander, he has a nice deceptive slider that breaks hard away. Since he has come out of college, it is within the realm of possibility that he may break into the big leagues when rosters expand in September. Just like Yelich, there isn’t much standing in his way.

Jose Fernandez:

Baseball America ranked Fernandez as the top prospect in a very talented system. He has an explosive delivery that has seen him touch 100mph on the gun. He has excellent command. His arsenal includes a changeup, breaking ball and a slider. All are effective pitches. His conditioning provides some worry, so he’ll need to keep tabs on his eating habits as his career progresses. Scouts believe that he has the ability to be a true #1 starter. If the Marlins are tempted enough in Spring Training, Fernandez could break camp, although midseason seems more likely.

Rob Brantley:

Brantley was a big part of the package the Marlins received back for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. He profiles as a more offensive catcher who requires some more back on his defensive fundamentals. He has a short stroke that is likely to develop into gap power. With Jeff Mathis suffering an injury early in Spring Training, Brantley will have every opportunity to take the starting catching gig and run with it. He will hit lower in the order, which may also benefit him by allowing him to see more pitches.

Atlanta Braves: Fantasy season preview, a la Bruce Springsteen

02/03/2013 § Leave a comment

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Upton bros, unite! (courtesy sportsnet.ca)

It’s round one of our month of fantasy baseball previews. Kyle Attanasio bats lead off – here’s his killer run at the Braves.

I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time recently. Admittedly, I’m late to the party. The Boss has been entertaining fans for over fifty years. It’s worth taking a moment to marvel at that. Most people would die to have fifteen minutes of fame.

Bruce has quietly gone about his business making hit records and selling out arenas for the better part of five decades. He has never been particularly flashy and has stayed out of the gossip pages. Perhaps most critically, he has stayed true to his blue collar roots. It’s probably too simplistic to distill the man to blue collar formula, but the Springsteen train is still moving remarkably well. He keeps attracting new fans and the old ones are still coming along for the ride.

The Boss knows a thing or two about consistency.

“Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.” – Bruce Springsteen « Read the rest of this entry »