"I promise you this: We're not going to lose 100 games next year. Not close," Samson said. "Look what the Red Sox did. They had the same record we did in '12. They turned it around to be in the World Series in '13. Well, it's time for us to do the same. That's why we didn't book that big concert in October . Because why would we book something when we should be and will be playing playoff games?"
Those are pretty confident words from Samson, who once said that he would tear down and rebuild the Marlins year after year if it meant playoff contention versus perpetual .500 mediocrity. The ownership of the Fish, led by owner Jeffrey Loria, has always talked a big game regarding the team. Loria famously almost fired former manager Fredi Gonzalez after his 2009 squad overperformed and fell two games shy of the Wild Card. So the blustering talk is not particularly surprising.
But can the Marlins avoid 100 losses? Moreover, could they even come close to contention? Let's tackle these two questions separately.
Avoiding 100 Losses
The Marlins lost exactly 100 games this year, and that represented their second-worst record in franchise history. The team struggled through a bout of injuries and general ineffectiveness from the worst roster they fielded since the 1999 season. The roster in 2014 figures to be very similar, but there are some notable exceptions. The team is expected to field a lineup involving Christian Yelich and one of either Marcell Ozuna or Jake Marisnick for the majority of the year, and that configuration should easily beat out a combination including players like Justin Ruggiano, Chris Coghlan, and Juan Pierre in the two other outfield spots. Yelich alone is a major improvement over Pierre and others, as he should easily be an average player this season.
The rotation should also get a mostly full complement of the team's best starters from last year. Fernandez should get the kid gloves taken off, and you have to figure he should get the 30-40 more innings coming to him after being pulled early in the year this past season. Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez are expected to return healthy and pitch throughout the year, which should help the Marlins avoid having to devote 100 innings to Wade LeBlanc and Alex Sanabia or similar starters.
But the biggest reason you can expect the Fish to avoid 100 losses is simple regression to the mean. The Marlins' performance in 2013 represents one of the worst outcomes possible for that group. It included an underperforming Giancarlo Stanton, a solid number of injuries to important players, and collapse performances from basically every veteran on the roster. The roster was already bad to begin with, with a team that never figured to win more than 70 games tops, but the extra eight losses came from a combination of injuries, surprisingly ineffective play, and bad timing.
This season, a lot of those things should reverse themselves. We should expect Stanton to be better. The same goes for Logan Morrison. The offense should be less unlucky than it was last year. Simple regression to everyone's mean should allow the Marlins to avoid at least one loss versus last season's performance.
The first comment Samson made was a reasonable one. Very rarely do teams actually lose 100 games, and even with a depleted talent pool, the Marlins are unlikely to repeat all of those bad performances with the team's marginal improvements. It is very possible the team will still lose 90-plus games upcoming season, but it would be difficult to be as bad as they were last year.
Now, heading to the playoffs? That is a whole other ridiculous story. This Samson comments comes from either unhealthy confidence, delusion, or blatant propaganda. There is no way the Marlins could be misconstrued as a potential playoff team for the next two seasons. The roster has changed, but much of the negative aspects of it are intact. The Fish still have gaping holes at catcher, second base, third base, and shortstop. While the rotation is improved, it would require quantum leaps from Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Henderson Alvarez plus a repeat or even improved performance from Jose Fernandez in order to come up with enough wins to make up for the offensive problems.
Samson references the Boston Red Sox as an example of a worst-to-first situation in baseball. But the Sox had a unique circumstance. The Red Sox started the 2012 season with good expectations because they began from a strong talent base. The talent was quickly depleted thanks to injuries; David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carl Crawford were among the players on that roster who missed significant time and forced the Sox to play replacement-level talent in their stead. The lineups in the final days consisted of Dustin Pedroia and a menagerie of scrubs, backups, and average-at-best guys.
The Red Sox retooled their roster in 2013 with signings of Mike Napoli, Shane VIctorino, and Stephen Drew. They got bounce-back years from Jon Lester and John Lackey. They got full season from Ortiz and Ellsbury, and those two combined almost nine Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and six more than their total last year. Where on the Marlins' roster could the team possibly expect that kind of bounce-back season? At best, you could see it in Giancarlo Stanton, but the rest of the roster is loaded with non-star talent. The Marlins are also unlikely to be adding players of the caliber of Napoli or Victorino to the team, and even after you consider the prospect additions, the team still should not expect a 30-plus win improvement.
Samson has to talk up the roster or else no one will bother watching the games (and it remains questionable how much a competitive team will draw in south Florida anyway). But trying to pass off the Marlins as anything close to a playoff team is dishonest if it is his actual expectation. Given Loria's previous absurd demands of the team, it would not surprise me to hear that Samson and Loria believe this club is close to contention, when the reality is still far from the truth. Miami will not lose 100 games, but they are not close to winning 100 either.
More from Fish Stripes:
- Marlins president David Samson: "We're not going to lose 100 games next year"
- Marlins, Giants involved in federal wage violation investigation
- Fish Bites: Marlins using 'build from within' approach
- Reactions to Jose Fernandez being named Sporting News Rookie of The Year
- 2013 Marlins Season Review: Pitcher report cards