As we finally reach the month of February, the Miami Marlins are fast approaching spring training, the official preview to what is sure to be a very difficult 2013 season. Fans of the Marlins have every right to be concerned that the 2013 squad will be one of the worst the franchise has ever fielded; after all, only three major players from the 2012 roster remain in Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, and Ricky Nolasco. Expecting anything more than a dismal season from the Marlins this year is likely wishful thinking, as the team is all but set for a rebuilding campaign while it awaits for minor league reinforcements.
But when you are an official member of the Marlins' front office, you cannot so easily give in to this narrative. Simply admitting defeat to a local radio station would be bad for public relations, and public relations are already pretty bad for this Marlins team (more on that later). So despite the questionable ability to defend the Marlins' offseason moves as they pertain to 2013, official Marlins members have to at least remain somewhat positive about this season.
That goes for everyone, from the bottom of the rung to the very top, including vice president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest. Beinfest gave an assessment of the Marlins' roster while on the Marlins Insider radio show on 790 The Ticket this past Saturday, and he tried to spin it into the most positive light possible.
"Our expectation is, we're going to play good baseball," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said on Saturday on the "Marlins Insider" radio show.
Like I said, it is hard for anyone involved with the team and employed by Jeffrey Loria not to try and spin this upcoming season as anything but a benefit. After all, as Jigokusabre mentioned yesterday, Loria's ego may be as good a reason as any to keep the discussion as positive as possible despite what maybe the worst Marlins season since 1998.
But is this positive outlook borne of anything true, or just wishful thinking or blatant lying by the organization in order to keep up a good facade? Well, let us dissect some of the things that Beinfest mentioned, beginning with what he believes is the key to the 2013 team.
"If our pitching produces the way we think it can, right from the outset, I think we're going to be OK," he said. "But we're going to go as our pitching goes."
Notice that this statement, in and of itself, does not specify anything in specific. Last year, you could not avoid a Marlins official quoting that the team would compete for a playoff spot and for the World Series. Those comments form Marlins officials represented the ceiling of what the Marlins could do as a team, and they were meant to hype and prop up the fan base in order to get them to come watch the team. It cannot be a good sign for the real 2013 Marlins when the "hype and prop up" preseason comments from team officials predict them to "be OK" this year.
Nevertheless, Beinfest goes back to the old well of the "Marlins way" of doing things, specifically via pitching. As he claims, if the Marlins' brand new starting rotation, with three pitchers who were acquired in the last six months, can "produce the way [they] think it can," the Marlins will play better than expected. This does not specify at what level the team thinks the pitchers can play, meaning it is more or less a vague statement that amounts to nothing more than "if our pitchers pitch well, we will do well."
But is that true? The Marlins' rotation is certainly in a better position than its starting position players. Jacob Turner performed well enough last season that, even if he regresses a little on his walks allowed and his runners stranded, he has a chance to be a decent third starter this season. Nathan Eovaldi is at or around the level of a fourth or fifth starter with upside right now as well. Henderson Alvarez is young, has a 56 percent career ground ball rate, and posted a 4.42 xFIP and 4.52 SIERA when we normalized for his home run rates. With the move to Marlins Park, his home rates should stabilize.
However, the problem with that is that none of these three pitchers is likely to become much better than mid-level starters in baseball. Turner has the best chance, as he was the most highly touted of the three pitchers from their minor league days, but even he has a relatively low ceiling after years of being considered an elite pitching prospect. After consistently showing a decreased fastball velocity, a lot of minor league evaluators dropped their expectations of Turner in the last two years. Eovaldi seems to lack control and swing-and-miss stuff, while Alvarez similarly had troubles striking out hitters, even in the minors.
This is a problem for 2013 because, even if these players matched their ceilings right now, they would not make a significant dent in the Marlins' win total this season. If Turner, Eovaldi, and Alvarez each turned in 3.5-win seasons in 2013, they would probably yield the Marlins six additional wins. With that likelihood essentially impossible, it is best Marlins fans expect slow and steady progression from these three youngsters (Alvarez is the oldest at age 23 in 2013).
After Beinfest hyped the Marlins' pitching staff, he toned down the likelihood of a good season by admitting the club was a work in progress.
"We have so many new faces that we need to really take a breath, get our new manager and new coaching staff in place, and watch these guys every day," Beinfest said. "Things are continually on the go. There are going to be roster changes along the way, whether it's players coming from the outside or players graduating from the inside. This is a work in progress."
This part is completely true, but given where the Marlins are at on the win curve, I certainly would not get used to seeing all of these faces consistently. In 1998, by the 50th game of the season, the Marlins boasted a regular lineup featuring the likes of Greg Zaun, Derrek Lee, Todd Zeile, Edgar Renteria, Cliff Floyd, and Todd Dunwoody, among others. Of the eight starting position players that day, only two were playing prominent roles on the team by 2000, and only one was a member of the 2003 World Series team. It is very likely that a number of these players simply will not be members of the next winning Marlins club, if only because attrition in the majors is so prevalent. The chances that the Marlins struck a winning or even useful piece in a majority of the 2013 starting lineup is very low.
Finally, Beinfest admits that, despite his positive outlook, the team must be realistic with what it has.
"I think we need to be realistic about where we're at," Beinfest said. "I'm not sure we even know exactly where we're at until we get on the field."
"We're going to be keeping an eye on them almost as much as what's going on in the big leagues, so that we can figure out the timetable for all this good young talent to come together as one..."
This is more of what most Marlins fans are expecting for 2013. This season will be an honest evaluation of the few pieces the Marlins have who are major league ready as of right now. Guys like Turner, Eovaldi, Alvarez, Rob Brantly, and Adeiny Hechavarria are prime focuses for this year, if only because the development of any or all of these guys will be crucial for the future success of this team. The likelihood of Stanton, Morrison, or Nolasco being around beyond 2014 is very low. The team's other players are not critical to the future of the Marlins. All eyes are on these four players as potential future pieces for the Marlins.
These four names may go down as the most important in the 2013 year for the Fish. In February, we here at Fish Stripes will begin looking forward to the 2013 year, and one of the things I plan on doing is putting on the optimistic hat for just a little while before the negativity of the season begins to bog us down. For each critical Marlin in 2013, we are going to examine a best- and worst-case scenario before spring training begins and we officially start previewing the honest projections for the 2013 season. In just a little while, we can start dreaming a little about the players we now have to see just what the bright side is on those four important Marlins.