The Miami Marlins of the 2012 season, for whatever reason, were an ill-fated squad that never achieved what it was designed to do. Marlins ownership rightfully saw it as a competitive shell, but it never came about the way it was supposed to. Injuries and disappointing play racked that team, and Miami decided to go in another direction after the disappointing campaign.
At least one former Marlin wishes that was not the case. Over the weekend, as the Fish visited the San Diego Padres, injured Padres starter Josh Johnson reflected back on that team and wished that it was given another chance beyond its lone season.
Johnson thought that one more year with the team would have been a stabilizing force for that core. It is worth wondering, in part because Jeffrey Loria and the front office gave up on the experiment so soon. Only three weeks after acquiring supposed help in the form of Carlos Lee, the Fish traded Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante away.
But what if they kept some of the 2012 core around for another attempt in 2013? Let's break down the 2012 roster and see who would have realistically stayed, who would have still been gone, and how that might affect 2013 and 2014.
John Buck: After the Fish got a second straight poor year from Buck, it was very likely that the team was planning on moving on from him. It is perfectly possible Miami would have found a taker for him, especially if they provided some reimbursement for the remaining $6 million left in the deal. This alternate Marlins team probably would have sought out a temporary replacement or acquired one via trade.
Logan Morrison: Miami would have still turned to Morrison, coming off a season shortened by knee surgery, at first base. It makes sense that the Marlins would give Morrison a final chance at his original position.
Omar Infante: The fate of Omar Infante in this world is linked to that of Anibal Sanchez, and it is worth discussing both together. The alternate version of the Fish probably should still make the trade that sent Sanchez and Infante to the Detroit Tigers.
Hanley Ramirez: Ramirez was one of the two stars of the franchise prior to the 2012 season, alongside Johnson. In this scenario, Loria and company remain loyal to Ramirez and retain him instead of trading him to Los Angeles for promising starter Nathan Eovaldi. The question then becomes whether Ramirez finds the hot streak that he found in 2013 with the Dodgers.
Jose Reyes: Reyes spent an entire healthy season in Miami before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. In this world, Miami never pulls off the Jays trade, so Reyes remains a long-term commitment for Miami. Perhaps Reyes even purchases the house Loria asked him to consider days before the trade was consummated.
Justin Ruggiano: The Marlins would have kept Ruggiano around after the hot 2012 season, just to see if he was a piece the team could use. Chances are that he occupies left field after having played other positions in 2012.
Emilio Bonifacio: Bonifacio suffered an injury-plagued 2012 campaign and failed to follow up on his surprisingly successful 2011 season. He would probably return as the team's primary center fielder.
Giancarlo Stanton: Still here, for now.
Josh Johnson: Johnson triggered this discussion, so he should still be here as the theoretical ace of the staff.
Mark Buehrle: Buehrle was the Marlins' most successful starter by the end of the 2012 season, so it figures he would see another season on the squad in this scenario.
Anibal Sanchez: Sanchez remains the only piece who would have likely left the ballclub regardless of ownership intention. Sanchez was a free agent at the end of the season, and the Marlins would have had to spend a large sum to re-sign him to a long-term deal. With the 2012 season going sour, Miami likely would have opted to find a trade regardless of competitive intention in 2013, and the deal with the Tigers for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn would still have been an attractive offer.
Ricky Nolasco: Nolasco stuck around in 2013, so he would do so in this scenario as well.
Heath Bell: Don't worry. he's gone in this scenario too. Miami wanted him gone immediately after 2012.
So how would this hybrid team have done? Assuming replacement-level performance and/or similar 2013 performance from call-ups as needed , here is how the starting group from 2013 would have done.
Other outfielders: 2.6 WAR
Total: 25.4 Wins Above Replacement
How good would a 25.4 WAR team be? Considering a replacement level of between 42 and 48 wins, you could expect a 25.4-WAR team to be worth about 70 wins. Miami would have saved about eight wins by not committing some of their trades and having everything that happened in 2013 on various different squads happen exactly as planned.
Of course, expecting everything to happen exactly the same way is probably foolish. Hanley Ramirez was not as happy in Miami, and it was probably affecting his performance a little bit. Johnson always pitched better in Miami, but his arm indeed appeared to be breaking down beginning the year before. Maybe Reyes does not break his ankle in Miami, but perhaps something else happens. Maybe Stanton does not have as bad a year as he does by himself in Miami.
All told, I imagine that this "projection" is better than the likely result would have been, and that this Miami team would have lost a game or two more than expected. Either way, it tends to show that the Marlins were perhaps right to forego spending more money by keeping this squad around, because it barely beat out the 2012 team in performance. Even in the best case scenario, this Marlins squad looks more like a .500 team, and that is if a number of players remain healthy throughout the season.
The club would then face some interesting questions in 2014. Reyes, Buehrle, and Stanton would remain long-term core members, along with Fernandez and Yelich at that point. But the rotation cupboard would be bare, with none of the prospects that were acquired in the Toronto trade coming in to bolster Miami's pitching depth. Would a rotation of Fernandez, Buehrle, and Andrew Heaney, along with a struggling Jacob Turner, be good enough? How would Miami approach Ramirez's final contract season? Would the club still sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia?
As always, this "what if?" is an interesting scenario and thought experiment, but it does appear that the Marlins' brass opted for the right baseball move to trade away the fatter contracts and rebuild depth. Miami is set up decently going forward beyond 2014, but would this theoretical 2012 continuation have been better? I would venture to say no, but what do you Fish Stripers think?