The Miami Marlins have a reason to feel threatened. The team may have some hidden opportunities on their roster, but there are a lot more threats to the team's way of life than there are chances to earn extra good for the team. Miami faces annual difficulties with the team that work to hinder their odds of making a competitive run, and this season is no different.
The number one threat to improving the roster in Miami is and always will be payroll. Owner Jeffrey Loria has perennially kept the team's payroll down for his own reasons. The Marlins have regularly claimed that they fail to make money despite the fact that reports from back in 2008 noted that the team was profitable thanks in large part due to revenue sharing. Of course, the situation now is different; the Marlins own their own stadium and are making payments for their (small) part of the construction bills. The county is footing most of the bill, but the Marlins have claimed that their business cannot afford larger payrolls. The team claimed being well in the red in 2012 when they spent about $100 million in payroll.
The truth is hard to distinguish, but the problem is simple: the Marlins will have a difficult time supplying a winning roster with the payrolls they have doled out. Last year, the Fish doled out almost $70 million in payroll, yet that was the lowest payout in the league. They sported the same lowest payroll in baseball in 2014 and had the second-lowest mark in the game in 2013. In a year in which only nine teams stayed under $100 million in payroll, the Fish are still trying to squeeze every penny in order to avoid payments.
It is hard to say how much longer this can go, but it is easy to see how this has already sacrificed production. The Marlins have routinely traded talent at the deadline during non-competitive years with the distinct goal of shedding salary without the aim of adding talent. Deals for Ricky Nolasco, Mike Morse, and Mat Latos in the last few years have all shown Miami's focus is on salary dumping rather than acquiring worthwhile pieces. The modus operandi in Miami is to save money, and there is seemingly no end to that.
2. Ownership meddling
But the involvement of the ownership goes beyond setting a league-low payroll. Loria is a notorious meddler in the team's affairs, and that too has not stopped in recent years. The owner has gotten involved in disputes with players, coaches, and agents. Loria and company have fired several managers since Fredi Gonzalez was dismissed in 2010, and the team has yet to settle into a routine in their post-2012 transition to Marlins Park. Instead of a new age of Marlins baseball, we seem to be getting more of the same.
The managerial situation has been a mess for years and is the primary example of ownership not allowing players to have a stable environment. The clubhouse has been in flux since Gonzalez was fired, having switched through three permanent managers in five years. All throughout, Loria has lurked in the background and threatened to fire those who disagree with his methods. Former general manager Dan Jennings was fired after taking over a managerial position with the team in a state of duress; he lost Loria's trust by managing against his wishes.
Players are not safe from his meddling as well. Marcell Ozuna is the latest on-field talent who has run afoul of Loria, who wanted him off of the field during the season even after he was promoted back to the majors. It is suspected that many other names, from Derek Dietrich to Logan Morrison to Wes Helms to many others have gotten on Loria's bad side and quickly found themselves out of playing time and work.
This meddling is a crucial threat to yearly production from the Marlins.
3. Front office analytics
The Marlins have claimed they will be using more and more analytics in the coming years as the wave of progression in front offices continues. Still, the Fish are likely well behind the times, having spent years working strictly without the benefit of sabermetric-inclined analysis. This season, the Marlins may hire more staffing for their growing analytics department.
However, this problem may never go away if the top brass do not open up to listen to the department. President of baseball operations Michael Hill has been a member of this organization since Loria purchased the team, and he has never seemed all that open to including analytics in the discussion. The Marlins' decisions are often overtly subjectively-based and made using poor data, and until this changes more openly, it is hard to believe this as anything other than lip service.
The Marlins' injury situation was dire this past season after a season of relative success in 2014. The problem with injuries is that the team lacks depth to replace the talent hurt at the top and that the most susceptible talent also happens to be the most important. Giancarlo Stanton has missed playing time in each of his full seasons in the bigs, having only once reached the 150-game mark. Stanton's latest injury kept him out more than half of the season and ended what appeared to be a monster campaign. His health is a yearly question mark.
Jose Fernandez, the team's star ace, also still has injury questions. He suffered a biceps strain just weeks after returning from the disabled list from a year-long stint recovering from Tommy John surgery. Fernandez's only full season was severely limited in innings, and he still suffered his injury and subsequent long recovery. The injury questions still surround him as well.
Two of the most important players have huge question marks based on their injury history. The Marlins' roster, as it stands now, is simply not equipped to deal with significant down time. The club traded a huge amount of minor league depth from an already thin farm system last year to acquire some names, only Dee Gordon of whom remain. If Marlins start to going down like flies, the 2016 season may be in shambles.