The beginning of the push to 2012 officially started for the Marlins with the hiring of manager Ozzie Guillen on September 27, 2011, when the Marlins acquired Guillen in the rare managerial trade with the White Sox. The goal with hiring Guillen was to put a fiery, proven manager in charge for the next wave of Marlins, gelling the young core of the team with the push the team was expected to make once the free agent market opened.
So when the bell rang to open the market, the Marlins were oddly front and center, in on nearly every one of the top free agents, even feinting a run at Albert Pujols, the king of the crop in 2012. When all was said and done, Miami had committed $191 million in signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buerhle. With the sudden salary burst, the Marlins signaled that they had turned over a new leaf and had their sights set on being big time players in 2012.
Flashing cash can lead to some pretty high expectations, but expectations quickly fizzled though as the team failed to get out of the gate strong, struggling to an 8-13 record in April. The Marlins chugged forward, righting the ship briefly with a strong May, going 21-8 on the month. However, the season would quickly went downhill from there, with Miami failing to record a winning record in any month between May and October. As the losses added up, so too did the casualties of the season, with the Marlins completing separate trades that sent Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Edward Mujica, and Randy Choate to the Dodgers, Tigers, and Cardinals respectively for prospects.
What started as a season of change ended in practically the same results.
What Went Right
Very little went right for the Marlins in 2012. Offensively, the team’s only offensive addition meant that a squad that struggled to score runs in 2011 continued to do so in 2012, ranking ahead of only Houston for the season. Reyes was pretty much what the Marlins paid for, putting together a solid campaign with a .287 batting average, a .780 OPS, 37 doubles, 12 triples, 11 home runs, and 86 runs scored. He was joined by Giancarlo Stanton, who despite missing 39 games, still hit .290 with 37 home runs and 86 RBI, leading the National League with .608 slugging percentage. Outside of those two, only the emergence of 30-year-old Justin Ruggiano was worth writing home about on the offensive side of the ball.
In the land of pitching, it was a tale of two seasons. Ace Josh Johnson threw the most innings in three seasons, but to mediocre results. Buerhle was his normal, consistent self, not wowing the crowds with a dazzling records, but winning 13 games and posting an ERA just south of 4.00. He continued to eat innings at a decent rate and took the mound for each and every start. The second half was dominated by the youth insurgence, with Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi make solid first impressions in South Florida.
Outside of the on field production, the Marlins did enjoy a big bump in attendance, thanks in part to their new ballpark and perceived influx of talent on the field. After finishing 28th in home attendance in 2011, averaging just 19,007 a game, Miami bumped their attendance to 18th in 2012, putting an average of 27,400 fans into seats for the season.
What Went Wrong
The beginning of the Marlins’s problems was their public courtship of Jose Reyes, which while needed, ultimately put them in a bad position with incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who would ultimately be moved to third base to make room for Reyes. The experiment failed and Ramirez struggled to the point where he essentially punched his ticket out of town.
The Guillen regime took a early hit when Ozzie, in an outspoken way only he could muster, said that he respected Fidel Castro, alienating the the team’s fan base in Little Havana as the season got started. Guillen would be suspended by the team for five games and apologized profusely, but the mood for the season was basically set with one foul swoop of Ozzie’s mouth.
The aforementioned Heath Bell was an unmitigated disaster in 2012, leaving his mojo in the friendlier confines of Petco Park. For the season, Bell’s save count dropped from 43 to just 19 while his ERA jumped from 2.44 to 5.09.
Outside of Reyes, Stanton, and Ruggiano, the offense struggled with injuries to Logan Morrison and Emilio Bonafacio, and the utter ineffectiveness of John Buck, Gaby Sanchez (later traded to the Pirates), Carlos Lee, and Hanley Ramirez.
This is a team that saw too much flux in 2012 to be successful. The injection of differing personalities meant that no one or two people could assume a leadership role on a team that badly needs someone in it.
What Needs to Happen in 2013
The first move is obviously expected at any time, as Ozzie Guillen has followed suit of Fredi Gonzalez, Joe Girardi, and just about any other manager outside of Jack McKeon to take the reigns of the Marlins; getting on the wrong side of Jeffery Loria. Guillen is expected to be let go pretty early in the offseason and perhaps rightfully so. The Marlins require a stable and supportive manager for a young group of players that could actually blossom under the right tutelage.
Once Guillen’s replacement is in place, Miami then needs to make a commitment and allow the next manager to guide this team, doing so knowing that the pressure to win immediately is not the one and only goal. Committing to the right teacher is a big step in getting guys like Morrison, Eovaldi, and Turner to become stars instead of the latest batch of failed rebuilding projects.
The Marlins also need to make an early and responsible decision with Josh Johnson. Marlins fans are convinced that he will be traded and rightfully so. His $13.75 million salary does not fit for the Marlins in 2013 and the team has a huge opportunity to capitalize on a pitching poor free agent market. With teams like Toronto flush with young talent and a decided hole in the rotation, Miami could make a move that could quicken what will inevitably become another youth movement. Prospect Jose Fernandez is ready to step in when Johnson is moved, and Marlins fans should be extremely excited for his arrival.
Miami has two very real holes on both infield corners that they need to fill. The problem is, there are no real alternatives available out there on the market. Furthermore, they lack any real options in their own system, even trading one away in Matt Dominguez. They could chase a stop-gap type player to fill the roles or will need to make a move to acquire one or both via trade, like a Justin Morneau-type where the other club will eat some of the salary in order to maximize return. Again, Johnson is the key to getting the pieces they need, they just need to find the right partner.
In the end, the Marlins will only go as far as Jeffery Loria will allow them to go. He has to be willing to stretch the lease out a bit more in order for this team to find its feet. They don’t need to pump money into this club. They need to put faith in it.