Loria Expects Playoffs…
Posted by willmanso on February 15, 2011
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has never been someone who holds back his true feelings. It was no different on Monday during the team’s annual pre-season media luncheon. Loria said point-blank that he thinks the Marlins should be a playoff team and said, “I’d match my guys up with anybody.” I asked him if he would be disappointed if the team didn’t make the postseason. His response was, “why wouldn’t I? The answer is we’re gonna try to get there. We have the horses to do it.”
Loria does have some horses, and a couple of them attended the lunch. Ace pitcher Josh Johnson looked to be in great shape and said he was already at his playing weight, while 20-year old slugger Mike Stanton looked to be even stronger than last season. That’s saying a lot for one of the biggest and strongest players in the game. His potential is really unlimited. Stanton told me that he doesn’t feel much pressure now that he’s starting the year on the big league club. He added, “I’ve gotta be patient and let it come and not try to do too much.” While he doesn’t feel the pressure, the Marlins are pinning a lot of their hopes on Stanton to be a run producer to make up for the loss of Dan Uggla. He may end up being another Miguel Cabrera, who produced from the start with the Fish. Then again, young players are unpredictable. I’d put my money on Stanton producing, but it’ll be something to watch.
The biggest topic of discussion, in particular for the starting pitchers, was the effort made to improve the bullpen. The Marlins focused on taking care of that major issue from last season. While the addition to the middle relief unit should really help the starters, I’m still not 100% sold on Leo Nunez as the full-time closer. He showed more flashes of becoming consistent last season, but overall, he’s still a real question mark. If he can be consistent, the Fish seem to have the right guys in the pen to hold the lead for the starters.
As for those starters, we know Johnson is the ace, and he’s a Cy Young candidate when healthy. Ricky Nolasco got a long-term deal in the offseason, and the Marlins have to hope he’ll keep his focus and determination now that he’s getting paid. Meantime, Anibal Sanchez looked in great shape today, and he’s a guy I think can make a huge jump this season. People can’t forget about the veteran addition of Javier Vazquez. Most view Vazquez as a guy who’s flamed out in big spots with the Yankees, but overall, he’s been one of the more consistent starters in baseball over the last decade. He’s a lock to pitch 200 innings and win 11-14 games. That’s not bad on a staff that’s filled with so much potential. Finally, Chris Volstad will get the first crack at the #5 spot in the rotation, but look for lefty Sean West to push him for the job.
Another question mark is what happens at 3rd base? Youngster Matt Dominguez will get a shot at the job, but I’ll be honest with you, everything I’m hearing is that he may not be ready offensively to handle the majors. He doesn’t need to be a machine at the plate in the spring to earn the job. If he just shows he can make adjustments and handle the learning curve of facing major league pitching, he’ll get a fair chance to be the opening day 3rd baseman. The more likely scenario to me is that newly acquired super utility man Omar Infante will start the year at the hot corner, and speedster Emilio Bonifacio will get the 2nd base job. Again, this is just speculation on my part. The Marlins will also give seldom mentioned Ozzie Martinez a look at 2nd base. He showed some ability in limited action last season, and he intrigues the Florida front office with his potential. If Dominguez falters, and the Fish prefer to have Bonifacio in a spot-starter, utility role, Martinez could earn the job. This will all play out during the spring.
The rest of the team doesn’t have much drama or question marks. Gaby Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez are set in the infield, while John Buck was brought in and paid big bucks to catch most days. The outfield has great potential with Logan Morrison in left field, Chris Coghlan returning from injury in center and Stanton in right. Depth is a major issue. The Marlins need these 3 players to stay healthy. Any injury means guys like Bonifacio, Scott Cousins and Bryan Peterson could be thrown into more significant roles.
Overall, I don’t think Loria is crazy to think the Marlins can challenge most teams. I think it’s clear the Phillies are the top team in the National League, but everyone else is fair game to the Fish, including the Braves. A healthy Marlins team could win 85-90 games and earn a wild card spot. Like most seasons with this team, health will be a key and depth will be an issue. Edwin Rodriguez has been given a nice core to try to prove himself before the new stadium opens in 2012. It’s clearly a one-year audition. Loria’s proclamation about the playoffs is basically his alibi for letting Rodriguez go after the season, if the Fish don’t make noise in the playoff race. Be warned skipper, the expectations are high.