Friday, July 11, 2008

The Marlins Have The Goods To Hang Around In The Playoff Race

  • Marlins 5-Dodgers 4:
Each day the Marlins remain in contention with a $21 million payroll, they stick a finger in
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the eye of every team that pays absurd amounts of money for no results. To put that into context, the Mariners just released Richie Sexson and are paying him $6 million to simply leave the premises. (I know the argument could be made that they were paying him for for nothing for the past year and a half as well.) The Dodgers are only paying $3 million less than that for Andruw Jones this year; the Yankees have paid Carl Pavano twice that for a level of production that they could likely receive from an pitcher from the Frontier League if that pitcher were capable of throwing strikes and being lucky. The Marlins success at finding young talent and discarded players is making a bigger and bolder statement than Moneyball ever could. If there's a team that should have their blueprint followed, it's the Marlins.
Now with that minuscule payroll the Marlins find themselves with the exact same record as the New York Mets ($136 million); 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies ($98 million); 5 games ahead of the reeling Atlanta Braves ($102 million); and 13 1/2 games ahead of the Washington Nationals ($54 million)----and that's just in their own division. They're rewriting the handbook on how to run a team effectively despite all the ridicule they receive after dumping players whenever their salaries or demands reach a certain point.
After all the credit that Joe Girardi received for his team's 78-84 finish with similar payroll
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constraints in 2006, Fredi Gonzalez is producing even better results in 2008. While other teams are scrambling and giving up chunks of their future for rentals (the Brewers and C.C. Sabathia); or pitchers who are notoriously frequent residents of the disabled list (the Cubs and Rich Harden), the Marlins added a potential ace starting pitcher by simply waiting until he was healthy enough to pitch in Josh Johnson.
Last night was Johnson's first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and while his pitching line isn't impressive on the surface----5 innings; 6 hits; 3 runs----he also struck out six; walked none; was clocked consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and low-90s with his slider and looked primed for a big second half. Even with their reticence to add veteran players that are going to be costly and their repeated willingness to trade any player to whom they're going to have to dole out a large salary, the Marlins stay respectable and more.
It's becoming clear that it's more than a case of scouts mining other organizations for their
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top prospects (Hanley Ramirez, Andrew Miller); picking up unappreciated or unknown talent for nothing (Dan Uggla, Cody Ross, Justin Miller); drafting well (Johnson, Scott Olsen, Jeremy Hermida); changing players' positions to get some use from them (Josh Willingham); or signing veterans from whom they've gotten unexpected production on and off the field (Mark Hendrickson, Jorge Cantu, Luis Gonzalez). This is a case of an organization that trusts their scouts and makes bold, decisive decisions based on what's best for the organization rather than what looks good in the newspapers or to the "experts".
The Marlins appear to have a simple philosophy of giving young players a chance to play without the pressure that has ruined many young players in more intense venues. There's not
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the specter of a trip to the minors hanging over their heads if they struggle for a week; there's not the questioning of a player's ability if he goes into a slump. Part of that is due to the lack of interest in the team in Florida (except when they're in the World Series); part of it is due to the way the team is run from owner Jeffrey Loria on down.
The Marlins have been called "lucky", or have been seen to benefit from a watered down National League; but it may be time to stop trying to justify their success with caveats and see it for what it is: they're an organization that knows what they're doing and are consistently competitive no matter what. They might not make the playoffs, but that they're even in this position in July when they were expected to (again) lose close to 100 games is indicative of an organization that's got something figured out and isn't just haphazardly dumping salaries just for the sake of it; there are at least twenty other organizations that would be better off right now if they had the Marlins front office rather than their own. It's not a team's resources that defines their success, it's what they do with those resources and there's not a better organization at maximizing than the Florida Marlins whether their fans appreciate them or not.
  • Mets 7-Giants 3:
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I relentlessly ripped Fernando Tatis earlier this season, but the Mets have caught some unexpected lightning in the oft-released and unwanted Tatis. I still don't like the way he hits much of the time (he's too much of a hacker for my taste), but the Mets have gotten a few wins based on Tatis's contribution and that justifies his presence even if he provides nothing for the rest of the season.
  • The Blue Jays ever-expanding injury ward:
It's hard to fault the Blue Jays for the injuries to their two young emerging star pitchers in Dustin McGowan (torn rotator cuff); and Shaun Marcum (sore
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shoulder). McGowan has a rotator cuff tear----they're saying at least four weeks out at the minimum, which is very difficult to believe; considering their position in the standings, even if he's ready to pitch by late-August, early-September, maybe they'd better shut him down for the year.
I've unloaded on Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg in the past----Correlation Between Coach And Injuries-6/10/06----but in looking at the gamelogs of the Blue Jays young pitchers, they're not unduly stressful. I'm trying to imagine what kind of tearing up and down would be delivered to the management of a
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team in New York for example if they had two potential star pitchers who both came down with arm injuries within a month of each other.
In their current position, if the Blue Jays intend to replace GM J.P. Ricciardi, they'd better do it now and not allow him to make the decision as to what veterans to trade and what to ask for in return. They're likely to move A.J. Burnett, but I would seriously consider moving the likes of B.J. Ryan and David Eckstein, as well as Scott Rolen (although I don't know who'd take him), and trusting an under-fire Ricciardi to make those decisions is a potential disaster.

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