Florida Marlins: (87-75, second place in the N.L. East in 2009)
The Florida Marlins are truly an amazing team. They’ve got a cycle going: start out with a crap team, draft and scout well, make a few shrewd trades, win a World Series, sell everyone off, and repeat. So far, it’s worked about once every five to seven years.
In 2009, the Marlins won 87 games with a combined team salary of roughly $34.5 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. That means they paid about $397,000 per win. It’s about the cost of a house in the suburbs, but it’s far better than the Phillies’ ratio (93 wins, $127.9 million payroll, $1.375 million per win) or the World Champion Yankees (103 wins, $206.8 million payroll, $2.01 million per win). Now, I’m sure that while Marlins fans (if there are any) are proud that their team paid about 1/8 as much per win as the Yankees, they’d much rather overspend for a World Series title.
But there is something to be said for being able to scare the bejeezus out of the Phillies, Mets, and Braves every year with a bunch of homegrown prospects and reclamation projects. Their scouting department does an excellent job and Fredi Gonzalez, while I think he’s a self-important, tyrannical prick, is an excellent manager who now has won more games than any other manager in team history. While I don’t think anyone in his right mind would pick the Marlins to win the division outright, you’d have to be an idiot to underestimate them.
We know that Hanley Ramirez is probably the best position player in the National League not named Pujols. We know that Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu will hit some and play terrible defense. Apart from that, the Marlins just have a slew of young players, enough that if Andrew Miller or Cameron Maybin doesn’t work out, they don’t really care.
Look for the Marlins to pitch very well. Josh Johnson might turn out to be the third-best starting pitcher in the division, and is an intimidating presence on the mound at a massive 6-foot-7, 250 pounds. He rode a mid-90s fastball and a hammer slider to a 3.03 FIP and 15 wins last year, good enough results that when MLB ordered the Marlins to go spend some money, they spent it locking up Johnson to a contract extension. He and Hanley Ramirez are the only Marlins signed beyond this year.
Another Marlin pitcher to watch out for is Ricky Nolasco. Think of him as a right-handed Cliff Lee–he was quite good in 2008 but went to the minors in 2009. He straightened out his mechanics and came back up to the majors with his problems fixed. In September and October, he struck out more than 11 batters every 9 innings, a staggering total for a starting pitcher. Look for Nolasco’s 2008-09-10 to be a less-dramatic version of Lee’s 2006-07-08 seasons.
Beyond Johnson and Nolasco, they have the team’s highest-paid player, Nate Robertson, acquired from the Tigers this spring. Of course, the Tigers are paying $9.6 million of his $10 million salary. Beyond him stand a collection of young pitchers, ranging from former No. 6 overall pick Miller (6-foot-7) to Chris Volstad (6-foot-8) to Anibal Sanchez, who’s only 6-foot but threw a no-hitter once. If this season goes south, look for the Marlins to loan their starting rotation to the Heat next year.
If you don’t know the Marlins by now, you will never never never know them–they’re going to be a young, exciting team that finishes a few games over .500 and scares the crap out of the Phillies in September. With the ascendancy of the Braves, the Phillies have a bigger chaser in their rearview mirror, but don’t sleep on the Fish, or your playoff hopes might sleep with them.