There was a lot of optimism in Miami before the Marlins' 2012 season, and rightfully so. The team shelled out big money to bring in quality, high-profile players. The addition of a few veterans, along with the young talent already on hand, made the Marlins a popular pick to at least make the playoffs in 2012.
As you probably know by now, the season did not turn out as expected. As I offered in my 2012 season in review post, the Marlins went 69-93 in a season where they were expected to at least exceed .500. Yes, they added big-time free agents like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, but Reyes didn't play like an MVP candidate (just a very, very good shortstop), Buehrle wasn't an ace (closer to a #2-#3 starter) and Bell was an
unmitigated disaster explosion of failure disappointment, losing his job as closer to Steve Cishek. New manager Ozzie Guillen alienated Miami's Cuban population, and proved unable to avoid clubhouse drama.
The problem now is that the Marlins sit in limbo, a bit. With the big contracts to Reyes and Buehrle, and a manager at the helm who did his best work (a couple seasons in Chicago) with veterans, not young players. So where should the Marlins be going? Is this a team that's a couple (more) big acquisitions away from being a contender, or is a more intensive rebuilding process required?
The first thing that we should do is figure out where the team actually sits, in terms of talent on hand. To do that, we can take a look at some of 2012's stats. From there, maybe we could see what the team would need to compete.
The Miami Marlins, in 2012, were one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball. wRC+, a measurement that park- and league-adjusts all hitting contributions, pegs the Marlins at third-worst in MLB. A wRC+ of 85 means that the Marlins were 15% worse than the league average. The Marlins had a .244/.308/.382 triple-slash line, which is pretty woeful both in terms of OBP and SLG. The team has a lot of trouble getting on base, and isn't hitting for substantive power, despite the presence of Giancarlo Stanton.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure that any of the Marlins are very likely to improve their offensive performance substantially in 2013, with the exception of Logan Morrison. Morrison dealt with injury issues in 2012, and his performance suffered, but he's still got the raw ability to be a very good hitter with OBP and power. Otherwise, there could be a decent performance coming off of injury for Emilio Bonifacio, and Giancarlo might continue to progress into an MVP-caliber hitter, but the role players in Miami don't seem to have a ton of room to grow.
On the other hand, the Marlins are actually a pretty decent team when it comes to their pitching staff. They didn't sit too far away from league-average in either ERA or FIP, a measure of the events that are under a pitcher's control. The Marlins were able to rack up an ERA of 4.10 and an FIP of 3.89, neither of which was a bad score. While that ERA is about 4% worse than league average, the team's FIP was right on league average.
The bullpen (despite Heath Bell) wasn't too different from the starting staff in terms of the rate stats like ERA and FIP, so there's no area of specific weakness for this squad. Now, to be fair, the team probably should be a bit better than league average, given the imposing dimensions of the new Marlins park. But the team's pitching staff isn't a real area of weakness, and with the young pitchers on hand, the team might see some actual improvement in 2013 as Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner progress.
Advanced metrics can be a bit of a crapshoot when trying to quantify defense, but here's a few that might be able to paint a reasonable picture of the team's defense. DRS, the advanced defensive stat developed by Baseball Info Solutions and John Dewan -- and also the basis of the Fielding Bible Awards -- puts the Marlins at -46 runs over the season, which is the fourth-worst score in the majors. UZR is another advanced metric, the one that goes into FanGraphs' WAR calculations, and that has the Marlins as less-terrible, but still bad. They're at -21.2, which is about two wins worse than average, as compared to DRS's measure of about four and a half wins worse.
Baseball Prospectus has a great measure called Park-adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE), which measures overall team defense. For this measure, a score of zero is average, two is very good, and four is excellent. The Marlins, of course, scored -0.65, good for 21st in the majors.
Any way you slice it, the Marlins are a bad defensive squad. The eye test backs up the numbers, as the team didn't have a stellar defensive team up the middle, in the best defensive positions. And while Stanton is a great right fielder, the team needs help in this area as well.
The odds of the Marlins being a wild card contender in 2013, in my opinion, are low. Very low. If the front office wants to double-down on the win-now mentality -- which does not seem to be the case, given discussions around cutting payroll -- then I could understand throwing loads more money at free agents and taking another chance on a big year.
But that's not what I would advocate. I'd take a longer view. With good, high-performing teams like the Nationals and Braves in the division, the time isn't now to bet big on a huge 2013. The Orioles might have proved that any team can rise up and play well in a run for a wild card spot, but the odds simply aren't in Miami's favor, even if they could plug a hole or three. Dealing a player like Josh Johnson, who could return a young player of value, might not help the team in 2013, but it's probably something that could help the team on a longer-term basis.
And for those Marlins fans who have a bad taste in their mouths from the fire sales that took place after the team's two World Series wins, keep this in mind: it's ok to have this kind of fire sale when your team hasn't actually won anything.