Managers quitting, superstars slacking, young studs demoted, a twitter controversy, front office staff calling out players, players calling out front office staff and empty seats that are almost as big of a joke as a Lake County Fielders game.
On top of all that, the Florida Marlins sit in the cellar of the NL East, 23 games behind the first place Phillies. So much for building momentum as they move into their new stadium next season.
Their name will change to "Miami Marlins", probably with new uniforms to boot and they will relocate from Miami Gardens, FL to a location about 15 minutes away from South Beach. Will that be enough to erase the soap opera of a season that is the 2011 Marlins?
This past week, the Marlins tied a nice little bow on their disastrous season by demoting one of their most popular and most productive players, Logan Morrison. There were reports about off the field issues that led to his demotion, on top of his already controversial Twitter account, but if the goal is to win ballgames, then there was absolutely no reason to make the move. As noted here on The Outside Corner, Morrison had been, hands down, one of the Marlins' best players this season. He is second on the team in SLG and third on the team in wOBA. he's also second on the team in home runs, with 17.
If anything, Morrison's Twitter fame is a good thing for the Marlins. What is the saying? Any press is good press? Well, Morrison has 64,542 Twitter followers and his handle is LoMoMarlins, so every time someone reads one of his tweets, they read the word "Marlins" in the process. His profile page even promotes his (former) team, with a teal background, Marlins logo and a picture of him wearing a Marlins home jersey. What's worse: a popular player that spends a lot of time on Twitter, sometimes writing lines considered a bit controversial or a popular player who routinely "dogs it" on the field and has had constant problems with his managers for acts such as showing up to the park late? You think Morrison is the only player in baseball that might be known for having a bit too much fun off the field? Give me the guy who shows up to play ball and helps the team win on a daily basis.
The player whom I refer to as the one who "dogs it" is, of course, the star of the Marlins, Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez is one of the most talented players in baseball, there's no questioning that, but his attitude has been called into question more than a few times. Unlike past seasons, however, Ramirez's attitude is overshadowing his on-field performance. Hanley is hitting .249/.333/.379 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases and will set a career low in wins above replacement (WAR) this season. Injuries have certainly played a role and he's currently on the DL with a shoulder issue, so it is reasonable to expect that he'll bounce back if healthy in 2012. That being said, it's never a good thing when the face of your franchise gets called out by a member of the teams' front office -- Mr. Marlin himself, Jeff Conine -- for being lazy. Hanley responded to that issue by calling Conine a "chicken" and saying that if someone has a problem, they should keep it in the clubhouse. Kind of the opposite of what Hanley did by calling Conine a chicken and then claiming to the media that he wanted to become the next "Mr. Marlin". You stay classy now.
The issues with the Marlins this season have gone well beyond the players. After starting 1-18 in the month of June, Manager Edwin Rodriguez resigned, er, quit, abandoning his team not even half way through the season. Perhaps at that point, the team had quit on him too. He certainly didn't seem to have the ability to influence his star shortstop. Then again, not many managers have.
Management as a whole has plenty to be blamed for this season. The year started by trading away one of the team's best players, Dan Uggla, for "all-star" utility man Omar Infante and a reliever. While the move was made for monetary reasons, one still has to question how the money saved was and will be used. Part of it was used to lock up the ever-so frustrating Ricky Nolasco, who once again has posted an ERA (3.71) worse than his xFIP (3.51). Maybe this will be the year Hot Nolasco Sauce actually posts a 3.50 or better ERA , but then again, it's just as likely that he'll end the year with an ERA close to or over 4.00. Another part of that money saved was essentially thrown away by handing "all-star" catcher John Buck a three-year/$18M deal after his only real stand-out season in the big leagues.
The front office also signed a declining Javier Vasquez for $7M, hoping he would have a bounce-back year in the National league. Vazquez's signing isn't really an issue, given that it was only a one-year deal and their season is done anyway, but consider the money the Marlins have on the books for the next few years. Between four players: Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and John Buck, the team will be on the books for $44.25M in 2012 and $47.25M in 2013. Those numbers are roughly $10-13M less than their 2011 opening day payroll. Those figures also don't include a key member of their rotation, Anibal Sanchez, who is third-year arbitration eligible this offseason. Sanchez is making $3.7M this season and should see a significant raise before next season.
Even with more revenue generated by the new stadium, the Marlins will have to continue to develop young, cheap talent. They've managed to do that on some fronts. Logan Morrison, despite his demotion, was more than holding his own in what should have been his first full major league season. Mike Stanton is going to be a middle-of-the-order beast for years to come and Josh Johnson is dominant when healthy, but he's been on the shelf most of this season and has had arm issues in the past.
There is, of course, the one that got away.
The big prospect acquired by shipping away all-world hitter Miguel Cabrera, Cameron Maybin, is finally breaking through as a productive big-leaguer. The only problem is, he's doing it for the Padres, not the Marlins. While sometimes a simple change of scenery can go a long way, it has caused some to question the Marlins ability to bring out the best in their young talent.
2011 has been a very forgettable season for the Marlins. However, it doesn't seem like many people were paying attention in the first place. The Marlins have averaged the lowest attendance in baseball this season at only 18,197 fans per game. While I'm certain that the new stadium will drive people to the park early in the 2012 season, the question of "How long will that last?" is a legitimate one. Sure, there are die-hard Marlins fans out there, somewhere, but this team will need to change it's face and persona before becoming relevant in a town that boasts sunny weather, scenic beaches and night-life that is, quite frankly, more exciting than going to a baseball game for many of those young fans that reside in south Florida.
Winning always breeds fans. Fair-weather fans are as much a part of baseball as the die-hards and major league teams need both to maximize revenue. In order to win, the Marlins will have to put their best product on the field day-in and day-out, something they aren't doing with Logan Morrison at triple-A and something that Hanley Ramirez doesn't do consistently.
The Marlins' 2012 script is yet to be written, but there is at least some danger, based on what has happened on and off the field in so far in 2011, that this current soap opera might turn out to be the first season of a long-running series.