Baseball’s hot stove season has been largely dominated by the new-look Marlins. The last time a Miami team made such headlines in free agency, it was the controversial Miami Heat “Dream Team.” Although they did not have their own hour long ESPN special and subsequent public hatred like Lebron and his gang, the new-look Marlins have come to play. Opening a new name, a new stadium and a new brand, the Miami Marlins have been spending money indiscriminately, almost bafflingly. In the blink of an eye, the Marlins organization became populated with a fiery new manager, multiple perennial all-stars, future hall of famers, gold furniture and miniature giraffes. Seemingly not satisfied, the Marlins are rumored to be in pursuit of many of the big names still on the market. In baseball home-grown talent generally trumps big market acquisitions, but if there was a model for free agency winning championships, this certainly is not a bad start. Let’s take a minute and assess the fantasy fallout of this mind-blowing series of moves.
The first domino to fall was the Heath Bell signing, but in retrospect that is little more than a drop in the pond. The big prize was Jose Reyes, whose signing represented a bit of a shocker to the baseball world. Reyes will struggle to play full seasons (he has not exceeded 140 games played in 4 seasons), but his presence at the top of the lineup will be a major upgrade as long as he is on the field. From a fantasy perspective he gets an upgrade as he joins a lineup with more firepower than the Mets could muster. Additionally Ozzie Guillen is likely to be aggressive in his use of his leadoff hitter, meaning a return to 50 SBs is within the realm of possibility. Still, all the press surrounding this signing will likely drive up the price on draft day, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay it. I think it will ultimately be a better play to reap the benefits that this upgraded lineup will confer on the rest of the lineup. This becomes all the more poignant if the Marlins make another big offensive signing. Even though they missed the Pujols boat they still reportedly want to bolster the offense. Curiously, they are reportedly out on the Prince Fielder sweepstakes because apparently no matter how many tofu tacos he eats he cannot rally the Hispanic market (funny, I thought homeruns were the universal language). One possible alternative is the Cuban shortstop Cespedes. The easy transition from Cuba to Miami makes it a fit for not only the player but also for the Marlins, who help that aforementioned Hispanic market.
Lost in all of these moves is the fact that the Marlins actually had a decent squad last year. After Trader Jack McKeon took over the team they played reasonably well, and certainly have talented pieces to work around. The primary beneficiary of this managerial change was Hanley Ramirez, who rebounded from a slow start to post respectable numbers until being shut down with an injury. Hanley will likely remain on the team even with the acquisition of Jose Reyes (despite rumors that he may be shopped), and hopefully Ozzie Guillen can motivate the superstar in the same way that Jack did.
Hanley’s situation is very interesting from a fantasy perspective because Reyes’s signing has forced Hanley to make a switch to 3rd base. This means that Hanley will bring his 5 tool talents to a new gig- dual eligibility at two of fantasy’s scarcer positions. Unlike Alex Rodriguez who made the same position shift, Hanley is not a true slugger. His power and speed combo will be truly unique at 3rd this year, but his power stroke will need to return in a big way for him to be considered a legitimate option at third base. Fortunately, his dual eligibility will allow owners who take him early to have great flexibility later on in filling these tough positions.
Another bystander from last year’s team who stands to benefit is young superstar Mike Stanton. Stanton’s power was historic in 2011, and his ability to overcome the adjustments pitchers made against him proved he was no fluke. If fantasy owners had one complaint about his 2011 season, it was likely in the RBI department. He was shuffled up and down the lineup all year, and seemingly hit nothing but solo shots. Regardless of whether the Marlins’ signings prove to be good or bad, the short term lineup looks to get a major boost, and Stanton’s RBI numbers should improve dramatically. There were numerous other Marlins position players who were mixed league relevant who can expect a similar boost as well (I’m looking at you, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez). Buy buy buy.
In stark contrast to the new-look offense, the Marlins’ rotation looked to be more of the same with Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson as the headliners (provided the latter’s injury rehab goes smoothly). After that a slovenly band of journeymen and veterans consisting of Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad and newly-acquired Wade Leblanc rounded things out. The Marlins, correctly realizing that this rotation was a recipe for disaster, made a game-changing signing — Mark Buehrle. Buehrle has been consistently solid for a long while in the tougher American League, and should benefit from a move to the senior circuit. He should be a formidable piece of the Marlins rotation and a coveted mid-tier fantasy starter on draft day.
Another area that the Marlins did manage to upgrade was their bullpen via their somewhat surprising acquisition of Heath Bell. Bell’s peripherals are not nearly what they once were, but he should be a clear upgrade over the “Artist formerly known as Leo Nunez” Juan Oviedo. Oviedo himself becomes a dicey fantasy play unless he is non-tendered and latches on elsewhere as a closer. However it seems fairly likely that the Marlins will keep him around for depth purposes. I’d shop him in keeper leagues before the dust settles.
Whether the Marlins have built a championship contender is still a matter of debate. They have certainly generated a buzz in the baseball world that will hopefully translate to attendance at their new ballpark. Regardless of the outcome, there will be many fantasy options coming out of this lineup this year, but don’t draft on hype alone. The value is there only if you know where to look.