The claims to fame of the team formerly known as the Florida Marlins were two improbable World Series championships (1997 and 2003) amid a morass of mediocrity triggered mostly by player selloffs after winning those rings. Now they’re the Miami Marlins, with a new logo and colors, a new $500-million retractable-roof ballpark, a new manager and a new outlook on life in baseball.
The Action: The name change was only the start. General manager Michael Hill made his first high-profile move by signing former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen to be the manager on the field. Then Hill made eyes bulge by making as much of splash as he could in the free-agent market, shelling out $191 million for longtime Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, former Padres closer Heath Bell and veteran starter Mark Buehrle, following Guillen from Chicago.
Perhaps the riskiest move of all happened in January when Hill traded pitchers with the other Windy City club, sending Chris Volstad to the Cubs for the volatile Carlos Zambrano.
It’s A Lock: Right fielder Giancarlo (formerly called Mike) Stanton should be one of the sure things in this lineup despite being hit on the wrist by a pitch during spring training; he’s tabbed as one of the best up-and-coming power hitters in the majors. Logan Morrison will be at the other corner infield spot, while the trio of Emilio Bonifacio, Chris Coghlan and Aaron Rowand will each look for playing time in center and elsewhere.
Starter Josh Johnson appears to be making progress in his recovery from inflammation in his pitching shoulder, which shut him down after the first six weeks of 2011. He’ll lead a staff containing the lefthander Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Zambrano.
Hedge Your Bets: Stanton and the Marlins aren’t the only ones who underwent a name change. The team’s closer in 2011 was Leo Nunez, now known as Juan Carlos Oviedo. He’s attempting to resolve issues in his Dominican Republic homeland arising from the use of an assumed name; for now, he’s on Major League Baseball’s restricted list.
Zambrano is a high-risk proposition with a potentially high reward. There are no guarantees he’ll be able to rein in his explosive temper despite the presence of fellow Venezuelan Guillen in the dugout.
The signing of Reyes has prompted the shift of All-Star Hanley Ramirez to third base. The mercurial star, once considered one of the locks at the shortstop position, also had shoulder surgery last September. He is healthy and swinging well, but time will tell if he can succeed at adapting to the unique demands of the position.
Miami were also said to be pursuing 1B Prince Fielder before he signed with Detroit; now they’ll have to rely again on the iffy Gaby Sanchez, possibly with Morrison spelling him on occasion.
The Payoff: Will all of this newness help them? Let’s put it this way: the MLB futures betting looks better for them than it has in years. With all the talent and hype, though, they still have to go out on the field of their new park and show they’re a championship-calibre club.