MLB preview: Florida Marlins
I picked the Marlins to do a lot better than they did the last few years. At least if I overestimate high going into this season, I won't be alone in doing so.
2011 record: 72-90 (5th in NL East). Projected 2012 finish: 88-74 (T-3rd in NL East).
Projected starters: C John Buck, 1B Gaby Sanchez, 2B Omar Infante, SS Jose Reyes, 3B Hanley Ramirez, LF Logan Morrison, CF Emelio Bonifacio, RF Giancarlo Stanton, SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Anibal Sanchez, SP Carlos Zambrano, CL Heath Bell, RP Edward Mujica, RP Mike Dunn.
Half-full outlook: If Reyes stays healthy (big if), he should have comparable value going forward to the offseason's bigger free-agent prizes, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Buehrle and Bell aren't, in my book, worth what the Marlins paid them, but they'll certainly make the team better. Zambrano ought to be an upgrade over what Chris Volstad had contributed the last couple of years. And it's in a lot of ways like the Marlins actually had six major additions. Johnson will make Miami significantly better just by piching more than his 60 1/3 innings in 2011, and Ramirez will similarly offer an upgrade if he hits something close to his .306/.380/.506 slash line instead of his .243/.333/.379 form from last year. Even for a 72-win team, that's so much potential added high-level production that going from worst to first isn't out of the question.
Half-empty outlook: Bell, going from San Diego's Petco Park to new Marlins Park, and Buehrle, who's into his 30s, could have trouble matching the production we're used to seeing from them. Reyes and Johnson are major injury risks. Ramirez and especially Zambrano aren't locks to generate production close to that of their peak seasons. And if the Marlins are going to compete in the NL East, they're going to need their stars to play like stars. Other than Stanton (who looks like baseball's next great slugger), Bonafacio, Morrison and the decent Nolasco/Sanchez combination in the rotation, there isn't a whole lot else to like on this roster than the six players I mentioned above.
Halfway between the two outlook: We know the Marlins will be better. I see more predictions, though, for the fish to finish in 80-85 win territory than I do for them to make the playoffs. It will be difficult to get in, even with the second wild card, but I think last year's Marlins underachieved, and that the expected continued growth of Stanton and Morrison, coupled with the new and returning talent, will be enough to keep the Marlins in the hunt to the very end.