It’s that time of year again. All across the major leagues, front offices will size up their organizations and decide whether to be buyers or sellers at the July 31st trade deadline. Meaningless speculation will accompany legitimate buzz as general managers discuss potential deals in attempt to better their teams for this season, or seasons to come. It seems as though the Marlins are never completely out of or in playoff contention come the deadline, which makes any deal tough to execute. This year is no different, but the team has plenty of areas in which it can improve.
As I have said ever since Miami wrapped up their big offseason, the starting lineup does not look bad on paper. Right now, the infield consists of Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Omar Infante, and Carlos Lee. Not one of those players should be replaced this season. And Ramirez and Reyes are locked up long-term. But the latter two have not been producing as of late. Reyes has lost his swagger he possessed as the stud of the Mets. And Hanley is not nearly as dominant as he was before the Marlins loaded up their lineup.
This may be a stretch to say, but it appears that the presence of several “studs” has caused each player who should be a catalyst to let his performance slack assuming the team will be picked up by one of the other stars. Last season, Gaby Sanchez stepped up when no one else did, and carried the team while putting up All-Star numbers. In 2008, when the whole globe predicted the Marlins would finish last in the NL East, Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez put the team on their backs and kept Florida in contention until September. Unfortunately, the 2012 Miami Marlins do not have a healthy player who will do that.
There is an unhealthy player in Giancarlo Stanton who is that guy, and when he steps back onto the field in three or four weeks, we can expect to see the team start to pick up. The 22-year old slugger looks like he will be Miami’s catalyst for years to come if he can stay healthy. Stanton was the NL Player of the Month for June as he led the Marlins to a franchise-record 21 wins that month. But his monstrous, 6’5″ frame has been vulnerable to injuries. Most recently, he was sidelined for knee surgery, and missed both the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. But the absence of one player does not justify a losing trend.
Stanton’s presence makes any trade for a position player unnecessary. Going back to the starting lineup, the Marlins have players who they want to keep, who they want to develop, and who they want to flourish. No one needs to be replaced right now. If this is not Miami’s year that let that be that. So many teams nowadays assume any team can be fixed by one or two trades, but that is not always the case. However, the Marlins do have a particular area that needs mending.
A major issue for the Marlins over the past few seasons has been the role of closer. No dominant closer has pitched in South Florida in years. So this offseason all problems were solved by the three-year signing of Heath Bell… oh, how we wish it were that simple. The Heath Bell experience has not been a pleasant ride for the Marlins so far. Bell has blown six saves and has had many more sub-par outings. Ozzie Guillen said for the first two months that Heath would be the closer through thick and thin. But there is something wrong here. During the regular season, a manager’s job is to win games, not to get a pitcher back on track. If Bell’s “rehab” road will cost Miami games, he should not be pitched. The time to experiment is Spring Training, not the middle of the season.
Clearly the Marlins need to figure something out as far as closing goes. Last night, Steve Cishek notched his second save of the year, and looked good doing it. Miami could rotate guys on a nightly basis and not have to deal with the drama of a cemented-in closer. Or they could try to make a trade, but I am not sure it would be worth it. The return of Juan Carlos Oviedo from his suspension is imminent, but the former closer is not likely to reassume his ninth-inning duties.
From day one, it was obvious that all the media’s hype regarding the Fish, as well as the team’s reality show on HBO, would only drag the Marlins down. There is not much the team can do now except simply play baseball. Winners are decided by the competition between the foul lines, it is as simple as that.