The questions that surrounded the Marlins amid their winter spending spree and afterglow of the completion of their new ballpark were expected to crop up at some point, but no one could’ve predicted that they would start immediately, happen all in a row and risk the season before it began in earnest.
Let’s go down the list. Bear in mind that it’s only April 15th and they haven’t played 10 games yet.
- The SEC is investigating the financing of the new park—you can read details of how it might go in this SBNation column.
- Owner Jeffrey Loria was pilloried for using Muhammad Ali to take part in the first pitch ceremony on opening night.
- Manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended by the team for statements praising Fidel Castro; protests calling for his firing continued regardless of Guillen’s apology.
- Their on-field issues—a shaky bullpen and terrible defense—have already cost them games.
There are other underlying problems just below the surface. Carlos Zambrano isn’t looking any better on the field in Marlins’ fluorescent glow of blue, red, orange and yellow than he did in Cubbie blue. Josh Johnson and Heath Bell have been awful.
The concerns about Zambrano, Johnson and Bell are overreactions. The Marlins aren’t paying Zambrano anything and can release him if he pitches or behaves poorly—he’s a worthwhile gamble that had as much chance of succeeding as failing. Johnson, if healthy, should be fine. The same argument that says anyone can close also applies to proven closers who are struggling. Bell will begin converting saves.
But the team simply doesn’t look right. They’re not cohesive. They’re a glued together mix of personalities that may not gel before it’s too late, if at all.
Was the Castro gaffe the last thing that Guillen is going to say and do to get himself into a cauldron of simmering Ozzie-juice? History proves it’s not. And if he tones down his personality to prevent himself from getting into trouble, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of hiring him?
Did the Marlins not know that Edward Mujica was prone to the home run ball before installing him as the set-up man? He allowed 28 homers combined for the Padres in 2009 and 2010 and 7 for the Marlins last year. They have a pitchers’ park and leaguewide power numbers are down, but that hasn’t mattered with Mujica.
It takes awhile for teams that have been drastically altered to come together as a unit, but this was a powder keg before the season and it’s a powder keg now with sparks threatening to ignite before May. If they come together and get past the off-field controversies, will that repair their horrific defense and inconsistent bullpen?
In spite of assertions to the contrary, Jose Reyes is only one wrong step away from an extended stay on the disabled list with a hamstring strain or pull; Hanley Ramirez and Zambrano are tempestuous and flighty; and Loria and team president David Samson have high expectations and a massive amount riding on this team and new ballpark being a success.
If they’re at or under .500 by June (or sooner), the fans aren’t going to come to the park and the potential is there for a top-down eruption leading to an every man for himself evacuation.
It’s not a human tragedy on a level with the Titanic, but in a baseball-sense, it’s a burgeoning disaster.
It’s very early, but they’d better change course.