MLB Hot Seat – Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays have to make a series of decisions at the conclusion of this season and the first one will be what to do with general manager Alex Anthopoulos. For the first three years of his reign, he received a pass mostly because he wasn’t former GM J.P. Ricciardi. In what was considered a fresh start, the Blue Jays didn’t play much better under Anthopoulos than they did when Ricciardi was the GM. They were mostly mediocre and were never contenders. The focus seemed to be on stockpiling youngsters, staying relatively competitive at the big league level and waiting for the chance to bolster Jose Bautista and the other power bats.

After the 2012 season, a 73-89 disappointment, manager John Farrell was traded to the Red Sox to be their manager and the Blue Jays began a massive reconstruction by acquiring Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins for a large chunk of their farm system. They then acquired reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets for even more prospects and signed Melky Cabrera. Finally, Anthopoulos rehired the same manager who had run the team in the midst of Ricciardi’s tenure, John Gibbons. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked.

Anthopoulos runs the club without the outspokenness, bluster and controversy that seemed to follow Ricciardi around like the stink of a weekend bender, but he hasn’t had any more success than his former boss. In fact, the argument could be made that he’s done worse. Anthopoulos is a frenetic tinkerer who doesn’t seem to have a plan. They dealt with the Ricciardi hangover, built up the minor league system, hired and fired a couple of managers and decided to spend a lot of money to go all in for 2013. They’re in last place.

What now? They can make more trades, free agent signings and bring in another manager and different coaches, or they can fire Anthopoulos and let the new GM plot a course.

If the Blue Jays make a GM change, the call will be for Tony LaCava to get the job. Would it make sense to bring in another GM who worked under Ricciardi and Anthopoulos? The Blue Jays didn’t interview anyone when they elevated Anthopoulos to replace Ricciardi. Safe in the “anyone but Ricciardi” theory, they went with the next guy. They can’t do that again no matter how impressive LaCava is.

Some 35-year-old with a spreadsheet and a degree from MIT making grandiose proclamations isn’t going to fly again. It has to be a totally different approach from the past decade.

Once the question shifts from, “how do we take the next step?” to “what now?”, it’s over. Anthopoulos is on the hot seat because he’s the only one left to blame and there’s no other move the Blue Jays can make that combines the sense and simplicity as firing the general manager.




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Toronto Blue Jays: Early Season Notes

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Considering that the majority of players on the roster have never won anything and that they acquired a vast percentage of one of the most disappointing and dysfunctional teams in recent memory in the 2012 Marlins, there is reason to be skeptical about the Blue Jays. The slow start certainly didn’t help. But to equate this team with the 2012 Marlins just because Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio are on the team as if their mere presence in the problem is searching for reasons to criticize. The Marlins were working for a hair-trigger ownership more interested in the number of fans they’d immediately attract rather than giving the club—and fans—a chance to get to know one another. There was constantly the hovering paranoia of a housecleaning if it didn’t work, with good reason as it turned out.

John Gibbons is not Ozzie Guillen and won’t start savaging the players in the press. There haven’t been the off-field issues with the 2013 Blue Jays that there were with the 2012 Marlins and the Blue Jays’ fans are going to come to the park to support their team. There’s no threat of a dismantling at mid-season.

The backs of the baseball cards are highly relevant with the Blue Jays and R.A. Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, and Jose Bautista will be fine. The key will be how much Edwin Encarnacion can replicate his 2012, 42 homer performance. He’s currently hitting .133. Brett Lawrie has to get healthy. Reyes is on the disabled list.

They’re not deep enough to withstand a litany of injuries and underperformance and there’s still an ominous, “I don’t know if this is gonna work/I hope this works” from inside and outside the organization. The AL East is parity laden so no team is going to run off and hide, giving the Blue Jays wiggleroom to get their bearings. Once the starting rotation gets its act together, Lawrie returns, Bautista starts hitting and if Encarnacion can be 75% of what he was last year, they’ll be okay.

One note regarding Reyes, I’d understand the references to his injury history if he’d pulled a hamstring, but he severely sprained an ankle sliding into second base. It was an impact injury that could’ve happened to anyone at any time and had nothing to do with a history of maladies.

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Giancarlo Stanton: About as Available as Heidi Klum

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Would you like to date Heidi Klum?

Are you a big time actor or rock star? An investment banker with a billion dollars at your disposal? Do you have the money? The star power? The looks? In short, do you have what it takes to get the opportunity?

And it won’t just take a combination of the above factors. There are hundreds of men who have the same attributes, so you have to stand out; you have to go the extra mile; you have to be willing to withstand the scrutiny and, yes, aggravation that accompanies dating a high profile woman.

Can you handle it?

Such an analogy is similar to clubs thinking about pursuing Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.

The Marlins have said that they’ll “listen” to trade offers on Stanton and, in a baseball sense, he’s in greater demand than a supermodel.

Much like Ms. Klum or anyone will “listen” to offers from men who would like to date her, it’s going to take more than charm, looks, money, and fame to get something done. Thus far this winter, the Marlins have fired manager Ozzie Guillen and traded Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Heath Bell and John Buck to slash their payroll from over $100 million in 2012 to around $40 million in 2013, there has been speculation that Stanton could also be had. That he’s making a pittance ($480,000 in 2012) in comparison with the players and manager they dumped and he won’t be arbitration eligible until after 2013 makes him all the more attractive a target. But these factors also render the trade talk a rumor based on nothing. They have no reason to trade him. With Stanton publicly expressing his displeasure at the gutting of the club, they’d still shown no indication that they were looking to move him, but recently they acknowledged that they’d “listen.”

But what entails “listening?” Listening means if you’re calling, you’d better be serious and prepared to give up a lot. Under no mandate to get rid of him as they were with the big contracts listed above, the Marlins can sit and wait totally uninterested in ancillary factors regarding his potential availability.

He’s unhappy? If any team has indicated that they couldn’t care less about the happiness of their players, it’s the Marlins. They don’t need him? Technically, they don’t. The fans didn’t come to the brand new Marlins Park when there was a star-studded roster, so the number of fans who will go to the games to see Stanton can probably be counted one-by-one like they were background players in an overwrought and self-pitying Michael Powell “It’s awful to a be a Mets fan” piece for the New York Times.

Stanton’s not making significant money yet and is an asset no matter what they do with him.

So what will they do with him and what would they want for him?

The talk that Stanton won’t sign a long-term contract with the Marlins is pure, uniformed randomness whether it’s conjured out of thin air or is coming from sources “close” to Stanton. At his age and in his current circumstances, if the Marlins offer him a guaranteed $50 million four full seasons before he’s a free agent, he’ll take it. With the Marlins penchant for trading players, the likelihood is that he’s not going to be a Marlin by the time free agency arrives, so a guaranteed contract is a guaranteed contract. As the 2012 Marlins proved, a list of name players doesn’t necessarily mean that the club will contend; another team might not be a better situation than the Marlins are now and in the future when all is said and done. They’ve gotten a lot of talented young players in the trades they made and aren’t as bad as they appear on paper. In fact, how much worse can they be than they were with the 69-93, dysfunctional, patched together band of mercenaries they were in 2012?

There are numerous teams that have the goods to get Stanton, but are they willing to surrender that bounty? For a player like Stanton, who resembles a young Dave Winfield and has gotten off to a faster start in his career than the Hall of Famer, what would be a reasonable return in a trade? The Marlins wouldn’t be out of line to expect three top tier, blue chip prospects; two very good prospects; plus a veteran signed through 2013 and another veteran signed through 2014 for the Marlins to spin off and accrue more prospects. In the aftermath, the Marlins could look at the trading of Stanton as having garnered them 10-12 players they would have locked up long-term in exchange for one, with 7-9 of them being first round quality.

Are there teams that have the goods—prospects and veterans with expiring contracts—to get Stanton? Of course. Will any pay the price? Maybe. But they’d better know what they’re sacrificing and understand that the long-term consequences may not make it worthwhile.

Yes, Stanton’s available. The question, like pursuing a supermodel, is whether or not it’s worth it if they manage to pull it off.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade Part III—Desperation or Progression for the Blue Jays?

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Since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as Blue Jays’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos has done many things that garnered him credit for running his club the “right” way by combining old-school scouting with new age stats; for showing aggressiveness when the time called for it; and for being fearless. The Blue Jays, in that time, were rebuilding and reloading; clearing salaries and planning for the “future.” They had John Farrell, a stat-based manager with a sterling reputation; they’d accumulated prospects that were just about ready to take the next step forward and, if everything went well, would contend in 2012.

But again, as is the possibility with a club that doesn’t spend a lot of money and is relying on the development of young players, the 2012 Blue Jays were ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, fell from 81-81 to 73-89 and sat by impotently as the Orioles came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After so many years of building for the “future,” when was that “future” going to come? For so long, the Blue Jays have been frozen in place or moving backwards, shoving the rock up the hill only to see it come tumbling back down again, many times right on top of them.

With a bolt of lightning, the Marlins’ latest fire sale led to the Blue Jays acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and prospects. After that, with the decision to try and win now essentially made, they surrendered two more top prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, to the Mets to get reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Dickey to a contract extension worth $25 million to complete the trade.

This isn’t a spending spree for its own sake nor is it a drastic philosophical deviation from one strategy to the other, but it’s more of a realization that the time to go for it is now. The Yankees and Red Sox are shells of what they were. The Orioles overachieved in 2012. The Rays are still fighting payroll constraints. With the extra Wild Card, the door is wide open for a team like the Blue Jays to move up.

Farrell was the equivalent of a replaceable teen idol—he was there because he fit the suit, the fans screamed when they saw him, and he couldn’t actually do any of the things a manager needs to do well. His results were disastrous in every respect and there’s a palpable relief that he’s gone. He’s been replaced by the former Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons who was horribly underrated for his strategic acumen and is a sound, unexpected hiring.

Having seen firsthand the risks of trading a star pitcher Roy Halladay and, in the subsequent series of deals, winding up with Kyle Drabek (having just undergone his second Tommy John surgery), Anthony Gose, and d’Arnaud, they are rightfully dubious of prospects and their projections.

They didn’t alter strategies on the fly and make panicky maneuvers for Anthopoulos to try and save his job. Nor did they show desperation and haphazardly try to take advantage of the weakness in their division. They’ve made a natural progression based on opportunity and availability.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ winter refurbishing and a Marlins-type spending spree designed to validate a beautiful new ballpark with an owner, Jeffrey Loria, elusively hovering in the dark ready to pull the plug and backtrack on promises and commitments.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ flurry of acquisitions and the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, reportedly on orders of ownership, in order to take some of the spotlight away from their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays being decisive and the Dodgers new, endless amounts of cash netting Zack Greinke as a free agent and providing them the ability to absorb the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.

What these clubs and the Blue Jays have done are totally independent of each other.

The simple narrative is that the Blue Jays have chosen to spend with the big boys, but the reality is that they built up the farm system to give themselves the assets to acquire players when they were ready to win. Did they expect it to happen this quickly? Probably not, but Athopoulos was allowed to take on those contracts—many of which are heavily backloaded—and for the first time in 20 years, they have a viable chance to win. The waters parted to open a path and they took it. It’s not a change in the blueprint, but adapting to the situation. Now they’re ready to contend.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their second straight World Series win in 1993. They have a rabid and loyal fanbase and now they now have the goods to make another run—with similar star-level talent to their title-winning teams—two decades later. If they pull it off, the only people who are going to care about the money they spent are the same constituency whose metrics aren’t about winning, but about doing it cheaper than the other guy to prove how smart they are. That faction has become increasingly marginalized into what it truly is: a small, fringe group that shouts loudly into the wind. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, the money they spent or the prospects they surrendered will be irrelevant because, in the end, it’s about winning. Now the Blue Jays have the goods to do it not just on paper and with best case scenarios, but with superior on-field talent.

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The Marlins: Promises, Lies and Complaints

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The Marlins name should be changed to the Merlins given how quickly and completely they made their entire 2012 roster disappear. In the aftermath of the trade (still pending approval) that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects, Giancarlo Stanton said the following on Twitter:

Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple

Stanton’s understandable reaction turned viral and has been analyzed, dissected, and repeated as an entity unto itself. He’s said nothing since.

Now Reyes and Buehrle are saying that the Marlins broke a verbal promise that they wouldn’t be part of a housecleaning as has happened in the past.

Do they have a right to complain, or is this a combination of self-importance, naiveté, blissful “don’t ask/don’t tell” ignorance, and after-the-fact allegations?

Stanton’s tweet was a reaction and nothing more. As a player entering his fourth year in the big leagues, he has zero recourse. He can ask to be traded and the Marlins can say no. He can express his unhappiness—as he did—and the fans and media can use it as Exhibit A as to what the Marlins players think, but under full team control, Stanton has no options. In fact, the Marlins might sign Stanton to a long-term contract as a conciliatory gesture to placate MLB and their few fans by putting forth the impression of “trying”. Of course that doesn’t mean Stanton won’t be traded once he starts making big money, but it’s slightly more palatable to Stanton and everyone else than Stanton’s visceral response and the Marlins saying, “Yeah? So?”

Big money and contracts are the keys to the silly laments made by Reyes and Buehrle. Did they really—really?!?—believe Jeffrey Loria and David Samson when they promised that they wouldn’t trade them if they signed with the Marlins? You can say anything you want about Loria, Samson and the manner in which they’ve used technicalities and gray areas to behave as baseball robber barons and get a new ballpark; convince players to sign with them under the pretense that this time it would be different; that they’re in it for the long-term; but don’t be surprised when they’re exposed as having said what they needed to say to get the girl in bed, promised to call the next day, and never did.

If there were clear indicators as to what the Marlins planned to do, it was: A) that they made these promises, yet refused to put the language into the contracts to guarantee they stuck to it; B) that they backloaded the contracts to the degree that they did.

Reyes’s contract is as follows: 2012: $10 million; 2013: $10 million; 2014: $16 million; 2015-2017: $22 million; 2018: $22 million option with $4 million buyout.

Buehrle’s is similar: 2012: $6 million; 2013: $11 million; 2014: $18 million; 2015: $19 million.

Huge escalations of salaries, no no-trade clause, and the Marlins history place the onus squarely on the players for believing the “guarantee” for which there were no legal means to make sure it was adhered to. If there was this guarantee that they wouldn’t be traded, why couldn’t it be written into the contract? Here’s why: the Marlins had it in mind that they were going to do this at some point. It might not have been this quickly, but there was always that overwhelming likelihood. The Marlins policy of not giving out no-trade clauses is an excuse, not a reason. Players with multiple options and the ability to tell the interested clubs that the no-trade clause will be in the contract or else they’re not signing get the no-trade clause. Both Reyes and Buehrle knew or should have known precisely what they were signing up for. They got their guaranteed money, but invited the risk that the Marlins could turn around and trade them to a place like Toronto where they had no interest in going. It was a gamble against the house and they lost. The promise isn’t the relevant factor. That the players were stupid enough to believe it is.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part II—The Jeffrey Loria Version

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Anyone surprised by the Marlins is either blind or a fool. The facilitator of the circumstances that led to the trade between the Marlins and the Blue Jays is the the same owner, Jeffrey Loria, who:

▪   Is under investigation by the SEC for the questionable way in which Marlins Park was financed

▪   Is now on his eighth manager (counting Jack McKeon twice)

▪   Dragged Muhammad Ali out as the “surprise” star to throw out the first ball on opening night at the new park

▪   Was busted by MLB for pocketing revenue sharing money that was supposed to go into the team

Since he became involved with baseball first as the owner of the Montreal Expos and then the Marlins, Loria has been flipping the middle finger at convention and propriety with his treatment of underlings, fans, and anyone else who dared not to give him what he wanted. In a way, it’s refreshing that Loria takes baseball’s absurdity to its logical conclusion by repeatedly doing these types of things with impunity.

Technically, it’s his team and he can do whatever he wants. But the sneering, smirking, smarmy brazenness with which he continually does the same thing over and over again is a slap in the face to any fan that chooses to keep supporting the franchise.

And that’s the point.

The Marlins have fans to be sure, but they don’t have enough fans to make it worthwhile to have a team in Miami; they certainly didn’t have enough fans to justify building that ballpark. Was one year a reasonable duration to try and win before gutting the thing? No. But equating the Marlins 69-93 season with this latest razing is ludicrous. It wasn’t 2012 that spurred the series of deals that sent away Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and led to the firing of manager Ozzie Guillen. Had the Marlins made the playoffs, there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t have done the same thing and found another reason—presumably the disappointing attendance—to wreck it like Gordon Gekko raiding a company and selling off all its assets.

That the Marlins baseball people led by Larry Beinfest have consistently mined other organizations for the right names under the pretense of “burn the village in order to save it” is meaningless as long as there’s a perception of profiteering surrounding the club. The baseball people know talent and know what they’re doing, but they’re perpetually functioning in an atmosphere that puts forth the image of satire where the more absurd the story is, the likelier it is to be true.

In retrospect, baseball should’ve cut their losses with the Marlins before that park was built or allowed them to move to a venue that would support the team. Instead, there’s this.

In Loria’s lukewarm defense, is it his fault that those enabling him are so stupid that they run endlessly on that treadmill like a hamster? Forgetting the methods that got the new stadium built, privately or publicly financed, the fans in Miami were not going to go. It wasn’t going to happen whether the Marlins bought high-profile players or didn’t. The audience matters. Because there are a cavalcade of stars in a film, if that film is shown to Eskimos, they’re not going to get it nor are they going to pay to see it. If a brilliant album is written and it’s sold in a location where the style of music is foreign or unwanted, it’s not going to be purchased.

Mariano Rivera, for all the mileage he’s gotten from his nickname “The Sandman” and how the Metallica song Enter Sandman is attached to his name, has said he’s not exactly a fan of Metallica and that he prefers Christian music. It’s not, “I don’t like that crap.” It’s Rivera being honest without vitriol. The fans in Miami have been honest regarding their interest in baseball: it doesn’t exist.

So they build this new park, buying into Loria’s and team president David Samson’s nonsense as to how the football stadium the Marlins used to play in was the problem; that it was the constant threat of rain that prevented the fans from coming out; that the lack of revenue from the park, concessions and other streams prevented ownership from investing in players. In part, it might have been true, but the end result with the stars, expectations and hype was the same thing as it’s been in the past only worse because not only were they bad, but they were expensive and uninteresting as anything other than an exercise in rubbernecking.

Good or bad, the fans don’t go see the Marlins. People want what they want. They don’t want what they don’t want. And what the fans in Miami don’t want is baseball.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part I: For The Blue Jays

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YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

After my posting yesterday entitled Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink wondering what the once-celebrated and now questioned Blue Jays’ GM was doing, he turned around and made a blockbuster trade to, on paper, place the Blue Jays squarely in the center of playoff contention for 2013. There must be a connection.

All they need now is a manager.

Here’s the trade breakdown:

Marlins trade RHP Josh Johnson; LHP Mark Buehrle; SS Jose Reyes; OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio; C John Buck and $4 million to the Blue Jays for SS Yunel Escobar; INF Adeiny Hechavarria; RHP Henderson Alvarez; C Jeff Mathis; and minor leaguers LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.

The Blue Jays had a payroll of around $84 million n 2012 and for 2013, with these contracts they just absorbed, that rises by around $30 million based on the additions and subtractions. Over the life of the contracts with Reyes’s and Buehrle’s deals backloaded, they’ve just taken on a lot of money. That’s before calculating the addition of Maicer Izturis and raises/contract escalations for existing players.

The Blue Jays are now a $100 million+ team and their roster implies that they have to contend. They gave up a lot, but are now relevant in the AL East as something other than a building, growing, and hoping entity.

The American League East is in flux. No longer are teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles sentenced to preseason relegation as a moderately annoying inconvenience that might put up a fight early in the season with the pretense of trying to contend only to be slapped down in July and raided for players by true contenders. It’s turned upside down. The Red Sox are a mess; the Yankees are trying to learn to function with payroll constraints and ancient, declining, expensive stars; the Rays are pinching pennies; and the Orioles and Blue Jays have legitimacy.

The afterglow still holds questions. Johnson is one of baseball’s best pitchers when he’s healthy, but has had shoulder issues. Reyes is surely going to be unhappy at having been moved from Miami to Toronto and having to play half his games on turf. Buehrle can pitch on Mars and provide 200 innings. Buck is a feast or famine part-timer. And given the redundancy of Bonifacio and Izturis and that they have nowhere to play him, Bonifacio might be making a brief stop in Toronto and be on the move again relatively soon.

On paper, the Blue Jays have jumped ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox; the 2012 Orioles were a creature of circumstance that will need to get better to maintain. The Blue Jays’ rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and J.A. Happ is already one of baseball’s best. The lineup is invigorated by a healthy Reyes to join Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Their questions are the bullpen and who’s going to manage the team. (Willie Randolph would be a good, under-the-radar consideration. He wouldn’t put up with the fundamental mistakes evident under John Farrell and Randolph deserves another chance.)

24 hours ago, I posed the question of where the Blue Jays are headed. They answered it with a flourish. They’re trying to win. With this collection of talent, there’s no excuse for them not to do that in 2013. In fact, they don’t have much of a choice.

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What’s Wrong With The Marlins?

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In a sane world, rather than find someone to blame and sacrifice for a poor performance, an organization steeped in common sense and with confidence in their decisionmakers and strategy would look at what’s wrong and try to fix it.

That’s in a sane world.

The world I’m talking about is that of the Miami Marlins and it’s anything but sane.

After today’s loss to the Blue Jays, the Marlins are now 33-38 and, pending the Phillies’ game being played as of this writing, are in last place in the National League East.

It’s a plummet from the heights that owner Jeffrey Loria envisioned in the first year of the new Marlins Park and after the money he spent to import expensive names Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Not only has the team floundered, flipped and flopped on the field, the attendance is 10th out of 16 teams and the empty seats have become more and more noticeable. Judging from their history the fans in Miami and surrounding areas have had other things to do on a warm summer night than to go see the Marlins. That’s been the case whether the team was good or not. With the team playing this brand of uninspiring and disinterested baseball, there’s no reason to go to the park at all.

In some circles, the Marlins were a trendy World Series pick.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t holes and questions.

The starting rotation had Josh Johnson returning from injury and Zambrano, who had worn out his welcome with the Cubs to the point where they paid the majority of his $18 million salary for the Marlins to take him. The bullpen added Bell and, in spite of his declining strikeout numbers and reputation of annoying his bosses, he should’ve been expected to convert the majority of his chances in the negligible save stat. As set-up men they’re using the homer-prone Edward Mujica and a pitcher with a great arm, Steve Cishek, who gives up rockets all over the place whenever I see him pitch. Many times those rockets are hit right at someone making his numbers better than what they should be.

The lineup has been a disappointment and is 12th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their everyday players, John Buck (.165) and Gaby Sanchez (.195) are trapped on the interstate. Reyes has a slash line of .270/.347/.381 with 16 stolen bases. It’s not bad, but not what he was for the Mets in 2011 when he won the batting title and was a phenomenon for much of the season. Hanley Ramirez is hitting better now after a rancid start. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list. Logan Morrison has 7 homers and a .721 OPS.

In the past, the question for Loria has been, “Who can I fire?”

It worked in 2003 when Jeff Torborg was replaced by Jack McKeon. It didn’t work last season when Edwin Rodriguez was replaced by McKeon. Guillen has a 4-year contract at big money and isn’t going anywhere.

This group was Scotch-taped together with big names from the open market without consideration as to gelling and functioning as a unit.

And they’re not functioning as a unit. They don’t put forth the on-field impression that they like each other very much. The Marlins play as if they don’t care; as if they’ve accepted that this is the team, this is their status, and as long as the paychecks are signed and cashable, whatever.

We’re days away from a Loria explosion dutifully filtered through his hatchet man/son-in-law David Samson. It’s generally been Samson who’s been the public face for Loria’s displeasure. That’s coming soon.

One would expect threats and demands will be leaked into the media to express ownserhip’s displeasure. But when does something get done?

A threat is worthless unless it’s carried out in some form and the Marlins under Loria have never been shy to follow through on their threats.

Will they try to trade LoMo? Shake up the bullpen? Or fire someone?

Who is there to fire?

Team President Larry Beinfest has been with the Marlins for a long time and for the most part has done a good job. It wasn’t long ago that he was widely considered one of the best executives in baseball for functioning in that world with Loria and Samson; without money to spend; with the other issues surrounding the club. He still placed a competitive team on the field. This team is a mess. It’s possible that Beinfest wasn’t onboard with the lavish spending spree the club undertook. That’s a dual-edged sword because if that’s the case, he’s expendable.

I doubt that Beinfest will be tossed overboard.

GM Michael Hill is another story. It’s known that Beinfest has been the man running the show and if the Marlins want to do something, firing or demoting Hill would be pretentious and useless, but that’s never mattered to Loria or Samson.

At 33-38 they’re going to do something. It all depends on who winds up in Loria’s crosshairs.

By now, it could be anyone.

The Marlins wanted to make a splash last winter and they did. But that splash is turning into a tsunami and it’s engulfing the club and everything in its path.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (National League)

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In recent days, I’ve looked at teams that were either underachieving or overachieving based on expectations. Let’s check the National League underachievers (or achievers as the case may be).

  • Miami Marlins

What they’re doing.

The Marlins are 23-19 and in 3rd place in the NL East, 2 1/2 games behind the Braves.

How they’re doing it.

Their starting pitching has helped them overcome Heath Bell’s rancid first two months, a shaky overall bullpen and struggling lineup.

Bell’s been better in his last several outings, but no one, nowhere in Miami is going to feel comfortable with him closing an important late season game against any contender.

The lineup, which was supposed to be a strength, is 13th in the NL in runs scored. Jose Reyes hasn’t been the sparkplug they thought they were getting and his defense is drastically declining. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list; John Buck and Gaby Sanchez are both hitting under .200 with Sanchez just having been sent to the minors; Logan Morrison has 2 homers; most glaringly and concerning (not counting last night’s game), Hanley Ramirez has played in a combined 133 games in 2011-2012 and hit 17 homers with a slash line of .259/.323/.412.

Then there’s the Ozzie Guillen-Fidel Castro controversy that, luckily for the Marlins, died down.

In addition to all of that, there’s the new ballpark and newly remodeled club and a still-underwhelming attendance that’s 8th in the National League.

Believe it or don’t?

I’d be very worried about Ramirez. With their starting pitching and Josh Johnson finding his form, they’ll have enough to loiter around contention, but their hitting and bullpen are so problematic that being barely over .500 is pretty much it for the Marlins.

Believe it.

  • Philadelphia Phillies

What they’re doing.

The Phillies are 21-22, in last place in the NL East and 5 games behind the Braves.

How they’re doing it.

They’re without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard; Jimmy Rollins is hitting around .230; they’re carrying hitters like Freddy Galvis who’s not ready for the big leagues; and playing role players Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry Jr. regularly.

Roy Halladay hasn’t been his normal, machine-like self. Cliff Lee was on the disabled list and Vance Worley is on the disabled list. Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton have picked up the slack and helped the Phillies stay competitive through their injuries and offensive malaise.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it and don’t listen to Jim Bowden/schlocky websites/trolling columnists when they suggest that the Phillies are going to be sellers at the trading deadline. They’re not selling anything unless they’re 20 games under .500, and that’s not going to happen.

The Phillies will be back at or near the top of the NL East by the time the season is over.

  • Milwaukee Brewers

What they’re doing.

The Brewers are 17-25 and 6 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

How they’re doing it.

Losing Prince Fielder was bad enough, but his designated kindasorta replacement in the lineup, Aramis Ramirez, is hitting .218 with 3 homers; his actual replacement at first base, Mat Gamel, blew out his knee; and for good (or bad) measure, shortstop Alex Gonzalez blew his knee out as well.

The starting pitching has been good and the bullpen hasn’t.

Ryan Braun has picked up where he left off from his MVP season in 2011 and—presumably—he’s not going to be stupid enough to do anything that might cause a failed PED test.

Believe it or don’t?

This team is flawed and short-handed offensively. They have the pitching to get back within striking distance of a playoff spot, but unless they hit, they’re a .500 team at best.

Believe it.

  • San Francisco Giants

What they’re doing.

The Giants are 22-20, 7 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

They’ve lost closer Brian Wilson for the season, but their bullpen is still deep enough even without their horse. Starting pitching is carrying them and that’s with Tim Lincecum carting around an ERA over six.

Their hitting has been better than the popgun it was in the past, but pitching is what carries the Giants.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it. The Giants are better than a .500 team and once Lincecum gets straightened out and Pablo Sandoval is back healthy, they’ll be in the thick of the playoff race.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks

What they’re doing.

The Diamondbacks are 19-24 and 10 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

A lot went right for the Diamondbacks in 2011, especially in the bullpen. The lineup has black spots. Chris Young is just off the disabled list and they’re waiting for Stephen Drew.

Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts have a combined 4 homers. You can’t win with Willie Bloomquist playing every day and your first and third basemen not hitting the ball out of the park.

Trevor Cahill is 2-4 and that’s with a .262 BAbip. Imagine if he wasn’t as lucky as he’s been. Ian Kennedy has an ERA of nearly 4.5 and is leading the National League in hits allowed.

J.J. Putz has been a calamity as the closer.

Believe it or don’t?

Believe it. Their luck from 2011 has abandoned them and they’re plainly and simply not that good.

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National League Fantasy Sleepers

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Let’s look at some fantasy sleepers in the National League.

Mike Minor, LHP—Atlanta Braves

He got a lot of grief for what was perceived to be a “play me or trade me” demand that he start the season in the big leagues in the Braves’ starting rotation.

It wasn’t that kind of demand at all, but that’s how it was taken.

Putting that aside, with Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery Minor is going to have to start the season in the big leagues. He’ll want to get off to a good start to stake his claim in the rotation and validate his assertion that he belongs.

He racks up the strikeouts, hits hits/innings pitched ratio is great and he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs or walks.

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B—Philadelphia Phillies

Mayberry has never gotten the chance to play regularly from the start of the season onward, but will in 2012.

With Ryan Howard’s return date increasingly uncertain after the procedure to clean up the infection in his surgical wound, there’s even more reason to pick up Mayberry. The Phillies’ situation in left field is in flux and he’ll also play some first base.

He has 25-30 homer potential.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at his basic stats, it appears as if he’s on the decline due to age and injury.

It’s nonsense.

Utley has hit in notoriously bad luck in the past two seasons. His BAbip was .288 in 2010, .269 in 2011. He stole 14 bases without getting caught after returning from his knee injury. His power numbers were right in line with what he normally produces.

Utley’s going to have a big comeback year.

Chris Coghlan, INF/OF—Miami Marlins

He may have worn out his welcome with the newly star-studded Marlins, as injuries and bickering with the front office have diminished the former NL Rookie of the Year to a forgotten man.

The Marlins don’t have a prototypical centerfielder on the roster (they’re intent on going with Emilio Bonifacio), Coghlan can play the position defensively and his bat can rebound. He’ll get one last shot with the Marlins; otherwise he’s trade bait and is worth the risk in the hopes of a return to what he once was.

Frank Francisco, RHP—New York Mets

He’s not a great closer, but he strikes out over a batter an inning. If you need someone to get you some saves and don’t want to pay for them, he’s going to be cheap.

These are the Mets and fantasy mirrors reality.

Or reality mirrors fantasy.

Or both reflect a nightmare. Or circumstances.

Or all of the above.

Jonathan Lucroy, C—Milwaukee Brewers

Lucroy has a career minor league OPS of .838 and an OBP of .379. He’s hit 20 homers in a season in the minors and hit 12 in the big leagues last season.

He’ll be cheap and there’s major room for improvement.

Alex Presley, OF—Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ outfield situation flanking Andrew McCutchen isn’t set. Presley can run and had an .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances in the big leagues last season.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to trade Carlos Marmol at some point and someone—either Samardzija or Kerry Wood—will have to take over as closer. It makes no sense to use Wood at this stage of his career.

Samardzija overcame his control issues for the most part and struck out 87 in 88 innings last season.

Bud Norris, RHP—Houston Astros

Norris isn’t going to win many games for the Astros, but he strikes out close to a batter per inning and has had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios at every level.

David Hernandez, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t trust J.J. Putz to stay healthy and Hernandez saved 11 games in Putz’s absence last season.

Hernandez struck out 77 in 69 innings and allowed 49 hits.

Cory Luebke, LHP—San Diego Padres

Luebke struck out 154 in 139 innings last season and allowed 105 hits.

He began 2011 in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in the second half. He’ll be a full-time starter in 2012.

Jerry Sands, OF—Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers circumstances in left and right field aren’t settled. Juan Rivera is slated to start in left and Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of the season and is a good bet to be traded.

Sands has posted huge power numbers in the minors—stats—and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases.

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