Decisions, Decisions…

All those off-season questions should be answered within the next few weeks of Spring Training as roster spots, starting positions, and rotation vacancies are given to those who stand out. There are a significant amount of team members returning but nothing is set in stone, especially with the rotation and bullpen.

Besides the 1-2 punch at the top (J.J. & Nolasco) there are several talented pitchers vying for starter job. I think Anibal Sanchez is finally healthy and can put up a solid season like his stellar rookie campaign [10-3 with a no-hitter]. Chris Volstad has got to be over his sophomore slump by now because giving up as many home runs as games started [29] is unacceptable. If that leaves one more spot open it should go to a lefty, either Sean West or Andrew Miller. Both show sparks of being able to handle 7+ innings, but inconsistencies and inexperience need to be improved now that everyone knows their name and what they throw. The dark horse candidate would be The Incredible Hurk AKA Rick VandenHurk. He made big strides at the end of last season and you can’t go wrong with (future Hall Of Famer) Bert Blyleven as your personal pitching coach. That leaves Hayden Penn (who I don’t trust in the rotation) to become more of a middle relief like Burke Badenhop and Ryan Tucker, if not released altogether.

Another decision to make is who will fill that lefty off the bench roster spot. As early as it is in the spring the top 2 strongest candidates are Rule 5 draft pick Jorge Jimenez and veteran Mike Lamb. It seems manager Fredi Gonzalez has taken a likening to Jorge Jimenez and if so that could put the other Jorge (Cantu) back at 1B with his diminishing arm. On the other hand, in only 2 games Mike Lamb has 3 hits including a pinch-hit RBI single.

To throw another hat into the circle, Hank Blalock has still has yet to make a decision on which team he would rather play for this season. Blalock is choosing between the Rays and Marlins, so if he ends up signing with Florida he could very well snatch up that last roster spot over Lamb and Jimenez.

In a few days there will be a clearer view of things like Hank’s choice of whether to play in Tampa Bay or Miami, the “Race at First Base” between Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez, and the plethora of pitchers fighting for bullpen spots will dwindle because of injuries or lack of production. Check back after the weekend…


Bold Predictions

So Before the full squad workouts start for Spring Training, I’m gonna take a stab at Opening Day’s lineup and rotation (hoping against injury)…

1.) Chris Coghlan – LF
2.) Cameron Maybin – CF
3.) Hanley Ramirez – SS
4.) Jorge Cantu – 3B
5.) Dan Uggla – 2B
6.) John Baker – C
7.) Cody Ross- RF
8.) Logan Morrison -1B
9.) Josh Johnson – P

1.) Josh Johnson – RHP
2.) Ricky Nolasco – RHP
3.) Chris Volstad – RHP
4.) Sean West – LHP
5.) Anibal Sanchez – RHP

Closer.) Leo Nunez – RHP

Get Frugal With MacDougal

The time is finally here for all baseball maniacs to get excited, as pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training all this week. And for a team that hasn’t made many off-season acquisitions, it’s not surprising the Marlins picked up another piece for their bullpen before everyone starts working out. Of course the big money went to 9 arbitration eligible players (Cody Ross just won his case for $4.45 million), so the Marlins are still being thrifty about who they want to bring into camp.

Former All-Star Mike MacDougal has been given a minor league contract with a Spring Training invite by the Marlins. The deal is worth $700K if he makes the big league roster, including $75K in performance bonuses. Without any major league deals outside the organization, MacDougal was offered the 2nd highest amount of money this off-season on a minor league contract (Seth McClung gets $800K for making the team).

Pitching most of his career in the AL with the Royals and White Sox, MacDougal was very hit or miss. In 2003 he reached All-Star status grabbing 27 saves for Kansas City and 21 more in 2005, but was eventually traded to Chicago mid-2006. By 2009 he had a 12.46 ERA after 5 games and was released by the White Sox, eventually getting scooped up by the Nationals in mid June. The switch to the NL was just what the reliever needed, as most pitchers perform better within the land of no DH. MacDougal was thrown into the closer role in Washington after they ran out of options (trading Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh and Joe Beimel to Colorado). He then converted 20 of 21 save opportunities with a 3.60 ERA on a last place team.

Having already hired Randy St. Claire as the new pitching coach (Washington pitching coach ’03-’09), the decision to bring MacDougal aboard makes total sense. He has experience closing games if everything doesn’t work out with Leo Nunez in that role. Hopefully changes don’t need to be made and these newly acquired relievers like MacDougal, Derrick Turnbow, and Seth McClung will be signed and help bolster our bullpen.

Also, the Marlins are inviting some position players to camp hoping to fill that lefty off the bench role. It’s not anyone like my suggestion of Hank Blalock (although keep your eyes on him), but names you might not of heard from in a while.

Mike Lamb was invited to camp, who you might remember from his Houston Astros days when he averaged 12 HR/60 RBI from ’04-’07. He last played in the majors in 2008 splitting time between Minnesota and Milwaukee for their playoff push. Lamb signed with the Mets last season but never got the call back up to the big leagues. For all the injuries the Mets had through out the year they should’ve taken a chance on him since he plays 1B/3B/OF.

Jason Lane is another former Astros outfielder trying to re-emerge from the trenches. He last played in 2007 for Houston, then was given to San Diego as part of a conditional deal playing in only 3 games the rest of the year. Since then he signed with the Yankees and Boston in 2008, as well as Toronto in 2009 with no luck of a roster spot.

The Marlins aren’t just giving away bench positions though, so it should be a tight race between the veterans. If none of them work out, I can see a trade during Spring Training to bring in some talent. 

The Grab Bag Effect

Remember going to card shows and each person’s station had larger packs of cards wrapped in paper bags? They usually contained a bunch of cards with mediocre players or the vendor already had 4 copies of it. You would also get a chance for insert cards once in a while, but most likely got to pick out 5 more grab bags than receiving any card with significant value. The Marlins are selecting those grab bag-esque players, hoping for a raise in value over the next year. Most of the players aren’t the most recognizable names, yet some carry a reputation that needs rebuilding or even a foundation.

The Marlins lineup is only looking for a few pieces to fill up their returning cast. These low-risk/high reward players are a perfect fit to sprinkle in some bullpen help as well as bats off the bench. Players like Derrick Turnbow, Seth McClung, Jose Veras already have big league experience with speculation of improving the team along with themselves in a new environment. Kiko Calero was last year’s example of bullpen help resurrecting a career and adding value with his 1.95 ERA in 67 games (1 HR allowed). As expected, he jumped back onto the market for more dollars and had to be replaced.

Another puzzle piece that needs to be added before Opening Day will be a left-handed pinch hitter that can take over in the late innings. Wes Helms secures the right-handed bench role and still works 3B/1B very well. Ross Gload was last year’s lefty who could play 1B/OF and led the league in pinch hits with 36, although he signed with Philly this off-season after the Marlins declined his $2.6 million offer. Russell Branyan was a name popping up recently that sounded intriguing with his 31 HR in 2009, but ultimately was diminished without an offer being made.

So who would be a good option for a veteran lefty off the bench? A lot of names are disappearing by the day as were days away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Names like Adam Kennedy, Chad Tracy, Frank Catalanotto are gone; Jim Edmonds came back after a year so how about Geoff Jenkins or Cliff Floyd? The list is small on players who won’t cost much, but as it gets closer to Spring Training the prices will come down if they are desperate for a job somewhere.

Try this name on for size, Hank Blalock. He’s a 2 time All-Star that has yet to find a team willing to take a chance on a 1B/3B/DH averaging 27 HR/95 RBI a season and is only 28 years old. His batting avg dropped in 2009 to .234 but raised all other stats after 2 down years in Texas. The National League may be a good move for him, as he’s already used to the heat and needs to find a job. Who else could the Marlins pull out of the grab bag to fill this bench role?

Turn! Turn! Turnbow!

Announcing it’s about time wouldn’t be appropriate because patience is half of what being a Marlins fan is all about. Having said that, “It’s about time we made a move!” (Thanks Curb). Less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, the Marlins make the first meaningful move outside of the organization by bringing in some major league experience.

The Fish signed Derrick Turnbow to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He will earn $600K if he makes the team roster this April. People mostly remember Turnbow as the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers throwing 39 saves, 7-1 with 1.74 ERA in 2005. Earning his 2006 All-Star appearance he claimed 24 saves, but dropped to 4-9 and 6.87 ERA by season end losing his fireman role. 

Well if your looking for resurrection, South Florida is the perfect fit for a former reliever that hasn’t pitched since 2008. A slew of veteran bullpen pitchers seeking that second chance have ended up in Miami and thrived, giving their careers a bounce. Derrick Turnbow is the next in line to follow the molds set by Armando Benitez, Brendan Donnelly, Joe Borowski, Kiko Calero (still available), Joe Nelson and Todd Jones. Turnbow pretty much quit baseball last May after 8 games at Texas AAA (Oklahoma City), putting the ball down altogether to figure things out. Recently though he worked out for a dozen teams and showed he still can throw 95mph with a “slick” slider.

Should be a win-win situation for both parties concerned. Turnbow might be slotted as an 8th inning man at the moment, but if Leo Nunez can’t handle the role of closer don’t be surprised if Derrick gets the call. He’s got experience and can lead the way for most of the bullpen probably showing them a thing or two along the way.

If that wasn’t enough, the Marlins also signed RHP Jose Veras and INF Danny Richar to minor league contracts with spring invites. Veras has played with the Yankees since 2006 until he was traded to Cleveland last season, posting a career 9-6 with 4.42 ERA in 128 innings. Richar spent time with the White Sox and Reds the past 3 years sparingly, but plays all over the infield.

Cantu, Cody, and Nunez oh my!

Nearing the deadline for arbitration figures, the news keeps rolling in that the Marlins are getting things done. Leo Nunez will earn $2 million in his first year of arbitration, being the logical choice to closing games in 2010. Nunez had 26 saves out of 33 opportunities last season after Matt Lindstrom got injured, and secured the closer position the rest of the way.

Also, Jorge Cantu signed his name on the dotted line for a $6 million contract minutes before the deadline this afternoon. Cantu is a very important piece to this lineup sitting in the clean-up spot, and his 42 doubles and 100 RBI prove it. Yes, his HRs were down from 29 (2008) to 16 (2009), but he had 8 HR in the first month of games last year. Battling through injuries and loopiness from his cholesterol medication to still play 149 games (batting .289) is hard to accomplish for any major league player.

Lastly, the only player to not reach an agreement with the team is Cody Ross. He will be going to a hearing sometime in February, as the Marlins team policy is to not negotiate after the deadline has passed. Cody earned $2.225 million last season and with his career he plans on cashing in like Dan Uggla did in 2008. Another 24 HR/ 90 RBI won’t be missing from the lineup, as I’m sure he’ll get signed. He’s a fan favorite that plays all outfield positions and only 4 total errors in the past 2 seasons.

Uggla, Sanchez, Pinto still Marlins for now

To avoid an arbitration hearing, the Marlins settled on a 1 year/$7.8 million contract with Dan Uggla on Monday evening. Dan gets a $2.45 million raise from last year, where he won his arbitration case. Anibal Sanchez settled in his first year of arbitration and will earn $1.25 million, with $100K in bonus incentives for starts. Renyel Pinto will get $1.075 million going into next year.

A very good sign for Marlins fans after Josh Johnson got his extension last week, BUT…the signing doesn’t take any less speculation off of Uggla getting traded sometime between now and the July 31 trade deadline. A couple suitors have shown interest like the Giants, Orioles, and Braves but have since disappeared or filled their roster needs. Pinto is also being shopped around the market, yet nothing inticing has come across.

Personally, the best offer I’ve heard was Jonathan Sanchez for Uggla, although I’m sure there was barely any truth to that like most rumors. If the value isn’t there, then they should hold onto him as long as possible, especially if the Marlins are in a pennant race this summer. Uggla’s a big influence in the clubhouse along with Uncle Wes, yet his lineup presence is much higher with average 31HR/ 90RBI a year. Other teammates like Cantu and Cody should follow suit within the next few hours or they will go to an arbitration hearing.