Before the 2003 season the Marlins traded some prospects to get Mark Redman from the Tigers and finish out their rotation. He went on to go 14-9 with a 3.59 ERA and help the Marlins collect their 2nd World Series Championship ring in his only year as a Marlin.
One of those prospects of that trade was pitcher Nate Robertson, who went on to win 12 games his rookie year in 2004 and has made a name for himself in Detroit ever since (good or bad). In 7 years as a Tiger he was 51-68 with a 4.87 ERA averaging 193 innings a year, but injuries and surgeries have set him back the last couple seasons. This time Robertson finds himself as the bigger name in a trade bringing the pitcher back to the team he was drafted by in 1999, the Marlins.
The left handed pitcher was traded by the Tigers with cash consideration (he makes $10 million this season) for pitching prospect Jay Voss and cash. He will take over what was thought to be Clay Hensley’s job, as the 5th starter, which now makes him the only lefty in the Marlins rotation. Larry Beinfest has confirmed that Clay Hensley will make the team but in a role to be determined, maybe middle relief/spot starter.
The final bullpen spot might have been decided by week’s end but trading for Nate Robertson could’ve ended the conversation right there. With the release of Seth McClung and Hayden Penn being claimed off waivers by the Pirates, there were 2 pitchers bidding for an Opening Day spot. Rick VandenHurk and Tim Wood probably were excited to be in the final 2, before winds of the Robertson trade came through the clubhouse and might have knocked them both out of contention. The need for a lefty in the rotation and the way Clay Hensley has played this spring couldn’t be ignored, so sliding Hensley into the bullpen spot leaves zero room for anyone else. Safe to say though the rotation is set for 2010.
On another front, the 1st Base job has been won unanimously by Mr. Gaby Sanchez and the tremendous spring stats he has produced. He’s sporting a batting average just under .400 with 2 HR, 5 RBI and 5 doubles. Everyone was pretty sure after the 2nd week into Spring Training games that Sanchez had an edge in experience and seemed a little more confident over at 1st. After winning out the job last year only to be sent down to AAA before Opening Day because of injury probably makes this time all the sweeter, Congrats to Gaby!
Less than a week away til the Marlins open up with Josh Johnson against the Mets, so Wednesday’s start should be a good preview even though they’re in Florida. Opening Day JJ will face off with Johan Santana in New York and I can’t wait!
UPDATE: Within hours of the acquisition of Nate Robertson, the Marlins optioned Rick VandenHurk and Tim Wood to AAA New Orleans to be in their rotation and bullpen, respectively. The Marlins seem to have their pitching staff set for April 5th, just one bench spot left to solidify the 25 man roster.
The Marlins seem to be closing in on who might make the final roster spots within the week. The rotation should be set by Sunday with a good idea whose staying and whose going. Speaking of the rotation, another key move was made to show the competition is winding down by sending Andrew Miller to AAA New Orleans. The lefty is retooling his delivery again and didn’t have the best outings this spring, so with an option left on his contract the Marlins are using it to promote someone that’s ready. Miller is 1-1 with 8 walks and 2 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings Grapefruit League games, which shows he has control issues.
Given their experience and tenure with the team I’m going to assume Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad get the 3rd & 4th spots in the rotation, respectively. That leaves one spot left with 3 different options including a reborn Padre (Clay Hensley), a Dutchman (Rick VandenHurk), and a former Oriole (Hayden Penn). My money is on Clay Hensley grabbing that 5th spot, having an excellent spring with his 0.00 ERA, what more can you ask for? VandenHurk might benefit from starting out in the bullpen as a long relief/spot starter, which has seemed to help Burke Badenhop (also sporting 0.00 ERA) find his niche. As for Hayden Penn, I can only hope the Marlins release him and not send him down.
The Marlins did make a release of some kind though, cutting ties with Mike MacDougal who was vying for the closer spot on a minor league deal. Leo Nunez will stay in the closer role for Florida and MacDougal has already signed back with the Nationals where he made 20 saves last season. The Marlins also sent down pitchers Chris Leroux and Hunter Jones (from the Hermida trade), as well as outfielder Scott Cousins and catcher Brett Hayes.
The biggest name to be sent down in recent days is Marlins’ top prospect Mike Stanton, who will start the season off in AA Jacksonville. Stanton has pleaded his case to make the team with 3 HR, 8 RBI, and 3 doubles during his eye-opening spring, yet they can’t rush the 20 year old. The Super Two rule is being closely watched now with top prospects getting to the show too soon, so the earliest you could see him is after June 1. If injuries presume in the outfield with Cody Ross and now Brett Carroll with a strained left oblique, you could see Bryan Peterson get some playing time in April before Stanton. Peterson has 1 HR, 5 RBI, with 11 hits so far this spring.
Anyone think the Marlins are gonna make some last minute moves within the final days like Ronny Paulino or Ross Gload of yester-year?
Roughly two weeks away from Opening Day and things are starting to take shape in the Marlins camp. The biggest news so far has been the “return to sender” policy of Rule 5 pick Jorge Jimenez back to the Red Sox. The Marlins save $25K of the $50K they spent on Jimenez for not including him on this year’s lineup, but got barely anything for Matt Lindstrom from the Astros besides some low level prospects. Be that as it may, the decision to release Jimenez makes the infield picture look more in focus, more importantly 3rd and 1st base.
Third base is now where Jorge Cantu will primarily play, while Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison continue to fight for the 1B job. Although, Gaby has looked pretty good so far holding a smooth .387 through Saturday (T-2nd on team with 12 hits) and connecting on his 1st spring home run to almost secure the position. Logan on the other hand has had a rough start out the gate and just recently got his average up to the Mendoza line (.200 avg). Although those few hits have been extra base hits (3 doubles & 1 triple producing 6 RBIs), his defense has been shaky trying to adjust to 1B at the major league level. There’s still some time left but I’m beginning to see it’s more likely Gaby Sanchez will be starting on April 5th.
Now let’s move to the pitchers…
As expected, a slew of the pitchers were sent back down to AAA New Orleans or re-assigned to minor league camp. Familiar roster names like Jose Ceda, Cristhian Martinez, and Taylor Tankersley trying to make it back onto the roster will have to work on pitch control as a member of the Zephyrs. Speaking of comebacks, Derrick Turnbow’s attempt is over barring he gets a whole new arm. His mechanics haven’t been the same since 2006 and the Marlins released him almost the second he came out of the game last Tuesday against the Nationals
The stronger candidates for bullpen and rotation spots are budding their heads out like the spring itself. Anibal Sanchez has gone out on the field every start and showed why he belongs in that 3rd spot in the rotation. That leaves 2 spots left for the remaining pitchers in the mix. Sean West was recently sent down to AAA after walking 7 in 3 innings of a B-game last week, halting his chances to return to the rotation where he finished 8-6 last year.
Chris Volstad might have pushed his name forward as the 4th spot with his last outing against the Nationals. His bread and butter sinker was really working and forced quite a few ground outs, which is what the Marlins wanna see out of the 6′ 8″ righty. That 5th spot is looking pretty nice for Clay Hensley if he can keep up the good work. He’s looked excellent forcing the grounders as well as getting out of situations, holding a 0.00 ERA through 10 1/3 innings. You can’t ask for more from a pitcher, but Hensley does have an opt out clause if he is not on the roster by April 1st.
If the Marlins decide on throwing Hensley in the bullpen with Burke Badenhop (also looks great) as a long reliever, that might make Rick VandenHurk or Andrew Miller the viable choice. Hayden Penn has shown his true colors and should be moved soon, taking him out of consideration in my book. Between Vandy and Miller the smarter decision would be promoting VandenHurk, while Miller still has an option left on his contract to start the year in AAA without losing him. Miller’s delivery is being retooled for the 3rd time and looks like he will still need time to feel comfortable with it.
And finally, the off-the-bench position players are fighting for 2 spots and Jorge Jimenez was in the running for both. The competition for left handed pinch hitter looks like it might have a winner with the resurgent Mike Lamb. The release of Jimenez on Sunday morning must’ve motivated Lamb because, he knocked a pinch hit 3-run double to all but solidify that late inning bench role. The other roster spot is an infield reserve that’s not Emilio Bonifacio (in case he’s already out there). Without Jimenez the Marlins seem to be leaning towards Brian Barden who was with the Cardinals AAA team last year. He plays all over the infield and has .292 avg with 6 RBIs this spring.
At 10-9 and 2 weeks to go it could be worse, but plenty of positives to take out of it. Ronny Paulino and Chris Coghlan are already on fire (14 hits a piece), just note worthy and hope they can keep it up. Until next time…
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  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…