What if the Marlins reloaded instead?

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

They started last season like a team of piscine destiny, but everything ended in heartbreak and betrayal. Would the Marlins have had a shot to contend in 2013 if they'd tried one last time?

The goal of this article is to take an objective look at the Marlins' decision to rebuild, without getting into the public-relations stuff. Now that we have the luxury of offseason hindsight, we can ask again if the Marlins picked the right time to rebuild.

Alright, one piece of public-relations stuff, if only because I don't know where else to put it. Just in case you missed it, from the Associated Press:

Four days before the Marlins sent him packing, Reyes said, he and Loria had dinner together, and "he was talking still about ‘get a nice house in Miami.’ "

That's almost like an apocryphal story -- like Rickey Henderson telling John Olerud that he used to play with a guy who wore a helmet in the field. It's too good. Jeffrey Loria was telling Jose Reyes to buy a house just days before the big trade. Is that obliviousness? Spite? Pure malevolence? Maybe Loria had his heart broken by a cartoonish caricature of a subhuman pig-man in high school, and he's unconsciously acting like a cartoonish caricature of a subhuman pig-man because he's still working through the pain.

Okay, back to the objective part. Of all the 90-loss teams, the Marlins were a better bet to go Indians than the Indians. That is, if there was any team in baseball that would have been forgiven for reloading instead of rebuilding, it would have been the Marlins. They were supposed to be contenders. As late as June, they were contenders. In first place, even. When June started, they had a better record than seven of the 10 teams that eventually qualified for the playoffs. They were barely outscoring their competition, though. Maybe they were never really that good.

But it's still weird that the Blue Jays can be considered contenders because they acquired players who weren't good enough to make the Marlins feel like contenders. There's more to the Blue Jays' offseason than one trade, but it's still the biggest reason for the Jays-related optimism. Or, to put it another way, would this team be considered a contender in the NL East?

Jose Reyes - SS
Melky Cabrera - LF
Hanley Ramirez - 3B
Giancarlo Stanton - RF
Logan Morrison - 1B
Omar Infante - 2B
John Buck - C
Emilio Bonifacio - CF

R.A. Dickey - P
Josh Johnson - P
Mark Buehrle - P
Ricky Nolasco - P
Brad Hand/ Free agent - P

It's hard to say. The bottom half of that lineup is pretty sketchy. But it isn't a team you could comfortably ignore. That's the point -- by aping the Blue Jays' strategy, the Marlins are probably a contender, or something close to it.

Okay, maybe the Mets wouldn't trade Dickey within the division, and maybe Cabrera wouldn't want to go to Miami. But play around with the possibilities now that you know how the offseason went.

Jose Reyes - SS
Omar Infante - 2B
Hanley Ramirez - 3B
Giancarlo Stanton - RF
Adam LaRoche - 1B
Logan Morrison - LF
A.J. Pierzynski- C
Emilio Bonifacio - CF

Josh Johnson - P
Anibal Sanchez - P
Mark Buehrle - P
Ricky Nolasco - P
Brad Hand/ Free agent - P

Or …

Jose Reyes - SS
Omar Infante - 2B
Hanley Ramirez - 3B
Giancarlo Stanton - LF
Torii Hunter - RF
Chris Young - CF
Logan Morrison - 1B
John Buck - C

Josh Johnson - P
Mark Buehrle - P
Dan Haren - P
Joe Saunders - P
Ricky Nolasco - P

Or, or, or. Mess with the permutations all you want. Trade players, sign players, do whatever it takes. Play GM and spend other people's money. But the Marlins were bad last year because of an under-performing lineup -- their pitching staff was right around the league average in ERA+ -- and there were ways to fix the lineup without going quite as goofy as they did last offseason. They could have found a relatively cheap replacement for Buck. If they weren't convinced that Morrison was going to produce enough, they could have looked for help in left or at first base.

Those mock lineups up there are pretty unimaginative -- newspaper-comments-section-worthy, even. The larger point still stands: With a little imagination, the core of the 2012 Marlins could have been gussied up enough to make the team a contender, or something close to it. The risk was a) they would have been throwing good money after bad, increasing their already-increased payroll, and b) if they flopped again, it would be nearly impossible to get rid of some of the contracts without eating more money. Those were real risks.

Except we're getting into that territory that we said we wouldn't touch, which is the public-relations mess. Here's what the Marlins' Opening Day ticket situation is (gray is sold out, light blue is limited availability, dark blue is readily available):

Screen_shot_2013-02-18_at_3

Section 13 is right behind home plate, by the way. And here's what the Blue Jays' ticket situation is for Opening Day:

Tickets to the Blue Jays home opener once again sold out in just a few minutes this year, frustrating many fans who hoped to snag tickets to Opening Day.

There was risk with the Marlins holding on to Mark Buehrle, et al. There was risk in spending even more to upgrade the lineup. But, goodness, the team is taking a heckuva risk right now. Other 90-loss teams, like the Blue Jays, Indians, Royals, and Red Sox, decided to spend again and compete in the short term. Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, it looks like the Marlins should have done the same thing.

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