Yesterday, I finally got around to watching last Friday's Clubhouse Confidential, which featured our very own Grant Brisbee offering pithy commentary about the Miami Marlins and whatnot. Also on the show: Larry Beinfest, the Marlins' Big Kahuna in the front office. I gotta give Beinfest some credit for coming on the show, since he must have known that host Brian Kenny wasn't exactly going to endorse the Marlins' ongoing fire sale. A year ago, the Marlins opened the season with the seventh-highest payroll in the majors; this year, it's going to be the second-lowest in the majors, and that's only because nobody will take Ricky Nolasco's contract.
From Brian's intro:
Even if you think the best way to rebuild is to tear it down first ... this looks like it's just about the money.
Of course, a tear-down can still work. But what stands out here, to us, what's really lacking is a major-league-ready, blue-chip top prospect from any of these deals. We won't bore you with all the details (we've looked at 'em, we'd have to show you a ton of prospects). But none of the players gotten by the Marlins projects to be a star in the major leagues.
Real quick, here are the prospects the Marlins got in those deals, going back to last summer ...
Okay, back to (some of) those guys in a moment. With Beinfest on the phone, Brian Kenny asked, "What's the plan, what's the timetable?" Beinfest:
The plan is that we have 73 players here in camp ... a lot of new faces, Brian, including some really good young prospects that have been with us. We think we really have good young talent. Everybody kind of toots their own horn, but when you look at the depth of our minor-league system, it's significant over what it was a year ago. And we have players that are close now. And I think impact-type players like Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Justin Nicolino.
I mean, we have players now that maybe we didn't have in the past that are close to helping this team. So you put those guys with Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison and Rob Brantly and you see a nice young core of hopefully what will be a championship team.
So that's the plan: to go with what we have now, which is young, and then integrate some of these young players here in the next 18 to 24 months, and then be ready to take off.
Beinfest isn't an idiot.
Clubhouse Confidential is right, though: None of the prospects the Marlins acquired in those fire-sale trades projects as a major-league star. In fact, Beinfest mentioned just one of them in his list of "impact-type players": lefty Justin Nicolino, ranked by John Sickels (in his book) as the 24th-best pitching prospect in baseball. So why didn't Kenny count Nicolino as a projected major-league star? Because 24th-best pitching prospects don't usually pan out. The same might be said of righty Jacob Turner, acquired from the Tigers last summer and slated for the big-league rotation this spring. You love having these guys in your system, but you can't count on them to become big-time contributors.
Those other three "impact-type players" Beinfest mentioned are all homegrown, and two of them really are impact-type players. Sickels ranks Fernandez as the game's fourth-best pitching prospect, and center fielder Yelich as the eighth-best hitting prospect. Fernandez hasn't even pitched in Class AA yet, but is thought to be on the fast track. Yelich, too, still hasn't played in Double-A. But he's also expected to take his place with the Marlins within (as Beinfest suggested) the next 18 to 24 months. Maybe sooner.
But the general point stands. The Marlins do have a good, deep farm system. In addition to Nicolino, Jake Marisnick and Adeiny Hechavarria are both likely to reach the majors, and perhaps win every-day jobs. But you don't win without stars, and for the foreseeable future the Marlins will have exactly one star: Giancarlo Stanton.
Maybe in a couple of years, it's three stars. But probably not, given the nature of young players, even wonderfully talented young players. If the Marlins had kept Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to complement Stanton and a couple of hot prospects, you could imagine the club competing for something interesting in 2014 or (more likely) '15. As things stand now, though, there literally isn't a year you can point to and say, "The Miami Marlins will be competitive then."
That said, the Marlins will be competitive again. But while the organization has a reputation for rebuilding, I just noticed something that surprises me: Since winning the World Series in 2003, the Marlins best run differentials have been +18 (2004), +6 (2009), +3 (2008) and +2 (2010). Or to put that more prosaically, it's been nearly a full decade since Larry Beinfest & Co. built a truly competitive team. There's really no reason to think it's going to happen in the next 18 to 24 months.