Key questions for Marlins this offseason
When preseason World Series expectations end with the National League East’s worst record, no change really can be considered a shock.
Such is the case with the Miami Marlins’ announcement that they fired manager Ozzie Guillen after just one season.
The Marlins hired Guillen last winter, when they also signed several big-name free agents, to help christen a new stadium and rebirth of the Marlins franchise.
The Marlins hoped shortstop Jose Reyes, pitcher Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell would join stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Giancarlo Stanton to form a potent team that would contend for the NL East crown and make a serious run at the Fall Classic.
Instead, it was a classic fall.
Guillen created early-season controversy after making a comment that seemingly supported Fidel Castro. Not a smart move in Miami, where many Cubans reside.
He also angered owner Jeffrey Loria with some late-season remarks, and has paid with his job.
Disappointing seasons by some players and several key injuries had the team looking toward 2013 by late July.
Miami’s leadership will conduct organizational meetings with Loria beginning this week. There will be evaluations and suggestions, though the reshaping of the team already has started.
The Marlins dealt Bell - who lost his closer role at one point and publicly blasted Guillen - over the weekend to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Assuming they’re not traded, outfielder Logan Morrison and 2B/CF Emilio Bonifacio will return from knee injuries.
Other moves will follow.
And Marlins fans should know this: In today’s environment, with many transactions and five postseason spots in each league, a team can go from cellar to contention relatively quickly.
As we turn on the hot stove — or perhaps more appropriate in Miami, an air conditioner with a refreshing breeze — here are the top five questions concerning the Marlins.
Guillen was a proven winner, having led the White Sox to a World Series title. His personality should not have been a surprise to the Marlins since he coached for them previously.
So Ozzie is history. Who’s next?
One name mentioned so far belongs to former Marlins star Mike Lowell. He doesn’t have managerial experience, but a good bench coach can compensate for that. White Sox manager Robin Ventura and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny performed well this year with little to no managerial experience.
With Guillen taking the fall, the Marlins hands-on management team likely will tab someone who will play by their rules.
That probably means someone eager for the job, such as a coach seeking his first opportunity (e.g. Rays bench coach Dave Martinez) or an experienced manager hoping for another shot (e.g. Manny Acta, Willie Randolph).
What about people like Tony La Russa, Joe Torre or Lou Piniella? They’ll never get managing entirely out of their systems, but the money offered wouldn’t be enough to come back to answer to the Marlins leadership. Jack McKeon is a more likely possibility.
The ideal Marlins manager would have little ego, do what he’s told and work cheaply. A Hispanic manager who can relate to the players and to the multicultural South Florida fans would be a bonus.
Whoever gets the job, he’ll become the eighth manager since Loria assumed ownership of the Marlins in 2002.
The Marlins could use a third baseman, and Alex Rodriguez is from Miami. A perfect fit, right?
Sure, the Loria Factor remains. But unless the Yankees are willing to eat most of A-Rod’s contract (five more years totaling $114 million), rumors of a trade to Miami are nothing more than tabloid fodder.
Besides, A-Rod became K-Rod during the postseason. He went 3-for-25 during the postseason with two walks … and 12 strikeouts.
Amid his being dropped in the Yankees' lineup and then benched, rumors about A-Rod being dealt overshadowed the ALCS.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman even addressed the talk.
“I have had no discussions with the Florida Marlins, certainly would never have any trade discussions under the circumstances,’’ Cashman said. “There are no discussions whatsoever. They are false.”
Marlins president David Samson also shot down the rumors. "There have been no conversations between the Yankees and the Marlins,’ he said.
That’s a good thing for Miami.
Rodriguez, 37, hit .272 with 18 HRs and 57 RBI in 122 games. He’s not the same player he was during his prime — which included steroid use — and staying healthy has been an issue.
Of course, trying to pick up women from the dugout might go over better in Miami than in New York.
After last year’s shopping spree proved unsuccessful, the Marlins likely will be more prudent with their money this winter.
One interesting possibility is Melky Cabrera. The Giants outfielder was leading the NL in hitting when Major League Baseball suspended him after he tested positive for testosterone.
A free agent, Cabrera’s bargaining power doesn’t figure to be high. He could be affordable as a starting or fourth outfielder.
With Carlos Zambrano a free agent and youngsters Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner unproven, Miami might look to add a starting pitcher.
It seems more likely they’ll take a cheap flier on a free agent such as Chien-Ming Wang, Carl Pavano or Derek Lowe than go after Kyle Loshe or Ryan Dempster, who will be seeking more money than the Marlins want to spend.
As most teams, Miami could use bullpen help. There are journeyman relievers on the free-agent market (e.g. Clay Hensley, Octavio Dotel), but young arms probably will get a chance to audition in the spring, too.
Ruggiano was the team’s most pleasant surprise in 2012. He batted .313 with 13 home runs and 36 RBI in 288 at-bats.
But at 30, he’s not exactly a youngster.
Solano, who’ll turn 25 in December, hit .295 with 28 RBI in 285 at-bats. He was pretty good defensively at second, too, and he also could play third.
However, with disappointments such as Chris Coghlan and Gaby Sanchez fresh in their heads, Marlins officials have to be concerned about putting too much stock in a small sample size.
Three years into his career, Stanton rates among the game’s top sluggers. His booming blasts already have become a regular highlight feature.
Stanton will become arbitration eligible after next season, and he can become a free agent following 2016.
The Marlins might be reluctant to offer a lucrative, long-term deal after nearly getting burned with Hanley Ramirez’s exorbitant contract until the Dodgers were willing to take it.
But Miami also knows Stanton is no Hanley, in a good way, when it comes to personality and the willingness to work hard.
The sooner they secure Stanton long term, the better.