Sanke in the Grass makes its return now at full strength. This week the Pit sits down with Thomas Bennett from the Miami Marlins SB Nation site, Fish Stripes, ahead of the 4 game series in Miami. We thank Thomas and Fish Stripes for their kind contributions!
AZSP: Fill us in on Jeffrey Loria’s quest to sell the team. The list of potential names rumored to be interested have ranged from Jeb Bush, Derek Jeter, the Kushner family, Alex Rodriguez, and even Dave Stewart who is beloved among Arizona fans (*chuckles*). How likely is it that Loria sells the team? How confident are Miami fans that Stewart could run a better organization than Loria? How much would you predict the team sells for?
Thomas: The latest in the Fish sweepstakes has seen two major developments: Jeb Bush, thought to be the front-runner, has pulled out of the race in the face of stronger than anticipated competition. Bush's contribution to the ownership group is thought to have been no more than $20 million; a large sum in general, no doubt, but amongst the movers and shakers of the baseball world an amount that can easily be reaped from another eager investor. Given that Derek Jeter is still very much interested, there should be no shortage of potential replacements.
The second development is that the asking price may be coming down from the $1.3 billion Loria is presently seeking. I have no doubt that Loria's desire to part with the team is sincere; he is acutely aware of his poor reputation in baseball and José Fernàndez's death last September affected him greatly. That being said, he is a prideful man and loves the scent of money, so if he can't break a billion in a sale of the team, he might just keep them. I suspect he'll get his billion plus and his 16 season reign will end just after the All-Star game in Miami.
What's that? Oh, you asked about Dave Stewart. He's had his name attached to the Romney/Glavine group. I'd love to see him take over as the new general manager as I think he has a strong nose for the game and got a bad rap in Arizona. I hear he's a particularly shrewd contract negotiator.
Decent pitcher during his career, pretty poor front office record as you are well aware. We would have to hope that Tagg and Tom would be wise enough to steer clear, were they to win the bid.
AZSP: What is the explanation for the Marlins early season struggles? They finished just shy of a .500 record last season, yet they are currently 10 games below .500. Giancarlo Stanton is putting up a fairly typical season. Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon, and Justin Bour have all provided sufficient contributions as well. The NL East is not a particularly strong division this season. Is there any hope for the Marlins to turn the year around?
Thomas: The ugly start is a result of the usual suspects: Bad injury luck, poor depth, and some frankly uninspiring play, at times. The rotation has almost entirely turned over, with only Dan Straily sticking around for the duration (Edinson Volquez is also back after some time on the DL). The unfortunately named "Super Bullpen," has been anything but. The left side of the infield is on the DL; getting a consistently solid performance out of the offense night after night has proven challenging. At one point this season, the Marlins had the dubious distinction of issuing the most walks by any pitching staff AND taking the least walks by any lineup in baseball. That's no way to win ballgames.
As you say, though, the NL East is relatively weak, and the Marlins have played better as of late (6-4 in their last 10 on the heels of a 4-19 stretch). The odds aren't good for a triumphant, feel-good comeback, but sports have taught me to never say never.
AZSP: What happened to Brad Ziegler? He was a workhorse in the Arizona bullpen for years and was just as strong in Boston in the second half of last year. He has not allowed any home runs and is still producing a ton of groundouts. Can his struggles be attributed to poor defensive play behind him?
Thomas: A little, but not entirely. While it's true that injuries have sidelined the defensively solid Adeiny Hechavarria, Martin Prado and Miguel Rojas, it seems to me that he's getting squeezed in the lower half of the strike zone more than he was last season, as his called strike percentage is down across the board. This, in turn, seems to be helping lead to a career worst 4.64 BB/9 rate. Perhaps he just got old. Or perhaps he'll turn it around in a month. Baseball!
AZSP: What is the likelihood that Giancarlo Stanton plays out the entirety of his contract in a Marlins uniform? Is there any fear that he becomes Miami’s version of a Ryan Howard towards the end of the deal which expires after the 2028 season? Any chance he exercises his opt out clause after 2020?
Thomas: History tells us that these huge contracts don't end well. Stanton will be 39 at the end of the 2028 season, he could very well be Ryan Howard by then. I don't know if fear is the right word so much as acceptance that to retain a superstar there is sometimes a lengthy bill to pay. I'm sure that even though the Angels have Albert Pujols on-hand as an example, they're going to attempt to dish out some serious dough and years to Mike Trout, because that's what it's going to take to compete with his other suitors.
As for Stanton remaining with the Fish, it all boils down to whether winning or money is more important to Stanton. He has to know by now that he's not going to get a better deal on the open market, so if the Marlins hit the reset button after (during?) this season and he has to sit through a lengthy rebuild, is he going to want to stick around in the midst of that potential uncertainty? By then, Stanton may have been in the majors for a decade and never played in the post-season or even experienced a winning season with a team. Would he opt for the comfort (and cash money) of home or seek out a finer tuned organization? Only he knows.
AZSP: Did you attend any of the World Baseball Classic games hosted in Miami? What was the atmosphere like? Should the Marlins try to recreate that environment in their own games?
Thomas: I didn't unfortunately, but I live in Seattle so that complicates things for me a bit. A couple of our other writers did though and they both seemed thrilled with the experience.
I had a chance to interview MLB Network's Jon Morosi who is perhaps the world's biggest WBC proponent prior to the start of pool play in Miami and he promised me that the Dominican Republic vs the United States would be one of the most exciting games played on American soil this season. From an energy standpoint, he couldn't have been more right.
I don't know what the Marlins could do to reproduce that festive atmosphere in the stands aside from building a consistent winner. The fans in Miami are jaded and wary, rightfully so given the tumultuous recent history. The new ownership when they arrive has a tough, but not impossible task, of rebuilding that trust and putting a product out there that south Floridians can embrace whole-heartedly.
AZSP: What are your predictions for this series versus the Arizona Diamondbacks? How does Miami win the series?
Thomas: If this were in Arizona I'd love the Diamondbacks' chances to take at least three of four. The Dbacks have looked far more beatable on the road, so I say the Marlins recent minor good fortune continues, they get lucky and earn the series split at two apiece.