Don't Overlook the Marlins
In 2012 the Marlins went 69-93 with such big names as Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. All of those players are now gone along with Omar Infante, Emilio Bonifacio, Anabal Sanchez, and John Buck. But when you break it all down the Marlins lost a lot more names than they did talent. The trade with the Blue Jays wasn't a good one and the Marlins may never be able to sign a big name free agent again, but they also may never have to. Take a look at a perennial contender like the Texas Rangers or the Cincinnati Reds. Neither of those teams have made any huge free agent signings outside of the international market and they are both expected to be among the better teams in 2013.
The Marlins aren't there yet, but they also aren't nearly as bad as everyone expects them to be. Too many people are focused on the lackluster line-up they will put out there on Opening Day instead of the line-up they could have for most of the season. Instead of Placido Polanco at third base imagine it is Derek Dietrich who has hit .278/.342/.470 in three minor league seasons and the Marlins acquired from the Rays for Yunel Escobar, or Zack Cox who has hit .285/.339/.424 in three minor league seasons and that the Marlins acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for Edward Mujica. Placido Polanco will get the Opening Day nod but he isn't going to be the Marlins primary third baseman in 2013. Whichever one of the prospects is playing better will grab that job and spend most of 2013 there, and while neither appear to be stars one of them is going to be a solid major leaguer.
The Marlins are full of prospects that don't project to be stars but could be solid major league players for years to come. Rob Brantly hit .290/.372/.460 in 31 games for the Marlins. That is a small sample but this is a guy that hit .280/.336/.392 over three minor league seasons, and that is good production from a catcher. Again not star level but Brantly has a good chance to be a solid major league catchers. Adeiny Hechavarria is much the same. As a member of the Toronto Blue Jays over 41 games in 2012 he hit .254/.280/.365. Although he did hit slightly better in the minors he is still regarded as much more of a defensive short stop, and because of that has a chance to be an average major league player. Then there are the guys the Marlins already had like Donovan Solano and Justin Ruggiano who both looked good in 2012. In fact Ruggiano had the third highest fWAR of any Marlins position player in 2012.
The big difference makers for the Marlins are going to be Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez. Yelich was recently sent out of Marlins Spring Training camp for minor league camp but not before impressing with a slash line of .368/.467/.816. Add that to his minor league totals of .322/.395/.497 and the Marlins have another star outfielder on the way to join Giancarlo Stanton. An outfield of Pierre, Ruggiano, Stanton is nothing to fear, but one of Ruggiano, Yelich, Stanton is. Yelich is the second star level offensive player the Marlins need, and he is as close as their farm system. His play in the minors this season is going to determine when he debuts, but it is likely to be this season and could be as soon as the Super 2 cut-off date and as late as a September call-up, but Yelich is the type of difference making prospect that can turn a franchise around.
Jose Fernandez is the future ace of the Marlins. The Marlins pitching staff without Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Anibal Sanchez is going to be bad. No team fears facing Ricky Nolasco, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, Henderson Alverez, and Alex Sanabia. Eovaldi, Turner, and Alverez all have the potential to be good middle to back of the rotation starters, and when Ricky Nolasco is traded at the trade deadline this season he is going to bring back something. Jose Fernandez though is an Ace. Teams can and have won before with one Ace pitcher and not much else behind them. Unlike Yelich it is doubtful that Fernandez will be ready to pitch in 2013. A pitcher of his talent can make short work of the minors as Nats fans saw Stephen Strasburg do in 2010. What that talent level is is a 2.02 ERA, 10.7 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9 in 27 starts.
Between the trades the Marlins made this off-season and at the end of last season they lost 16.5 fWAR of talent, but they are replacing that talent with other players. Those players may not be as talented or have the name value, but that doesn't mean they can't be replaced. The Marlins have a lot of pieces that could turn into average major league players and a couple pieces that could turn into stars. The Marlins 2013 farm system is where the Nationals system was before the beginning of the 2011 season with Strasburg working his way back from Tommy John's surgery and Bryce Harper having just been drafted. The Marlins in Yelich and Fernandez have a future superstar hitter and Ace pitcher combine those two with the star talent of Giancarlo Stanton and average to above average major league players at every other position and the Marlins have a chance to be a good team in 2014 or 2015.
2013 is a bit of a holding pattern, but the Marlins are not a 100 loss team, nor are they the worst team in the NL. There is talent on the major league roster and in the high levels of the minors, and beside all that the Marlins have always been a thorn in the Nationals side. As nice as it would be to count them out and pencil in a 15-3 record against them for the Nats that can't be done. The Marlins are experts at the tear down and rebuild formula, and when they are overlooked is when they preform their best.