Marlins make a big splash at Winter Meetings

One team continues to steal the headlines at this week’s Winter Meetings in Dallas. That team is the Miami Marlins. That’s right, the Miami Marlins. The team formerly known as the Florida Marlins has already signed three big name Free Agents this week. Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle will be wearing the hideous new Miami uniform when the Marlins open their new retractable-roof stadium on April 4. The Marlins also offered Albert Pujols a 10-year contract in excess of $200 million but were ultimately turned down by the future Hall of Famer. Unable to woo Pujols, the Marlins quickly turned their focus to pitching and inked Buehrle to a 4-year $58 million deal. Now the Marlins are said to be courting another lefty, C.J. Wilson.

Jeffrey Loria, Michael Hill, and company are going “all in.” They’re convinced that the new stadium will create a spike in attendance. In recent years the Marlins have routinely played in front of embarrassingly small crowds groups of fans. Fielding an exciting team with some big name talent should help. Miami residents have a few more entertainment options than fans in most major league cities. Miami is famous for beautiful beaches and legendary nightlife. Could the Magic City soon become synonymous with baseball?

The Marlins, coming off a last place finish in 2011, have thrown $191 million at three players within a week’s time. It’s a calculated risk. Does this make the Marlins instant contenders in the National League East? Not so fast. There are a few things that need to be taken into account here. Look at the 2011 Red Sox, for instance. Boston added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a team that won 89 games the previous season. Jacoby Ellsbury had a MVP type season, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors, and the Sox still failed to make the playoffs. Much like the Red Sox, the Marlins will be competing in a very strong division. The Phillies have one of the best starting rotations in baseball and recently added former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Braves roster includes plenty of talented young players. Even the Washington Nationals are capable of making some noise in the division. The Nats are said to be pursuing some big name Free Agents as well.

On the other hand, the addition of one more wildcard team in 2012 will make it easier to qualify for the post season. But that post season will end abruptly for some. The two wildcard teams will meet in a one game, win or go home, showdown. The Marlins are spending a lot of money in an attempt to get to the promised land in a hurry. But will they really be able to turn things around immediately? A new stadium can bring with it certain unknowns. Will it be a pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park? Only time will tell. Those of us who remember the Astros first season at Enron Field (now known as Minute Maid Park) would just as soon forget. A team that excelled in the spacious Astrodome quickly turned from contenders to pretenders. The difference is the Marlins have no place to go but up.

With the addition of Reyes at shortstop, what happens to Hanley Ramirez? The Marlins reportedly intend to move Ramirez to 3B, but Hanley has expressed some hesitation. Ramirez is an outstanding young player and, until now, has been the face of the franchise. But he has also been a disruption to the clubhouse from time to time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ramirez traded. It might be wise for the Marlins to deal Ramirez for a few prospects. The signing of multiple Free Agents will cost the Marlins future draft picks, meaning they will need to bolster their farm system.

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Tags: Baseball Hanley Ramirez Heath Bell Jose Reyes Mark Buehrle Marlins Miami News & Notes Winter Meetings

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