By Sean Millerick
A little under two months ago, it would have seemingly made little sense for the Miami Marlins to sign James Shields. They had just swung trades for Mat Latos and Dan Haren, and completed a significant overhaul of an offense that provided the textbook definition of “middle of the pack”. All of this on the heels of inking superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton to the richest contract in sports history. All of this at a time when it was becoming painfully apparent that LeBron James was going to be sorely missed indeed by the Heat, and that the Dolphins would once again be fading painfully down the stretch. The Marlins had actually won a PR battle for the first time in years, were being spoken of positively by national pundits, and were really the only feel good sports story in town. Enough had been done, there was little need for a splash to curry favor, and certainly not at the huge price tag that would have come with it. The club had made the big money move it had to, and could reasonably expect to contend the next season and in the future.
A little over two weeks ago, things started to change. Shields was still on the market, the only top target left after free agent crown jewel Max Scherzer signed a nearly record-setting contract for a starting pitcher. And while beyond understandable that the Marlins didn’t land Scherzer, especially if he wanted that much money,the problem was that the team that did was in their division- and already projected to win it. Yes, the Washington Nationals- those same Nationals with arguably baseball’s best rotation- had just ended any debate about the point. While never projected to win outright, the Marlins had at least been winning the offseason. In the blink of an eye, they had seemingly been upstaged. Signing Shields would be a pretty strong counter punch, but if it took over $200 million to sign Scherzer, nine figures would still likely be the rule to sign the next best option. So you stand by your rotation, convince Dan Haren to admit he’d at least consent to reporting for Spring Training, and you make a final splash by signing a future first ballot Hall of Famer to bolster your bench.
But today, Shields is still on the market. All thoughts of him getting anywhere near amount of money originally expected has come and gone. Eight years of 200 plus innings is quite the double-edged sword when pushing your resume across the table as a 33-year-old pitcher, 2015 is proving to be a unique situation where many of the big spenders have already either made their moves and/or have lower than usual expectations. And at this point, if the Marlins are serious about a playoff run in 2015, then they need to make this signing.
It’s really all about numbers. At the peak of his expected value- at least five years, at least $100 million- the risk of Shields arguably outweighed the reward. The risk being that Miami overcommits financially, risks angering the face of their franchise when they shed salary, and probably is forced to make an unpopular decision or two on some of the other young talent. But that number has by all estimations dropped dramatically. Shields’ numbers could well be off the book by the time the salaries of some of those other young stars would start to really ramp up. Latos is likely gone next year, and Haren might still ultimately be gone this year- so the financial sting is already mitigated. Plus at this point in the offseason, it would seem unlikely Miami would have to break its typically bedrock policy on no trade clauses; they could always cut bait along the way provided the overall momentum of the club continues to be forward. Money wise, opportunities like this don’t come along everyday.
As for why this is such an opportunity, well that’s about the numbers as well. Specifically the positive side of that “Eights years of 200 plus innings” coin. So let’s put aside that we’re talking about a veteran pitcher with World Series experience. Let’s just focus on the regular season, on those 200 plus innings and what they represent:
- 2014: 90% (60%)
- 2013: 80% (70%)
- 2012: 50%* (90%) *Would be 70% if adjusted to be 198 IP
The above figures represent- over the course of the last three seasons- what percentage of the teams that made the post season a.) had at least one starter log 200 or more Innings Pitched and b.) had at least one starter rank in the top ten totals for Quality Starts. In 2014, 60% of the starting pitchers that led the Majors in IP pitched in October, 50% of teams that made the playoffs had multiple starters break the 200 inning plateau, and most importantly 90% of teams that made the playoffs had a pitcher throw more innings and log more quality outings than Miami’s leader in that category. And he isn’t even with the team anymore- Nathan Eovaldi led the club with 199.7 innings and 20 quality starts.
So obviously a couple of things to point out in the spirit of objectivity. One, Nathan Eovaldi probably didn’t need to be in the rotation this year- there’s more to pitching than hanging around games, and Nathan still needs to iron that out. Secondly, the Marlins had a pitcher tally over 200 innings in 2012, and it was one of the most disappointing seasons in club history. So it’s by no means a guaranteed ticket to the postseason. But on the other hand, 50% of 2014 postseason participants had more than one pitcher hit the innings mark, and each of the last three seasons has seen at least one club with two or more such pitchers advance to the World Series (the 2013 Red Sox are the only time the winning club was not one of those teams). Shields has personally ranked in the top ten in both categories in all three of these years. If Latos turns in a full season, there is every reason to expect him to offer such a contribution. But unlike Shields, there actually is a recent injury history in his case and legitimate grounds for skepticism he won’t miss some time. The best argument for Shields missing time, at the end of the day, is that he’s due to miss some. Optimism for 2015 is also heavily hinging on the swift return of Jose Fernandez to, well to Jose Fernandez form. Shields provides an added cushion, further eliminating both any temptation to rush Fernandez back and simultaneously allowing for the possibility it takes him a few weeks to regain his presence on the mound. Finally, the price for upgrades at the All-Star Break is always more expensive, and the Marlins just spent an offseason trading in many of their assets to improve. In short, it would be better long-term to simply break the bank a little more now, than to either fall flat or bankrupt the farm in July. The bottom line is there is an awful lot to like about the acquisition, and the asking price will likely never be cheaper.
By Sean Millerick
Capping off an offseason far more reminiscent of, well reminiscent of ballclubs not located south of Turner Field, the Miami Marlins officially introduced former Seattle Mariners’ legend Ichiro Suzuki this week as the team’s fourth outfielder. Front office brass actually journeyed to Japan to make the announcement, part of a bounty of All-Star treatment for the 10-time All Star; for full details on the journey and the contract, check out Joe Frisaro’s article here.
Of special interest to the avid fan however might be the fact that as part of the red carpet treatment, Suzuki will once again be wearing 51- his number for the majority of his professional career. Now obviously when you hear 51, the name Bernie Williams likely springs to mind fairly quickly- it’s for that reason that Suzuki did not wear that number as a member of the New York Yankees. As detailed by MLB.com’s Brad Lefton, the availability of “51” was part of Miami’s appeal for Suzuki. And while Lefton does detail who wore the number the longest as a Marlin- pitcher Terry Matthews- there is a bit more history to the number. And since pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet- let’s take a moment to dive into it.
Ichiro will in fact be the 12th Marlin to wear the number, according to Baseball Almanac. The 2015 season will also be the 12th season a Marlin has worn the number. It has been worn once since 2010, and that was in a brief 2013 appearance by Derek Dietrich (Dietrich wore #32 in ’14). On an ominous note, no Marlin wore the number in 1997 or 2003- the club’s two title years. But most interestingly of all, the FIRST Marlin to wear the number will very likely be there in Cooperstown to greet Ichiro when he himself arrives: Trevor Hoffman debuted as the first 51 for the club on April 6th, 1993.
Heat Fans: Take Stock, Give Thanks Heading Into Finals
By Sean Millerick
Ecstatic. Elated. Excited. Euphoric. Would seem a great many words that start with “e” might just describe Heat fans today. With the guarantee of a chance to go for that third title, and the crushing- execution?-of Lance Stephenson, this is more than fair. I would just hope that a couple E words are left out of the conversation this week. Words like “easy”, words like “expected”. Because to do so would be to do the vaunted Big Three an extreme disservice, for what we have had the good fortune here in Miami to witness already has been nothing short of…well exceptional.
Sesame Street lead in aside- yes, today’s article is brought to you by the letter E and the number 3- it is my earnest hope to convince readers like you that we have been nothing short of blessed. Much has been made of whether this season validates “the Decision”, the “Big-Three Era”, as a success. Such talk is ludicrous. In the entire history of the NBA, only seventeen teams have won an NBA title. Just under half of that number- eight- have won three or more. Speaking of the number 8, only 8 teams have won the title since 1984. The Heat is already in rare, elite company. They’ve won the conference four consecutive times, something done be only three teams previously. And if keeping score at home of King James’ extraordinary accomplishments, it would be fair to note that he just achieved something Michael Jordan never did, even if the reason is that MJ took two years off to walk the earth. Just replace Birmingham Baron for bum, and that’s basically what happened.
The point is that even winning one title is extremely hard. Blessed as I am with no athletic ability to speak of, I can honestly say it’s harder than I can possibly fathom. Yes, grabbing three in a row (assuming I’ll have to pay Riles Corp. and Friends if I say phree-teat?) would be amazing. Miami would be the 5th team to have won 4 titles overall, and poised to go for NBA history next year as they pursued the “four-pete’s-sake” (patent pending). But guess what? They lose this, they still get to play for history next year- no modern era team has ever even had the chance to compete for 5 titles in a row. The Big Three were a success half way through Game 5 of the 2012 Finals, when doubters were silenced and Miami’s second title delivered. Again, even one title is hard. They were a staggering success when we were gifted that scintillating series and a third overall title last season, and a chance to underscore our team’s greatness again. Miami has been at the epicenter of the basketball world for four consecutive seasons. Longer if you count a year of discussion about Riley’s grand free agency chase, longer still if we just want to call of this the Wade County Era and acknowledge that the Miami Heat have already played in 60% of the Conference Finals of the last decade. So even if Kevin Durant is able to deliver the Sonic- Thunder (the title club would still be 17- sorry Seattle) and momentarily usurp the throne of the King, the bottom line is all of this was already worth it. So even if Tim Duncan does his best impression of Bane, taking the Spurs on his back and Ray Allen to his knee en route to revenge and spite driven sweep of the Heatles, the bottom line is all of this was already worth it. So by all means, cherish and cheer. Care too much, go nuts. Play this or this over and over-depending how the weekend goes-always good for a laugh. But at the end of the day, everything from here on is just icing on the cake.
June2014: Massive Month For Marlins
By Sean Millerick
Certainly and deservedly, the most pressing matter on the mind of the majority of Miami sports enthusiasts this weekend is whether or not the Miami Heat can defeat the Indiana Pacers tonight at American Airlines Arena, and secure a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Should that victory occur, certainly and deservedly will the majority of Miami sports enthusiasts find themselves focusing on the hardwood for a further two weeks. But as we prepare to flip the page on the calendar here in the Magic city, one would do well to not forget the other local sports team playing meaningful games this weekend: the Miami Marlins. And more to the point, the Marlins would do very well to take advantage of the opportunity before them, and not allow forgetting to be an option this time around.
Nearly a third of the way through the season, the Marlins are tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves- the same Braves they play this weekend in Miami. The same Braves that were beaten so soundly by Miami when last they met that they openly contemplated whether or not the Marlins had stolen a page from the Spygate playbook, and had cameras hidden in the home run statue. While absurd, there’s definitely something about Marlins Park, as the club still holds the best home record in all of baseball at 20-8. Put all together, the season starts now for the Marlins. For both this weekend series, and the whole of the June schedule, are seemingly tailor made to earn Miami a seat at the big kids’ table with the Heat and the Dolphins.
First, the weekend. If the Heat close it out at home tonight, then that’s nearly a week of being the only pro team in play. Should the unthinkable happen and the Heat lose either Game 6 or the series itself, there could just be a hometown team in sole possession of first place waiting with open arms Monday morning. As stated in a previous article, sports fans are junkies, and the Marlins would be the only fix in town. For the team itself, this series is easily the most important one they will play until arguably the end of July. Take this series, and Miami enters June at least a game up on the Braves with an extremely favorable schedule before them.
Which brings us to June. Counting Sunday’s series closing matchup, the Marlins play 27 games in June. Of those 27, 21 of them are against teams with losing records. Of the six games against winning teams, four of those in Miami- the odd two game trek to Texas is the Marlins only road trip to a team playing over .500 until the Fourth of July. Of those 27 games, 16 of them are in Miami- where again, the Marlins hold the best home record in the bigs. In terms of seizing the hearts and minds of the city over the summer, this is a perfect opportunity to be playing winning and meaningful baseball all month long. The only snag for gaining serious ground in the division is that the Braves schedule is almost equally easy in terms of quality of opponent; however that is tempered by only having nine home games the whole month, including a road doubleheader. But the chance is there is really turn some heads. With the Nationals beset by injuries, and the Phillies and Mets plagued by the grim reality of being the Phillies and the Mets, the Marlins are in surprisingly good position for having lost the game’s most dynamic young pitcher for the season three weeks ago.
So Marlins- keep the magic going at home. Front office, consider an aggressive tweak if the right opportunity presents itself. Regardless of whether Alvarez is healthy or not, let’s see star prospect Andrew Heaney sooner than later. Miami is a sports town very focused on winning now. Somewhere between three days and three weeks from now, the eyes of every local sports fan will be casting about looking for something to focus on. Let’s make it baseball Marlins.
With Trade Rumors Swirling, Marlins Need To Make Most Of Spotlight
By Sean Millerick
As we celebrate the big 237 this Fourth of July weekend, more and more eyes across the nation will find themselves turning to baseball as the season and the summer heat up. While America’s oldest and dearest pastime is certainly capable of holding its own, July is the one month where it enjoys zero competition for the hearts and minds of local fans from the other sports leagues. While certainly in a bit of a unique spot, that is just as true here in the Magic City as it is in any other. And if there is team in all of American sports that is in need of some one on one time to curry favor with its fans, it’s the Miami Marlins.
In a city fresh off a second consecutive NBA championship, and a frenzied and exciting NFL offseason, the Miami sports fan enters July with quite the hangover of success. All of this has served to make up for the worst two month stretch of play in the majors, that had many projecting that the 2013 Marlins would give the ’62 Mets and ’03 Tigers some serious competition for the worst team ever; and all of that was after one of the largest PR disasters in sports history. But the club that has been the elephant in the room of late down here, while all of Miami was concentrating on the Heat’s title run, did something pretty remarkable in June- win. Very quietly, the Marlins were the third best team in baseball in June, and are off to a 3-1 start this July. Young players, including one or two Cuban defectors, are flashing some serious potential as more familiar faces finally are starting to return to health and to form. Even those determined to turn their back on the team due to abominable ownership choices can’t avoid taking some notice. Sports fans are junkies, and the Marlins are the only fix in town. The team has done their job- when viewed in a Loria-less vacuum, they have become a young, promising team that is exciting to watch develop. But now, as the trade deadline nears, the onus is on ownership not to screw up yet another opportunity. And that starts, and ends, with Ricky Nolasco.
For it is Nolasco for whom trade rumors have been swirling even before the season began. The franchise wins leader, the veteran leader of the pitching rotation. Of course, he’s also a mediocre pitcher that will certainly not be back next season. Miami would have to win at .628 clip the rest of way to go .500, sitting 20 games under despite winning eight of their last ten; that’s how bad April and May were. But they only have to win at .397 clip to avoid the ignominy of a 100-loss season, and need only go .294 to avoid the worst record in club history. Historic misery seemed certain on May 31st; one month later, it seems to be very much avoidable. And for this club to survive in this market, Jeffery Loria and Co. need to appear to care about doing so. On the other hand, they need to appear to be serious about someday winning 90 games again, as opposed to being thrilled if they only lost that many. In short, trading Nolasco isn’t unreasonable, but it would need to be done in a way that maximized return value and at the same time did not seem to damn the club to bottom of the history books. Clubhouse and fan psyche alike need to be considered. And the best way to do that is to remove cash from the consideration. Reports have come out that money has been a snag in a couple potential trades. It cannot be. Loria must very publicly choose between either paying Ricky the remaining five million on his contract to help develop budding aces Jose Fernandez and Jacob Turner, or paying Ricky five million dollars to go have a Cody Ross 2010/Anibal Sanchez 2012 type summer in return for some big league ready pieces. In many ways it’d be a band-aid on a bullet wound, but a move that was obviously just a midseason salary dump would much more likely be a bullet to the head.
Just some brief hits on the weekend’s main action; a thorough analysis of the draft will follow later this week. Partly due to salaried work load, and partly due to the fact I strongly suspect to have a free agent LT to discuss sooner than later.
Game 4: Under no circumstances should Wade play again this series. This opportunity is well worth the gamble being up 3-0. With a win today, the Heat can likely give Wade SEVEN days of rest. Miami will need every bit of his tough, aggressive style to knock off a Bulls team that always plays them tight. This is the last best chance to give him extended rest, and to be honest, Miami might not even need LeBron to close this one out.
As to the draft- likely not what we expected. But the plan is there- and top to bottom- this is a draft about stopping the Patriots. And as a bonus, there’s even a new kicker in town to challenge Dan Carpenter- consider that the Dolphins would have been 9-7 were it not for two critically botched kicks. But every corner and linebacker added has a skill set keyed to either rushing the passer or taking away the middle of the field or both. If these guys pan out, we could be well on our way to having an interesting division race this year should some of those bounces (and kicks) go our way this campaign.
Ignoring the second round- because there really would seem to be only three possibilities: KC caves and takes the pick for tackle Branden Albert, Miami drafts a tackle, Miami drafts a corner. Of course, I thought the first round would be boring too.
But lets focus on those two third round picks. My hope? RB for certain, and either a CB or a QB. The only reason I ever liked Daniel Thomas was the idea of him as a bruising force that, when healthy, could put his head down and push the pile. Thanks to that bit of staggering absurdity dealt out by the NFL rules committee, that’s pretty much illegal now. Plus, he’s a concussion case anyway, and will likely only miss more and more time as those rules get more stringent. Nice guy, but he’s been legislated out of being useful. Giovanni Bernard, or maybe even South Carolina standout Marcus Lattimore, have not. Lamar Miller looks capable, but his hold on the starting job is more a factor of not resigning Reggie Bush than his having earned it; Miami should draft another back and make him do it. It’s a two back league now anyway.
But what about that QB comment? Let me start by saying I completely believe in Ryan Tannenhill. But I also completely believe that teams should draft a quarterback just about every year. There should always be pressure on developing QBs to improve, and there should always be developing QBs learning underneath established stars. QBs are the ultimate currency of the NFL. Now the Dolphins did resign Matt Moore this offseason, giving them one of the best backups in the league. But acquiring someone not named Pat Devlin gives the team the option of developing someone to the point that they can replace Moore or be traded themselves. Look back upon Matt Flynn, Alex Smith, and Kevin Kolb. Look at Miami’s own history with AJ Feeley and Jay Fiedler. Wouldn’t it be great if the Dolphins could be the club in position to get that second round pick than give it up? And that’s why I think Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, or especially NC State’s Mike Glennon, would look great in aqua and orange. Or whatever we’re wearing these days.