2017 Marlins: How 2017 can be a good season

Up next: The Marlins’ farm system is ranked 29th by ESPN.com’s Keith Law, and if you look closely, you have to wonder: who could be worse (that’s the Diamondbacks, thanks to Dave Stewart)? The Marlins won’t be getting much help from the minors this year, and the next couple are open to question, too. Whatever prospects the Marlins had are probably now in Cincinnati, having been traded for either Mat Latos or Dan Straily. The good news for Marlins fans is they won’t be making any more deals like that, because they don’t have young players anyone else wants. The dearth of talent means opportunities for those who might be typically overlooked, like 5-9 lefty Dillon Peters. He has a 2.69 ERA in two minor-league seasons and has made four AA starts.On the Marlins, that’s a comer.

What he said: “This was a Miami moment,” Marlins president David Samson after a sellout crowd at Marlins Park watched the Dominican Republic beat the U.S., 7-5, in the World Baseball Classic. What he meant: “It wasn’t a Marlins moment because the stadium was full.”

Outlook: Jeffrey Loria still owns the Marlins, which should go a long way to temper whatever optimism exists for 2017.

Loria is to be the United States’ new ambassador to France, and we can only hope he doesn’t do to the Louvre what he did to the Marlins. If so, expect the Mona Lisa to be replaced by a LeRoy Nieman, admission to rise and the public to pay for a better facility.

Loria ditched the Expos and city of Montreal and bought the Marlins in 2003 in a trade of franchises that was something Trader Frank Lane might have dreamed up. Lane was the Indians GM who once traded managers and who dealt AL home run champ Rocky Colavito to the Tigers two days before the 1960 opener for AL batting champ Harvey Kuenn. 42 homers for 135 singles was the gleeful headline in the Detroit Free Press. (Interesting to note that the 1960 opener was on April 19. There are years it seems the Marlins have been eliminated by such a late date.)

The exchange of franchises allowed John Henry to trade the Marlins for the Red Sox. If there was a winner, it was Henry and the Red Sox fans, who have celebrated three World Series titles since, and if there was a loser, it was the Marlins fans, of whom not as many are left.

Loria is an art collector whose holdings include a few Picassos, but if the Marlins franchise was a painting, it wouldn’t even be a George W. Bush (no knock intended on the former president, whose work was praised recently by The New Yorker. “The quality of the art is astonishingly high for someone who … took up painting from a standing stop, four years ago, at the age of sixty-six,” wrote Peter Schejeldahl earlier this month. Too bad we can’t make the same assessment of Loria’s team.)

The Marlins won the World Series 2003, but have had losing records in 10 of the last 11 seasons. That’s not the worst of it. Loria has become the sport’s most eccentric and frugal owner since Charlie Finley, with his chief talent seemingly to offend as many people as possible. What other franchise would lure a dog-loving pitcher from his team of 12 years (Mark Buehrle) upon the promise of commitment and competition, then trade him and his pit bull after one failed season to the Blue Jays, who play in a province where pit bulls are banned? 

“You thought the death of Fidel Castro was celebrated down here?” wrote the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote last month. “The departure of Loria might run a close second.”

That’s some major-league venom. If the Marlins sell, it will be for more than a billion dollars, if Forbes’ $1.6 billion appraisal is accurate, which might foster some of the resentment, since Loria has done so little to enhance its value. It makes you wonder how much it would be worth if it hadn’t been so neglectfully maintained, and what kind of care those Picassos in Loria’s possession get.

The 2017 Marlins are a lot like last year’s, only without Jose Fernandez, whose contributions won’t come close to being replaced by the fading Edison Volquez. And who knows how the emotional trauma in the locker room will be assuaged.

The Marlins dabbled with paying Dodgers stopper Kenley Jansen $90 million or more, but there’s not enough relief in MLB to save the Marlins’ rotation. Maybe Wei-Yin Chen rebounds, maybe Volquez is better, maybe Straily won’t go full Latos on the Marlins, and maybe Loria is just misunderstood.

There’s some talent on the Marlins — Christian Yelich hit .298 and 21 homers at age 25, Giancarlo Stanton has hit 208 homers and is still only 27, catcher J.T. Realmuto hit .303 at age 25, and reliever Kyle Barraclough led all NL pitchers with 14 strikeouts per nine innings (he also led all relievers in walks with 44 in 72.2 innings). But they’re not good enough to compete in the NL East, or perhaps any other division.

The Marlins won 79 games last year, the most since 2009. If Loria sells the team, they can count 2017 as a good season, no matter how many games they win.

Team song: Freddy Martin: April in Paris

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