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Friday, March 11, 2011
Can the Marlins compete in 2011?

By Dan Hennessey

The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves are heavy favorites in the NL East, while the Washington Nationals are still building and the New York Mets have some talent but are generally a mess. The Florida Marlins have won 84, 87 and 80 games during the last three seasons. Could they be the NL wild card, if not the division champions?

The Marlins traded Dan Uggla to Atlanta, a severe hit offensively given that they are replacing him with Omar Infante (who I presume is keeping second base warm until Osvaldo Martinez is called up). They signed John Buck to be their catcher, stabilizing a position that’s been a concern for Florida for the last half-decade.

Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison will each get a full season’s worth of playing time, adding to a young core that includes Gaby Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez (hard to believe he’s only 27). Chris Coghlan, recovering from knee surgery, will take a crack at center field. He’s already moved from second base to left field (and handled it fairly well), but the move to center is even more difficult, especially coming off a leg injury. With these five, the core is young and talented, with room yet to improve.

In the rotation, Josh Johnson leads the way; over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 2.80 ERA that matches a sparkling 2.76 FIP. A big-time groundball pitcher, his home ballpark also helps him keep the ball in the park.

The talented trio of Ricky Nolasco (28), Chris Volstad (24) and Anibal Sanchez (26) follows Johnson, and the Marlins added Javier Vazquez on a one-year deal. If he can find what made him great in 2009, when he was one of the top three or four pitchers in the National League (and I think it was just more than moving to the American League), the Marlins will run out an above-average starter every day. Additionally, two Florida trades this winter included bullpen arms coming back. Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica, and Mike Dunn all figure to strengthen the bullpen in front of Leo Nunez.

Even with their additions, the Marlins need their young talent to get better. It might seem like an obvious statement, but those young players are also their best players, and they’ll need to become elite quickly if the Marlins are going to compete in September.

For the past few seasons (since the trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis), it has seemed like the Marlins have been building for the future. That future could be here soon, just as soon as the stars-to-be become stars right now.

Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.