Series Preview: Craig @ FishStripes Talks Marlins

After a tough series in Philadelphia, the Padres head to Miami for three against the Marlins. I recently caught up with Craig at Fish Stripes, and we talked a little about his team.

Ducksnorts: The Marlins are off to a surprisingly strong start in 2008. What have been some of the key factors, and will they be able to sustain their early success?

Craig: The Marlins have basically slugged their way into first with the help of an excellent bullpen. The Fish are second in the NL in home runs (37), fourth in slugging percentage (.444), tied for second in triples (8), and sixth in batting average (.261).

Along with a bullpen that has picked up where it left off last year and is fourth in the NL in bullpen ERA (3.16).

Yes, there is a chance they can hang in the race. There is reason to believe the offensive can continue slugging at this rate since the young Marlins set the team records for HR, RBI, TB, XBH, SLG in 2006 and proceeded to break the team records in those categories in 2007. In fact this year’s squad just set a new team home run record for the month of April with 36. The real question of whether they can hang in the race comes down to: Can the starting pitching improve? As the Marlins stand right now they only have two starters who can put up quality starts consistently. The other three may go five innings if everything is perfect. If the Marlins can continue to put runs on the board long enough for some of the starters on the DL to return or if the present bottom three starters can actually learn to pitch at the major league level, then it is possible. Likely? Who knows, but I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Ducksnorts: I have a soft spot for players who establish themselves as big leaguers a little later than most. One of my current favorites is Josh Willingham. What can you tell me about his game beyond what the stats show?

Craig: It was always known Willingham could hit but early on the organization was having trouble trying to find a position for him in the field. They eventually put him at catcher in the minors. After the great fire sale of 2005 when the next season the Marlins brought mainly rookies to camp Willingham was listed as the “possible” starting catcher. As it turned out, he wasn’t a very good catcher and he was plagued with disc problems in his back, which still persist today. Since his bat needed to be in the lineup, late in spring training the club put him left field, a position he was quite unfamiliar with.

The jump to the majors is a big adjustment for most players but to do that while trying to learn a new position on the fly can be overwhelming. Willingham tied for seventh in the 2006 ROY.

He is still learning to play the field, in between the times where his back is bothering him. He comes forward on the ball well but still has some problems going back, but is improving. Willingham may or may not be in tonight’s game due to injuries but you should see him sometime this series, I hope.

Oh, for fun, Willingham hunts alligators in the Glades. I’m not sure what he does with it when he catches one and I’m not sure I want to know. How his contract allows him to do participate in this activity, I will never know.

Ducksnorts: The Marlins are a complicated organization. They’ve never won their division but they have two World Championships to their credit in 15 years of existence. The owner exhibits no obvious desire to invest in the team. As a fan, what is it like to follow a club that appears from the outside to have no growth potential?

Craig: Being a Marlins fan is not for the timid or the normal causal fan because once you start liking a player, he is gone. Buying some gear with a player’s name on it is a certain kiss of the death. The rally cry used by most fans is that: “We’re cheering for the name on the front of Jersey, not the name on the back.” I have never found the rally to cry to be real comforting.

It’s not completely true that the front office won’t invest in the club; they have in the past. They did in 2003, 2004, and 2005, when it was thought the team could make a playoff run. Now, they didn’t invest by Yankee standards, mind you, but they did increase the payroll and did add some free agents.

In the last few years the Marlins have sold off every player once they start earning a “major-league salary” for prospects. The baseball people have a good eye for talent and the Marlins minor-league system is good at grooming them, so at any time they could close the revolving door and grow the team. It is the hope of most fans that the revolving door will shut once the Marlins get a stadium of their own.

As for me, I will believe it when I see it.

Ducksnorts: How amazing is Hanley Ramirez, and how difficult will it be to see him leave when he becomes too expensive?

Craig: I used to think that Miguel Cabrera was the most gifted hitter I had ever seen in person — now, I’m not so sure. Hanley is unbelievable! I could list stat after stat after stat to back that up but it would just be easier for everyone to look them up.

Of course, it is not a forgone conclusion that Hanley won’t remain with the Marlins throughout the rest of his arbitration years; he could, and I don’t own anything with Hanley’s name on it. So there is a chance, but I think I have a better shot at winning the Florida State Lottery than seeing that happen.

If he goes, of course it will be tough to see him go. Will it be harder than Cabrera, [Dontrelle] Willis, [Josh] Beckett, [Brad] Penny, [Carlos] Delgado, [Mike] Lowell, [Luis] Castillo, [Jeff] Conine, [Alex] Gonzalez, [Moises] Alou, [Gary] Sheffield…? I don’t know. I guess I will find out if it ever happens. In the meantime I will just enjoy watching him play and if that day comes, I will do what I always do: mope around the house for a few hours and then break out my copy of the Baseball America Propect Handbook and try to find out who the heck is on the team now.

In other words, I am a Marlins fan and this is what we do.

Ducksnorts: Andrew Miller, part of the haul for Miguel Cabrera, has stumbled out of the gate. Presumably the Marlins saw something in Miller that they liked. What have you seen so far?

Craig: Andrew Miller has electric stuff but he has problems with the mastery of his pitches. His has no consistent control over any pitch he throws, and his velocity is all over the place. One fastball may be clocked at 97 mph and the very next one could come in at 93 mph. So far his starts have consisted of finding the one pitch he can get over the plate with any regularity and just throwing that one over and over again.

Miller really should have started the season in the minors but with the attrition to starting staff — it’s on-the-job training in the majors. But I will say this: If he has few more starts like his last one he may be minor-league bound real soon, which is just fine by me. One day Miller may be an excellent major-league starter but he isn’t there yet. Shoot, what am I saying, you can’t even see there from where he is right now.

* * *

Thanks again to Craig for chatting with us and providing some insight into what it’s like to be a Marlins fan. Here’s hoping the team can find a legitimate ownership group at some point in the future and maybe create a little stability in that market. Closer to home, here’s hoping the Padres can take the weekend series…

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21 Responses »

  1. Man, these pre series interviews are awesome. Get’s me up to speed on the opponets. I don’t watch sports center so this really helps.

    Now… about a friggen win today???

  2. Oh…btw I finally got around to placing an order for the Ducksnorts Baseball Annual. Went with the paper version so I could destroy some trees. Kidding. Was thinking of going download version though…..maybe next year.

  3. #1@Oside Jon: Glad you’re enjoying them. :-)

    #2@Oside Jon: Yes, the trees must die. Seriously, thanks for the support. It’s always appreciated, as is constructive feedback about how to make the next book even better.

  4. I am really enjoying these interviews as well Geoff. They add such insight to our next opponents. Excellent work.

    OT: I can’t believe I missed this gem from the Onion yesterday!

    Padre game Sunned Out

  5. I’m enjoying both the pre-series interviews (as well as the daily Farm Reports) too. GY – thanks so much for this forum. I’m waiting ever so patiently for my paper copy of the 2008 annual to arrive ;) .

    Being a Padre fan for so many years, I’ve still come to learn quite a lot about the game (and Padres baseball) from DS and it’s passionate group of fans/contributors. Believe me, it helps to get over the bad times in this game and better enjoy the good times.

  6. All things considered, I’m happy to have John Moores for an owner and not one like Jeffrey Loria (sp?). To think that he wrecked a franchise (and a passionate fan base) like the Expos and still ended up with a World Series title with the Marlins by accident galls me.

  7. #6@Jefe: John Moores would be perceived as a better owner is he never talked to the press about the financial state of the Padres.

  8. #7@Steve C: When Moores doesn’t talk to the press he is too aloof, when he does there is always someting to cherry pick. Maybe he should sign a big name free agent like Barry Zito, and show that he cares.

  9. #8@Field39: Better to be aloof than being perceived as cheap, instead of making excuses as to why the budget is in the middle of the pack just don’t say anything, say the budget is what makes since to the team from a financial standpoint and leave it at that. We don’t need to hear about stadium debt (for a stadium in which he pushed and the voters gave him) or how he lost money after 98 it just comes off to most people as a billionaire whining about pocket change and it will not get a sympathetic ear.

    How often do we hear from the Spanos family (even when the team was not doing well)? They let their PR guys handle all that stuff and they are not perceived as aloof.

  10. #8@Field39: No one here thinks that the Padres should have signed Barry Zito. I think all of us realize that the huge free agent contracts aren’t going to be given by the Padres — but that goes for pretty much the rest of MLB as well. I’ve been critical of Moores for two things: first his refusal to sign Kyle Lohse when he is massively better then their current 5th starter options (plus when he departs as a free agent they get draft picks and he actually has trade value unlike Germano or Prior) plus his cheapness in the draft which long-term is going to kill the Padres and their ability to compete.

    The difference between the Marlins and the Padres isn’t just that the Marlins are on a boom-bust cycle with their payroll but that they’ve been very successful and developing their own players. Mid-market teams can’t compete with teams with larger financial strength unless they develop their own players. Again it just shows what a horrible mistake the Padres made last season when they passed on Rick Porcello for Nick Schmidt. The player that Porcello was compared to, Josh Beckett, was traded for possibly the best player in baseball, Hanley Ramirez. Despite the Marlins problems (jackass owner, terrible and alienated fanbase, bad stadium situation) they have a brighter future then the Padres. That’s not good.

  11. #9@Steve C: I wouldn’t talk too much about the Spanos’. Their PR hasn’t been all that spectacular either. Only a few years after getting a big and costly renovation to QCOM Stadium that the city taxpayers paid a large sum for, they began clamoring for a new football stadium with a very sizeable demand for public funds…

    Granted, the SD City Council sure has bungled everything for the last 10-15 years and has a large share of the blame for that mess, but the Chargers ticket guarantee was nothing but welfare for a billionaire at the public’s expense.


    Top 5 2008 NL Rotations, by SNLVAR

    Team, SNLVAR

    San Diego Padres, 5.0
    St. Louis Cardinals, 4.8
    Atlanta Braves, 3.7
    Milwaukee Brewers, 3.3
    Chicago Cubs, 3.3

    … nice to see the confirmation :-)

  13. #10@Schlom: I’m not convinced of the brighter future, even with the superior farm system.

  14. #13@Stephen: In reality, you’re probably right because whatever talent advantages the Marlins have they’ll probably just throw it away. Of course, one of the reasons the Marlins have so much young talent is that they’ve been bad for a lot of seasons and have drafted high each season, sort of like the Rays. You would think that if you had a top 5 pick every season you’d have a ton of young talent on your team (unless you were the Padres obviously).

  15. #11@Jefe: The renovations were not a few years ago… and yes they want a new stadium but they were not asking for tax dollars to construct it (like the Padres did).

    If Mayor Golding would have hired a professional negotiator to re-up the Chargers lease instead of trying to do it herself the Chargers would have never gotten the sweat heart deal that they did. Of coarse they are going to try and get all they can in the deal it’s a business the point is to make money its not their fault the city was represented by someone who had no clue what they were doing.

    I’m fine with Moores running the team as a business its his choice to set the payroll and to try and make a profit but don’t whine to the media about how you are not making money on the team and about how the stadium debt is still a burden after the voters gave a new stadium because of the constraints of your old one.

  16. #10@Schlom: The Marlins are an odd example because with the first run they stocked up with expensive verterain talent (mostly not from thier farm system) and the second run was a bit of an aberration kind of like the Rockies this year. They had a ton of talent from their minor league system that all got hot at once and got a few key vets at the trade deadline, if you look at most of players on that team today most are struggling or underperforming.

  17. #16@Steve C: I guess the question is if you’d swap the Marlins roster (plus farm system) with the Padres. The Padres are probably better overall at the major league level (or at least they have been the last few years). But the Marlins have the best player (Ramirez) and are significantly younger. The minor league systems are similar as BP has the Padres ranked 12th and the Marlins 19th but in Maybin the Marlins have the best overall prospect.

  18. #17@Schlom: I agree with you 100% from that aspect, I was just pointing out that the Marlins did not win their first ring because of their farm system and that the 2nd time that they won was a bit of a flue (all thier young players getting hot at the same time). But yes I would swtich rosters and farm systems with them in a heart beat.

  19. C#15@Steve C:

    Just the gift of land, right?

  20. #19@Stephen: yup but its a small price to pay for a new stadium.

  21. What is the dollar value of the 60 acres of free land for the stadium and adjacent development that Spanos wants ?