No. 9 Marlins: 22nd in a series counting down to spring training. Next: Braves.
New name. New stadium. New manager. Four new players, all of whom have been to at least three All-Star Games.
Never mind that the Marlins won four World Series games in the multi-sport abomination alongside the Florida Turnpike. They never really became a South Florida summer destination, and without the still-to-be-named new home near downtown the Marlins might be drifters looking for a better place to make a living. That was then, Ozzie Guillen is now.
The Marlins successfully raided the White Sox's cupboard to grab an excellent manager, who was signed through 2012 but lost interest in trying to win with a team lacking dynamic young talent. He was wooed to Miami, where he had been a coach when the Marlins stunned the Cubs and Yankees in the 2003 playoffs, and then sat back to watch with delight as President Larry Beinfest successfully enlisted Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
Beinfest even sweetened the pot for Guillen, trading for close friend Carlos Zambrano, who like Guillen would like nothing better than to make the Cubs look bad for failing to halt his steady self-destruction. There will be an abundance of stories on Guillen, Reyes, Buehrle, Bell and "Big Z" after the Marlins report to the Jupiter, Fla., complex they share with the Cardinals.
We'll leave a thorough discussion of those topics for another time. For starters — and knowing the point will be overlooked later — let's examine this question: Is the Marlins' situation as good as the one Guillen inherited in Chicago?
He probably would tell you it's a lot better. After all, he's walking into:
•A four-year, $10-million contract. His original deal with the White Sox was for two years plus a club option, at less than $1 million per season. His longest was three years and a club option.
•A chance to open a $515-million palace that could be a turning point in baseball's future in the state of Florida (the stadium is a public-private partnership, with the Marlins obligated for $155 million).
•A chance to work for a front office that built the 2003 World Series championship team and has kept a steady pipeline of talent bubbling in its farm system.
•A roster that includes Mike Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez.
•A starting rotation that is expected to include homegrown ace Josh Johnson, who made only nine starts last season because of injuries.
But when Jerry Reinsdorf approved Ken Williams' surprising choice of Guillen as a successor to Jerry Manuel, Guillen received:
•The chance to work for pro sports' most loyal owner, whom he had been close to for almost 20 years.
•A team that had averaged 83.5 victories the previous two years (compared to the Marlins' 76-win average the last two years) and featured a strong farm system.
•A pitching staff led by the 25-year-old Buehrle and 24-year-old Jon Garland, not the 33-year-old Buehrle and 28-year-old Johnson. The Marlins have had only two 200-inning seasons from starting pitchers the last three years; the White Sox had five from their's in 2001-03.
•A team that just had taken its payroll down, not maxed it out. In 2004, Guillen's first season, Williams traded for Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras, who would play huge roles in the White Sox winning the 2005 World Series.
•A roster that was built around a 28-year-old Paul Konerko, one of baseball's most consistent run-producers. He was coming off a horrible season in 2003 but would average 98 RBIs over the eight years he played for Guillen (Stanton might do better but it will be hard to be more consistent).
•A division lacking a big-spending, perennial power.
Of most importance, when Guillen took over the White Sox, he didn't face immediate expectations. This is a whole different gig entirely.
Then again, Guillen is a different guy too. He has shown himself to be one of the game's best managers (witness the White Sox's plus-19 Pythagorean standings figure in his eight years). He and the Marlins could be the perfect storm. It should be fascinating to watch them try to take down the Phillies and the Braves.
•The Marlins' payroll was $57.7 million at the start of 2011 and will soar beyond $100 million. It would be bigger except for owner Jeffrey Loria's voodoo economics. The contracts for Reyes, Buehrle and Bell were heavily back-loaded. They will make a combined $24 million in 2012 and $52 million at the peak of their contracts.
•Zambrano, oddly, will be the Marlins' highest-paid player this season. The Cubs will pay $16.45 million of his $19-million contract, however.
•Bill James projects Stanton will hit 39 home runs and have a .933 OPS this season, the sixth best in the majors.
•Guillen believes Ramirez will be fine playing third but it's still possible he could be traded if spring training reveals opposition to the Reyes-generated move. Matt Dominguez, a whiz in the field, will be an option at third if his bat comes around.
•Loria is looking for a big splash selling season tickets and almost certainly will reduce the payroll in future seasons if the team isn't a big winner.