Spring Training is on the brink of opening for the new Miami Marlins, who will be reporting to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter on Feb. 22.
Those who haven't paid attention to the Marlins since the end of the 2011 season are in for a shock. The franchise has a new name, new manager, new retractable-roof stadium, new logo, new uniforms and a more upscale roster.
"I don't think any of the guys from the previous seasons understand what's gone on with this team, both on the field and off," team president David Samson said. "They've played in uncomfortable weather, and the change, I don't think they realize what they're in for when they are on the field."
The Marlins certainly are more high-profile with the addition of outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen, who brings a decisive edge to Miami after spending the past eight seasons with the White Sox.
With new revenue streams created by the ballpark, payroll has risen to unprecedented heights. Marquee free agents Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle signed for a combined total of $191 million. The actual payroll for 2012 will be more than $96 million, after it was at $58 million in 2011.
Optimism is high and there are playoff aspirations for the club as it sets to take the field for the first time as the Miami Marlins.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Marlins at Cardinals, March 5, 1:05 p.m. ET at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.
Marlins vs. Cardinals, April 4, 7:05 p.m. ET at Marlins Park
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Josh Johnson stay healthy?
In an offseason where the Marlins drastically raised payroll, the question that looms largest in the eyes of the organization is: Can Josh Johnson make at least 30 starts? If so, Miami may be headed toward a magical first season in its new home. If not, it may single-handedly derail the team's playoff hopes.
Right shoulder inflammation limited Johnson to just nine starts in 2011, and he last pitched in a big league game in May. The encouraging news is he's been throwing off the mound and feeling healthy and strong. The club added experienced starting pitching in Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano and Wade LeBlanc. Inside the organization, the feeling is Johnson must hold up for the entire season. When healthy, he's among the best in the game, and he is the single toughest player on the roster to replace.
"[He's throwing] off the mound twice a week," Samson said. "He's ready for Spring Training -- no restrictions, feels great, feels strong. I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. He told me he wants 35 starts. He's ready for a full season."2. How will Hanley Ramirez handle third base?
Signing Reyes created a need for a switch in the infield. So Ramirez, a three-time All-Star starter, is being asked to move to third base after exclusively playing shortstop since he started playing baseball as a kid.
How comfortable Ramirez is with the transition to third base remains to be seen. What is expected is plenty of attention for the 28-year-old, who didn't immediately embrace the change publicly.
Ramirez is also recovering from left shoulder surgery, creating some uncertainty as to how he will ultimately bounce back from his worst season. He's now had two procedures on the shoulder in four years, raising the issue of whether he is healed enough for his power numbers to increase.
The Marlins are banking on Ramirez returning to his old form, when he was the National League batting champion in 2009.
"[He] looks great, feels great, ready for Opening Day," Samson said. "He's been working to rehab very, very hard. He will be there."3. Is Mike Stanton on verge of superstardom?
The Marlins certainly brought in plenty of veterans with proven track records. Those additions should pay off in a number of ways. But for the lineup to generate the kind of production to reach the playoffs, the team will be counting heavily on 22-year-old slugger Mike Stanton.
Stanton possesses as much raw power as anyone in the game, reflected by his 56 career homers in 250 MLB games.
Is Stanton ready to reach the next level and become a star?
Stanton will certainly be counted on to drive in runs, and he has the potential to do so. How much production he delivers could come down to his strikeout totals. Stanton fanned 166 times in 516 at-bats last year, and he has 289 strikeouts in 875 career at-bats.
Whenever he makes contact, he is a threat to drive in runs with every swing.2011 record
72-90, fifth in the National League East Projected batting order
1. SS Jose Reyes:
.337 BA, .384 OBP, .493 SLG, 7 HR, 44 RBIs with Mets in 2011
2. CF Emilio Bonifacio:
.296 BA, .360 OBP, .393 SLG, 5 HR, 36 RBIs in 2011
3. 3B Hanley Ramirez:
.243 BA, .333 OBP, .479 SLG, 10 HR, 45 RBIs in 2011
4. RF Mike Stanton:
.262 BA, .356 OBP, .537 SLG, 34 HR, 87 RBIs in 2011
5. LF Logan Morrison:
.247 BA, .330 OBP, .468 SLG, 25 HR, 72 RBIs in 2011
6. 1B Gaby Sanchez:
.266 BA, .352 OBP, .427 SLG, 19 HR, 78 RBIs in 2011
7. 2B Omar Infante:
.276 BA, .315 OBP, .382 SLG, 7 HR, 49 RBIs in 2011
8. C John Buck:
.227 BA, .316 OBP, .367 SLG, 16 HR, 57 RBIs in 2011
1. Josh Johnson, 3-1, 1.64 ERA in 2011
2. Mark Buehrle, 13-9, 3.59 ERA with White Sox in 2011
3. Anibal Sanchez, 8-9, 3.67 ERA in 2011
4. Ricky Nolasco, 10-12, 4.67 ERA in 2011
5. Carlos Zambrano, 9-7, 4.82 ERA with Cubs in 2011
Closer: Heath Bell, 43/48 saves, 2.44 ERA with Padres in 2011
RH setup man: Edward Mujica, 2.96 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Mike Dunn, 3.43 ERA in 2011 The new guys
SS Reyes: Signing Reyes was the Marlins' top offseason priority. The organization's actions proved that, as team officials, including owner Jeffrey Loria, met with Reyes and his agent, Peter Greenberg, the first minute of the free-agent signing period.
During that meeting, Loria pulled out a new Marlins uniform with Reyes' name and his No. 7 on the back of it to show the four-time All-Star how much he was wanted in Miami.
The Marlins lured Reyes away from the Mets by signing him to a six-year, $106 million contract. The speedster takes over at shortstop, and he will bat leadoff.LHP Buehrle: The Marlins may not have actually sat down with Buehrle the first minute of free agency, but they contacted him early on the first day. The 32-year-old left-hander was Miami's top pitching choice, and he signed a four-year, $58 million deal.
Buehrle has a no-hitter and perfect game in his impressive career. In Chicago, he developed a close friendship with Guillen.
In Buehrle, the Marlins picked up a front-of-the-rotation starter who has a string of 11 straight years with at least 10 wins and 200 innings pitched.RHP Bell: Bell set the stage for Miami's frantic offseason, becoming the first major free-agent signing. The hard-throwing closer came to terms on a three-year, $27 million deal.
The Marlins feel they have landed one of the best closers in the game. With San Diego, Bell's 132 saves over the past three years topped the Major Leagues.RHP Zambrano: Emotional and volatile, Zambrano adds more personality to a team that promises to generate plenty of attention. The 30-year-old was acquired from the Cubs for Chris Volstad. This move was done at the urging of Guillen, Zambrano's close friend.
Guillen believes he can help the righty keep his emotions in check. If he can, Zambrano could become a low-risk, high-reward addition to the rotation.LHP LeBlanc: The Marlins' first significant offseason transaction was trading John Baker to the Padres for LeBlanc, a lefty who adds depth.
LeBlanc has appeared in 54 MLB games, with 52 starts. A year ago, when Johnson went down, the organization had limited options with any big league experience. LeBlanc changes that.
The 27-year-old has an option left. So if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, he can be sent to Triple-A New Orleans and called up when needed.Prospects to watch
3B Matt Dominguez: Last spring, Dominguez entered camp with a shot at winning the third-base job. He struggled at the plate and ended up starting off at Triple-A New Orleans. Barring anything unforeseen, with Ramirez moving to third base, Dominguez likely will get another year of Minor League seasoning. A first-round Draft pick in 2007, Dominguez will look to improve at the plate after he hit .226 in 21 Arizona Fall League games. OF Kevin Mattison: A speedy 26-year-old, Mattison had a solid season at Double-A Jacksonville, batting .260 with 38 stolen bases. The left-handed-hitting outfielder elevated his game at the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .349 with six homers, five triples and nine stolen bases in 25 games. He will get a look as a reserve outfielder.
OF Christian Yelich: The 20-year-old is rated No. 35 on MLB.com's Top Prospects list, compiled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo. This will be Yelich's first big league camp, and the former first-round Draft pick will get a taste of the MLB environment. Yelich is expected to open the season at Class A Jupiter after he was part of low Class A Greensboro's championship squad.
LHP Chad James: The Marlins' top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, James is regarded as a top pitching prospect. The 21-year-old left-hander is expected to be promoted to Double-A Jacksonville after going 5-15 with a 3.80 ERA in 27 starts at Class A Jupiter.On the rebound
3B Ramirez: When the three-time All-Star went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left lower back on June 6, it marked the first time in his career that he served a DL stint. It wasn't his last. On Aug. 11, Ramirez went back on the DL with a strained left shoulder, and his season was over. He had surgery on the shoulder in early September, and the expectation is he will be ready for Opening Day. RHP Johnson: Right shoulder inflammation landed the two-time All-Star on the DL on May 21, five days after what became his last appearance of the season. The good news is he didn't require surgery, and he's been doing his regular offseason throwing program. The Marlins anticipate their ace being at full strength at the start of Spring Training. INF Donnie Murphy: A Spring Training surprise last year, Murphy became the Opening Day third baseman. He had a rough year, however, dealing with right wrist inflammation, which kept him on the DL for most of the season. After playing in just 36 games, Murphy was retained on a one-year deal, making him a frontrunner to win a backup infield job.
OF Chris Coghlan: Getting back to his 2009 National League Rookie of the Year Award-winning form has been a challenge for the 26-year-old, who was the Opening Day center fielder a year ago. Coghlan saw time in just 65 big league games in 2011, as he was sidelined in June with left knee inflammation. Coghlan had offseason surgery on the same knee, and he is expected to be ready by the start of Spring Training.
OF Morrison: Late in the year, Morrison injured his right knee after banging it into a wall while making a diving catch at Pittsburgh. The knee acted up on him in the offseason, and the 24-year-old underwent minor surgery. Morrison is on target to be ready for Spring Training.
OF Scott Cousins: Cousins will get a shot to win a backup outfield position now that he is returning from a lower back strain. Cousins has arguably the strongest outfield throwing arm in the organization.Long gone
RHP Volstad: Raised in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Volstad was certainly at home with the Marlins. The 25-year-old was part of the rotation since he broke in as a rookie in 2008. But after a disappointing 5-13 season with a 4.89 ERA in 29 starts, Miami felt it was time for a change. Volstad is in his first year of arbitration, and the Marlins cut ties with the 6-foot-8 right-hander, trading him to the Cubs for Zambrano. RHP Javier Vazquez: If Vazquez has indeed thrown his last big league pitch, the 35-year-old certainly went out in style. After a slow start in 2011, he finished up 5-0 with an 0.71 ERA, earning National League Pitcher of the Month honors in September. The right-hander has not backed off his position that he is retiring after 12 straight seasons with at least 10 wins.
RHP Burke Badenhop: The last remaining player obtained in the 2007 trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers, Badenhop was dealt to Tampa Bay on Dec. 12 for Minor League catcher Jake Jeffries. The right-hander served in a long relief role with the Marlins, logging at least 63 innings in each of his past three seasons.
RHP Clay Hensley: Hindered by injuries in 2011, Hensley was non-tendered and he signed as a free agent with the Giants. In his two-year tenure with the Marlins, Hensley was used as a starter, long reliever, setup right-hander and closer.
RHP Brian Sanches: A strained right elbow landed Sanches on the disabled list in the second half of 2011. The 33-year-old has signed a Minor League deal with the Phillies after being with the Marlins since 2009. The right-hander appeared in 39 games last year, including two spot starts.
C Baker: Baker was dealt to the Padres for LeBlanc in November. Miami parted ways with its former starter because of the emergence of Brett Hayes as a solid backup catcher. Baker has missed substantial time the past two seasons with a right elbow injury.