The Florida Marlins are one of the most intelligently-run organizations in baseball. After winning two World Series championships in the last fifteen years and being almost annual playoff contenders these days despite a ridiculous shoestring budget, it's safe to say that if you don't understand the moves the Marlins are making, the fault is on your end. The team always seems able to summon young, cost-controlled talent at will from its farm system, and they have an absolutely unlimited supply of power arms down there, waiting for a chance to pitch for the parent club.
That said, I have no idea what the Marlins are doing right now.
The offseason has just begun, and the Marlins have already struck with three trades and one free agent signing following each other in rapid succession. Let's take them approximately chronologically.
Traded LHP Andrew Miller to the Boston Red Sox for LHP Dustin Richardson. This one is easy enough to figure out: The Marlins are attempting to save money. Both Miller and Richardson suck, but Miller has a history of being a top prospect with electric stuff that he has somehow misplaced, and therefore is getting paid a mid-range sum of money this year, whereas Richardson sucks on the cheap. Essentially, the Marlins are betting $1.5 million that Miller never recovers from whatever ails him.
Traded CF Cameron Maybin to the San Diego Padres for RHP Edward Mujica and RHP Ryan Webb. Now, both Webb and Mujica are quality pitchers, albeit relievers rather than starters. But Maybin is still very young, cheap, and while his bat is still a work in progress, he has hit very well in AAA and plays excellent defense in center field. This is usually the sort of player the Marlins look for, not trade away. He is out of minor league options, so maybe they didn't think he'd be good enough to make the team out of Spring Training next year and wanted to move him before that became a problem. Which is weird, because he hit very well in AAA this year, and they have no centerfielder on the roster.
Traded 2B Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves for LHP Mike Dunn and utilityman Omar Infante.This is just strange and/or awful. Uggla is an All Star-caliber second baseman under team control for one more year. Infante is a utilityman with no patience or power at the plate who is also signed for another year, and Mike Dunn is a cheap reliever who once heard rumor of a strange land called the strike zone, but dismissed it. Again, though: The Marlins do save money.
Signed C John Buck to a 3-year, $18 million dollar contract. And there goes that money. I know you need a catcher to prevent the ball from rolling to the backstop every play, but it seems to me that if your catcher is going to cost you $6,000,000 guaranteed each season, he should probably not suck. Unfortunately for them, the Marlins do not agree with me about this. Because they signed Buck, who sucks. I could detail how he sucks, but it will be far less painful for all parties concerned if you just take my word for it. You want something anyway? Fine. Here's an unfair comparison: Buck's career .301 on-base percentage is slightly worse than the career OBP of Smoky Joe Wood with the Red Sox. Don't make me actually break Buck down. I will do it. And it will be long. And I'm starting to kind of want to.
Unless there's going to be a sudden pandemic that affects only relief pitchers, I'm mystified here. The Marlins are trading away assets to stockpile players at the least valuable position on a baseball team (Well, okay, more valuable than 'The Guy Who Backs Up Albert Pujols'. But that's about it). Normally the Marlins are a very sharp ballclub, but they suddenly seem to have a dearth of outfielders after jettisoning Maybin and (Slightly more distantly) Cody Ross, and announcing that Chris Coghlan will move back to the infield this season. The relievers will be useful if the team contends, but with the lineup they currently have, that seems unlikely. However, they are moving into a new stadium soon, and should have a rise in revenue from that. And while they've already wasted about 2/3 of what they've saved in the trades on Buck, there's still some left over from that. I wouldn't be surprised if that money plus some more gets invested in a player or two more as the offseason continues, with a goal of moving the team up into contention this year, be it via free agency (Baseless speculation that will never ever happen: Carl Crawford?) or a trade for a high-salaried player (With the Dodgers' reported financial issues, Matt Kemp, perhaps?). These moves just feel like the precursor to something bigger, something that will make the Marlins a Team To Beat in 2011. Because otherwise they just screwed up royally, and a team this smart wouldn't do that. Right?
Update - They will move Coghlan to centerfield. So I figured hey, when's the next time I'll be in Haiti?