The Nats have gotten an unexpected nasty surprise this offseason. They already knew they'd have to contend with the Braves and the Phillies, but now the Marlins are looking like they might be in the thick of things. Are the Marlins actually a team to be worried about?
How much better are the Nats than the Marlins really?
Last year ended with the Nats 8.5 games better than the Marlins, 80 wins to 72. We all know wins and losses can be a bit skewed so we take a look at Pythag records and... the Nats are at 78, Marlins right on 72. Seems ok, but even things like runs scored can be bumped around by things like a off-year by the team with RISP. What about BP's adjusted win totals? Here the Marlins leap ahead coming in around 79/80 wins while the Nats are right around 78. Given the likely variance involved you're looking at two teams that are about the same.
This isn't to say I think the Nats and the Marlins were equal teams last year. I don't. But if there is a difference in the Nats favor, it's likely to be much closer to a game or two, rather than the 8+ suggested by the standings.
How much better do Reyes and Buehrle make the Marlins?
Worst case scenario (assuming Hanley stops pitching a fit and gets in line) - Reyes replaces Dobbs in the lineup. If you like WAR... Jose is roughly a 5 WAR type player (6.2 last year but 2.9 the year before, then again around 6 from 2006-08... I like 5 as a rough estimate of the package) , Dobbs maybe is a 1, probably not even that. That would suggest 4 wins or so. If you don't like WAR, Jose is a much better hitter than Dobbs. You probably got a sense that Jose doesn't hit for much power or walk alot. He hits for more power and walks more than Dobbs. (Dobbs is pretty damn mediocre at the plate). Reyes is a much better baserunner. Dobbs was not a great fielder and you have to believe Hanley could do better there, and Jose is probably a touch better than Ramirez at short. All in all that's more than just a win or two difference.
We can do the same exercize for Mark, but suffice to say Buehrle is probably worth about 3 wins more than whatever dregs the Marlins would have put out in the 5th spot in the rotation. That doesn't seem like a lot, and it isn't A LOT, but it is still pretty significant.
These two signings along with a change in luck to just average could turn the Marlins from a 72 win team to a 83/84 win team.
Anything else the Marlins have in their pocket?
Hanley, Hanley, Hanley. Both Buck and Coghlan played poorly but I don't think there's enough to say they'll definitely bounce back. Everyone else was right on board* except the mecurial shortstop. Let's understand this now. If Hanley Ramirez hits like he can, he is a great hitter at any position. Let no Boswell type person tell you otherwise. In 2010 he put up a .300 / .378 / .475 line. That .853 OPS would have been 3rd among NL 3rd basemen last year. That year was significantly worse than his 2009... or 2008... or 2007. He can be a .330 30 HR guy. If he bounces back to 2010 form that's a couple more wins right there. If he bounces back to his form before that... look out.
*I guess you could say Stanton might be in for a crash but really there isn't enough to go onto be definitive.
On the mound there's Josh Johnson. He only pitched in 9 games for the Marlins last year but when he's healthy he's one of the best pitchers in the game. WHIP the last 3 years or 1.158, 1.105, and 0.978. K/9 over 8, HR/9 well under 1. The guy is Cy Young candidate, start in the All-Star game good. If he can come back, then the Marlins have added another bunch of wins.
So you're saying they are going to be pretty good then, huh?
I think the Marlins are going to be much better than last years record. No doubt. Like 10 games better easy. That's the money bet. That's what adding two All-Stars to positions of weakness can do for you. That in itself is enough to be a thorn in the side of a Nats team that hopes to improve by a few more wins into the fringes of the new wild card race. If the Nats don't develop like the management is hoping they might be passed by this Miami team.
Now can they make an even bigger jump? That depends on the two All-Stars they already have. If Johnson is healthy and Hanley can put behind him all this and get back to being awesome, it would be like the Marlins added two All-Star position players and a #1 and #2 pitcher in this offseason. That's crazy. That's like adding Cliff Lee + Gio Gonzalez + Troy Tulowitski + Starlin Castro. That's gonna get you 10+ more wins, easy. With average luck, that would propel Miami to the upper 80s in wins and right past the Nats.
The Nats better hope that Johnson is hurt and that Hanley remains a petulant little child. If not, they could watch themselves "improve" all the way to an 79-83, 4th place finish is an ultra-competitive NL East.