Friday, September 19, 2008

Dear Baseball Fans Everywhere

I know his club probably won't make the playoffs and I know it's not a sexy pick (or award for that matter), but someone needs to be Fredi Gonzalez' advocate. He is the National League Coach of the Year and, although I see the argument for Phil Garner in Houston and maybe Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, it's not too close.

The most obvious argument is that Florida is 5 games behind the New York Mets for the wild card lead, almost certain to finish with a winning record, and seems to be finishing with a flourish (as evidenced by the sparkling new 8 game winning streak). All this after trading away Miguel Cabrera in the off-season. Sadly, the D-Train doesn't even deserve mention at the moment.

The second most obvious argument is the barely breathing horse that is the payroll issue. Usually, this is a tired subject. We've heard ad nauseam about small market teams v. the juggernauts. Then teams like Minnesota and Oakland came along and deflated the matter even further by proving contention does not have a $100 million price tag. However, the issue recaptures its significance in the Sunshine State. The Marlins check in at dead last with a $21 million payroll. They are the only collection of players who do not average 7 figures and it's not even close. Next up the rung is Tampa Bay's total of $43 million. That is not a typo; the Ray's payroll is double that of its Senior Circuit counterpart. Yet the Marlins resolutely contend almost as effectively as Tampa.

But the most important and impressive argument requires a bit more research. Only a bit. As in clicking on the roster link or googling the Marlins' roster. Unless you happen to be familiar with it, you must do this to truly appreciate what Gonzalez has achieved, coaxing these players into contention. The offense is one thing - it's young and unproven, but the talent is there with guys like Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Mike Jacobs, Jeremy Hermida, Jorge Cantu etc. Of course, that's true of most offenses outside of the NL West (my poor, poor Giants). The difference is that, for whatever reason, Fredi got kinetic performance from the talent potential.

Still, the real proof of Fredi Gonzalez' 2008 masterpiece is in the pitching staff. I happen to be familiar with it since I play fantasy baseball and drafted Justin Verlander, Aaron Harang, Manny Corpas, and Joe Borowski. My own staff was, ahem, fluid all season so I picked up some of the Florida guys from time to time. Unless you were in a similar situation, you probably couldn't name 2 guys in the starting rotation. And I'm including Marlins' fans.

The murderer's row that has lead Florida to its current lofty perch, sitting on a record that is 12 games over .500, consists of Chris Volstad, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, and Scott Olsen plus some duct tape and chewing gum. I think that's 3 ligament replacements, a rookie, and Scott Olsen; not usually the recipe for 82 wins with 10 to play.

The bullpen is an collection of headliners to rival the starting rotation, but that's pretty much the case for every team. While Fredi has gotten decent innings from his guys, that's barely significant in comparison to his other monumental achievements. In fact, that the Marlins contend despite a less-than-stellar bullpen would indicate that Gonzalez has been able to minimize its negative impact through effective and efficient management. Another gold star.

There is simply no other manager who has done as much with as little as Fredi Gonzalez. Of course, the media is probably salivating at this point over the thought of giving the award to Lou Pinella in Chicago or Jerry Manuel in New York. Or (can you imagine?) Joe Torre for his first season of work after leaving New York! Talk about stories for weeks without having to do any actual work; that's the modern journalist's ideal. The fact that none of these 3 men deserve the award is just a minor little snag.

Kind of like integrity.

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