Expectations remain high for Marlins owner
Loria believes young team can contend if players stay healthy
MIAMI -- Relying on young players has never diminished the Marlins' expectations of winning.
When Marlins pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Friday, the goal will remain the same as before -- reach the playoffs.
Featuring some of the top young talent in the game, the Marlins have high hopes in a season where they will be viewed as an "under-the-radar" challenger.
"I'll match my guys up with anybody," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said on Monday during the team's annual media luncheon at the Intercontinental hotel. "We have a very good team, and I think we can do extremely well this year, and we will do well, assuming that we're healthy. That's always the caveat."
Pitchers and catchers start their drills on Friday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Full-squad workouts get under way on Feb. 22.
In the highly competitive National League East, the Phillies are regarded as heavy favorites. The Marlins, meanwhile, are filled with optimism that they can contend.
Working in the Marlins' favor is the fact their roster is filled with some outstanding talent, like All-Stars Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson.
In the offseason, the club added All-Stars John Buck and Omar Infante.
While there are established veterans on the team, a number of core players are young and still gaining experience. Much is being expected from a lineup that will feature Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez -- all rookies in 2010. Plus, Chris Coghlan, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, is returning from knee surgery.
With young players comes some uncertainty. Inevitably, there will be growing pains.
In assessing their areas of need from last year, the Marlins focused their offseason on upgrading their defense and bullpen. Through either trades or free agency, they added relievers Mike Dunn, Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb and Randy Choate.
The personality of the club will change now that Dan Uggla has been traded to the Braves. The Marlins obtained Infante and Dunn in the deal that sent Uggla to Atlanta.
There is still pop with players like Stanton and Ramirez, but the lineup also has contact hitters like Infante, Coghlan and Morrison.
"I think we can do a lot of different things," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "We're going to miss Dan Uggla's power, there is no question about it. But I think we can manufacture some runs in other ways."
The additions to the bullpen and getting Infante's glove on the field are ways the team hopes to improve in other areas.
"I think we feel good about what we did this offseason -- the way the team has matured, and I think it matured in the right places, the pitching staff," Beinfest said. "We brought up some guys that we think will be impact guys for us. I think it's a team still on the rise also."
Because of the youth -- Stanton (21), Morrison (23), Coghlan (25) -- the franchise is well positioned to be competitive for years to come.
The organization has an eye on the present and the future, especially with its retractable-roof ballpark opening in 2012.
Heading into Spring Training, a major question will be whether the team is ready to seriously compete now.
"I think we can win in the high 80s or 90s if we stay healthy," Loria said.
Is there enough talent to reach the postseason?
"I think we have the ability to do it," Loria said.
In 2010, Florida finished 80-82. Most likely the team would have had a winning record if it didn't play the final month without Ramirez, Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, who were all sidelined with injuries.
For the most part, the team will be healthy heading into Spring Training. Coghlan, who is returning from surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee, will be full-speed from the start of Spring Training.
Nolasco, who underwent surgery for a meniscus tear in his right knee, also won't have any restrictions. The same is true for Johnson, who missed the final few weeks with back and shoulder issues.
Catcher John Baker, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right arm, is not fully recovered in terms of throwing. He is, however, swinging the bat. Even if Baker isn't ready to resume catching duties by Opening Day, he could make the Opening Day roster as a lefty bat off the bench.
Infielder Donnie Murphy (dislocated right wrist) is recovering and likely will be playing in Grapefruit League games sometime in March.
If everything falls into place, and the team remains healthy, management expects to contend.
"Now it's up to them," Loria said. "We put this thing together in a way that the pieces seem to work well together. We have a new bullpen and better defense. We have a terrific bunch of ballplayers."