Tough year ends with promise for Marlins
Season marred by injuries; club caps '11 with new name, stars
MIAMI -- It was a season that started off with playoff aspirations, but quickly deteriorated into a year of disappointment and transition.
The 2011 Florida Marlins were certainly hopeful of making a big splash in their grand finale at Sun Life Stadium. But rather than going out on a high, injuries and inconsistencies -- coupled with a midseason managerial change -- led to a last-place finish and a frustrating 72-90 record.
As disheartening as the performance was on the field, not all was lost.
On the last day of the regular season, the organization was re-energized, introducing outspoken Ozzie Guillen as manager while embarking on a new beginning. A complete franchise transformation occurred on Nov. 11, when the club was renamed the Miami Marlins in anticipation of moving into its new ballpark in 2012.
Inspired by a new beginning, the Miami Marlins have created headlines and excitement for months in South Florida.
While the product on the field didn't perform up to expectations, the Marlins experienced one of their busiest and most productive offseasons ever. Their new stadium is providing revenue streams the franchise never enjoyed while paying rent to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
Unlike the past, the Marlins are now in position to court some of the highest-paid players in the game. Their willingness to spend was shown at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, when they landed Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle for a combined $191 million.
From the moment owner Jeffrey Loria purchased the franchise in 2002, he awaited this opportunity to have the Marlins playing in a ballpark they can call their own. The buzz over the new building, coupled with three major free-agent acquisitions, helped end 2011 on a high for the franchise.
Before turning the page forward to '12, here's a look back at the major storylines for the franchise in its final season being known as the Florida Marlins.
5. Early-season contenders
The way the Marlins finished makes it easy to forget how fast the team started. Through May 26, the Marlins were playing at a high level. They improved to 10 games over .500 that day after beating the Giants at AT&T Park.
The youthful squad appeared to be growing up in a hurry. Josh Johnson was effective early, and Anibal Sanchez often pitched like an ace.
At the plate, Gaby Sanchez, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison were making an impact. All three were rookies in 2010, and they didn't show any signs of falling into a sophomore slump. Sanchez, in fact, became the Marlins' lone All-Star in 2011.
The young team showed resiliency in San Francisco on May 25, when it let a ninth-inning lead slip away, only to win it in the 12th on one of the most controversial plays of the 2011 season. Scott Cousins scored the winning run in extra innings when he crashed into Buster Posey, who sustained a season-ending injury. The collision sparked debate on whether changes are needed to protect catchers.
From the Marlins' standpoint, they won a hard-fought game. But shortly afterward, the team wasn't able to sustain any positive momentum.
4. Faces of franchise hurt
Coming out of Spring Training, the Marlins knew they had talent. What they were worried about was depth and experience.
As it turned out, the youthful club wasn't able to overcome a rash of injuries; specifically, the franchise's two biggest stars were lost for substantial time.
Johnson, a two-time All-Star, experienced right shoulder inflammation in mid-May and miss the rest of the season. Being without their ace put a strain on the Marlins' rotation, and eventually the bullpen, which logged extra innings in Johnson's absence.
From a position player side, three-time All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez missed the final two months with a left shoulder injury, which required surgery.
In late May and June, when the Marlins' season began to fall apart, Ramirez also dealt with a stiff back, which kept him out of the lineup. Overall, it was a rough year for the shortstop, who experienced career lows with his .243 batting average, 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 92 games.
Missing Johnson and Ramirez eliminated a realistic shot at making 2011 a winning campaign.
3. Return of Trader Jack
With the Marlins in the midst of their worst month in club history, Edwin Rodriguez resigned as manager on Father's Day in June.
It didn't take long for the club to secure its new manager. That's because the main candidate was already on the payroll.
Jack McKeon, who guided the team to a World Series title in 2003, had been a special adviser for the organization since '05. McKeon, 80, was named interim manager on June 20, inheriting a team mired in losing and looking for a new direction. Only Connie Mack (87) managed in the big leagues at an older age than Trader Jack.
From the beginning, McKeon downplayed any notion that there would be a generation gap with his players.
"Maybe I'm not up on the Twitter or Facebook," McKeon said. "Outside of that, I don't have any problems."
When the issue of age came up, McKeon referred to it as "experience."
"Why should someone be punished for experience?" he said.
At the time he was hired, McKeon noted that he wasn't a miracle worker. Still, he was taking over a team that had gone from being 10 games over .500 in late May to 11 games under.
Showing he could still pull the right strings, McKeon guided a remarkable turnaround in which the team reached .500 (55-55) on Aug. 2. The success didn't last, however, largely because of injuries. Ramirez suffered a season-ending left shoulder injury, and the club was unable at to recover the rest of the way.
2. Ozzie introduced as manager
An otherwise dismal season was bolstered on the final day the Marlins played at Sun Life Stadium.
Before they closed out 19 years of playing in the only home they've ever known, the Marlins announced the hiring of Guillen as manager. Two days earlier, he had worked out an agreement to leave the White Sox.
"Welcome to a new era in Marlins baseball," Loria said at the news conference in late September. "As you all know, we are celebrating two things today: Closing our time here at Sun Life Stadium and the introduction of my friend, Ozzie."
Outspoken and opinionated, Guillen made it clear what he expects from his players.
"My goal is when fans leave the ballpark, they want to come back and watch the ballclub," Guillen said on the day he was hired. "As soon as they get out, [they say], 'I'm going to bring my kids out to watch those guys play, because they've got energy, they play hard.'"
Because the White Sox retained their rights to Guillen, they received two prospects -- infielder Ozzie Martinez and right-handed reliever Jhan Marinez -- from the Marlins as compensation. The Marlins received Minor League right-hander Ricardo Andres in return.
Guillen, Florida's former third-base coach in 2002-03, now becomes the first manager in Miami Marlins history.
1. The Miami Marlins are born and spend big
With about 500 invited guests at a gala event for the new ballpark on Nov. 11, Loria unveiled the new Miami Marlins' uniforms and logo.
More than just a name changed that night. The Marlins have undergone a complete makeover, with a new identity, associating more with Miami and the sizzle that comes with South Beach.
The retractable-roof stadium will seat 37,000, and it promises to be a major attraction for years to come. Big-name players, who had not considered the Marlins before, are now signing major contracts.
For a while, some questioned whether the club would actually spend or if it was just looking to generate publicity. The answers came at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, where the Marlins were the talk of baseball, locking up an All-Star closer (Bell), shortstop (Reyes) and starting pitcher (Buehrle) in a five-day span.