Marlins swimming up Major League stream
by Mike Hayes - 06/21/2006
As I watch the suddenly surging, red hot Florida Marlins I can't help but think of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn and Willie "Mays" Hayes.
You know the story. The owner of a fictional Cleveland Indian team wants a new stadium so she rids the squad of all the high-priced losers and replaces them with a bunch of no-names in the hopes that the team reeks so bad they are forced out of town.
Sound a bit like the Marlins, who shed $45 million in payroll this off season and are down to a MLB low $15 million?
Of course in the Hollywood version the plan backfires as this bunch of loveable misfits, led by Hayes, who according to manager Lou Brown "runs like Hayes but hits like shit," and the fire-balling Vaughn, who gains his control once he dons a pair of Coke-bottle glasses, can actually play. Lo and behold, they win the pennant.
While life does tend to imitate art, I'm not suggesting for a moment the Fish are going to enjoy a Hollywood ending this season. But their recent 18-6 run suggests that they are a team of the future, whether that future is in South Florida or somewhere else.
The Marlins have long been looking to get out of Dolphin Stadium and into a more suitable baseball-only facility. Their plans have been met coolly by Florida officials and citizens who have been reluctant to dole out the cash needed to keep the Fish in the Sunshine State. If something doesn't get worked out in the near future there is little doubt the Marlins will find a new swimming hole.
Disgusted at the prospect of continuing to hemorrhage money, in spite of fielding a competitive team and winning two World Series in the process, ownership rid itself of high priced vets such as Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Josh Beckett, Alex Gonzalez, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo and replaced them with young, major-league minimum prospects.
While this is strikingly similar to what occurred with the fictional Indians team, there are a couple of significant differences between the real-life Marlin franchise and the 1989 baseball film. First, Marlin ownership did not assemble this team in the hope of losing, although the most skeptical among us might have suggested otherwise during the off season purge and after watching the Fish go 11-31 to start the season. And second, first year manager Joe Girardi came to the Marlins after a year as Yankee bench coach, unlike Brown who left his job as manager of a tire shop to take the reins of the Tribe.
Like Brown's Indians, it has taken the Marlins, who have used 18 rookies this year, some time to mesh. Back on May 21 the Fish dropped their 31st game of the season - it was there seventh loss in a row. The next day they beat the Cubs and since then they've been on a surge.
The reason for the turnaround is the emergence of young players like first baseman Mike Jacobs (.273 10, 37), rookie second baseman Dan Uggla, (.312, 12, 42) shortstop Hanley Ramierez, (.268, 3, 20, 20 SB) and righty Jason Johnson, who is 6-4 with a league low 2.01 ERA. Add to the mix the MVP-caliber play of 23-year-old "veteran" Miguel Cabrera (.342, 10, 45) and the return to form of Dontrelle Willis, who at the ripe-old age of 23 was runner-up in NL Cy Young voting last year, and its clear that Fish backers have a lot to look forward to.
For the bettor astute enough to ride the Marlin wave the results have been. Through the first 43 games of the season the Fish were among the league's biggest money burners, but their recent streak has made them a wager worth considering.
The Marlins are now ranked 12 in terms of money line profitability among MLB teams and although the $71 year-to-date profit, which assumes a $100 wager on each game, is a far cry from the more than $2,000 Tiger backers have enjoyed, it is an amazing turnaround from the money hemorrhaging the Marlins were good for over the first 40 games.
What has made the Marlins so profitable during this run is they have almost always been underdogs and have won at numbers like +210 against Pedro Martinez and the Mets; +183 pitted against Jake Peavy and the Padres and most recently at +147 and +143 against the Blue Jays.
As favorites during their run the Marlins are 6-0, with two wins against the Braves, one against the Giants, Rockies and Blue Jays.
It's hard to believe that anyone other than the most optimistic of Marlins fans would have been fortunate enough to back the Fish at the beginning of this run with real money. The question is what to do with the Marlins now that they've shown they aren't the doormats they appeared to be just one month ago? At that time, the only handicapping you really needed to do was bet against the Marlins and the Royals.
Of course the more they win the less likely they are to be underdogs - at least not at the prices they have been - so they will need to win even more to continue to be profitable.
It's unrealistic to believe they will continue at their current pace, but as long as the pitching holds up the Fish should be worth a long, hard look in certain spots when the price is right.
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