MLB handicappers would be wise to not that notoriously stingy Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has dramatically changed course by dumping money on Giancarlo Stanton and building around him.
Equally important for 2015 -- when Stanton remains a steal at $6.5 million -- the Fish have added Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, Michael Morse, Martin Prado, Dan Haren and David Phelps. This overall roster upgrade -- made possible by a payroll jump from $48 million to about $70 million -- should push them over .500 for the first time since 2009 and sportsbooks have changed the betting odds in accordance.
Over the previous five seasons, Florida-turned-Miami had maxed out at 80 wins back in 2010, and churned through no fewer than six managers (including a one-game interim) in 2011. The good news is they jumped 15 wins in 2014, when they finished 77-85. While everything will have to go right for them to challenge for a wildcard spot in 2015, a bump-up to over .500 seems well within reach in Mike Redmond's third season as manager.
Pitching staff: Keep in mind when reviewing MLB odds that Jose Fernandez made eight outstanding starts (2.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 12.2 K/9) before he underwent Tommy John surgery last May 16. Expecting anything from him before the second half of this season seems a bit optimistic, and Fernandez duplicating his 2013 dominance at any point this season just isn't likely. However, a dozen or so high-quality second-half starts is possible.
South Florida native Latos is back where he grew up, but his velocity, strikeout rate and groundball rate fell off in Cincinnati last season. Henderson Alvarez and Jarred Cosart both posted 50-plus percent groundball rates but subpar strikeout rates last season, and have some remaining upside. For Dan Haren, the switch in home parks should help his home-run tendencies. All of the roster changes were a bit costly here, though, as potential stars Andrew Heaney and Nathan Eovaldi were dealt away.
Steve Cishek is an under-the-radar quality closer, and there will be plenty of strikeouts from the setup trio of Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps.
Lineup: Gordon's second-half decline has put a damper on 2015 projections. But he's a vast upgrade from the Marlins' 2014 2B platoon led by 314 plate appearances from Donovan Solano, now a role player.
Led by Stanton in right, this outfield is an emerging force. Christian Yelich is the next position-player All-Star on this roster, and bet you didn't realize Marcell Ozuna, 24, hit 23 homers and drove in 85 runs last year. Ichiro Suzuki needs 156 hits to reach 3,000 in the MLB portion of his Hall of Fame career. But when he starts, the Marlins lineup will be a bit power-short, as one-third of it will be pitcher-Gordon-Ichiro.
Assuming good health for Morse -- another native South Floridian who has gone home -- he is an upgrade over Garrett Jones at first. But there is no quality proven backup here, and Morse never plays a full season.
Run-prevention-wise, Yelich won a Gold Glove and shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria was a Gold Glove finalist. But catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia's metrics aren't good, which is why light-hitting Jeff Mathis is on the roster.
Bovada lists the Marlins at +600 on MLB odds to win the National League East, at 14/1 to win the NL pennant and at 33/1 to win the World Series. With Washington at -475 to win the division, the better value for sports picks to win the division is probably the Fish.
A bettor in the Forum posts the Advantages of Betting MLB
MLB Free Picks: With a healthy Fernandez for a full season, this O/U number would be higher by a handful of games, and the Fish would be a trendy playoff pick. But working in their favor is the fact that both the Braves and Phillies are in rebuild/retool mode. I'd place my MLB pick on over the 81.5 wins.