Wait, the Marlins Are Playing Baseball This Year?

With all the hullaballo and hubbub over the giant tax-pit ... um ... new Marlins Stadium proposal, it's easy to forget that the Fish are still a baseball team and the new season is almost upon us.

It's a shame, really. For true baseball fans, Spring Training is the best time of the year. Everyone's still a World Series contender (well, except for the Royals), the grass is green, and Joe Girardi hasn't told any owners to go fuck themselves yet.

So it's ironic that the County Commission is scheduled to vote on five massive contracts in the $550 million plan for a new Little Havana stadium on Friday  -- the day before pitchers and catchers report to Roger Dean Stadium up in Jupiter.

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In honor of the spring ritual, just for today, whaddya say we ignore the municipal bonds and pay attention to the fungoes for once. Are these guys going to be any good?

Last year's edition of the Fish were one of baseball's best stories. With a miniscule payroll -- the lowest in MLB and less than the left side of the Yankees' infield -- the Marlins finished 84-77, in third place in the NL East. Fredi Gonzalez young team stayed in the Wild Card hunt, amazingly, until the final weeks of the season.

So what about 2009? One thing is certain: They aren't going to spend any more cash than usual. The projected starting lineup includes a ton of names that didn't even get into the bigs until after the All Star break last year. And, as usual, the team traded two of its successes from the last year: slugging first-baseman Mike Jacobs and closer Kevin Gregg.

Add it all up, and the experts don't like what they see. Baseball Prospectus, the stat-geek kings of MLB, project the Marlins to finish dead-last in the East, behind even the gag-inducingly awful Washington Nationals.

If Riptide were a wagerin' kind of blog, we'd put some cash on the Marlins exceeding those expectations. They've still got MVP-in-the-making Hanley Ramirez and 2nd-baseman powerhouse Dan Uggla. Even without Jacobs, they're going to smoke a ton of home runs. The rotation is untested but promising. And they even picked up some useful relievers -- Scott Procter and Leo Nunez.

Put us down for an 87-74 finish, third again in the East, and a respectable Wild Card contender. You heard it here first. Unfortunately, we're also going to predict another long summer of sub-1,000 fan turnouts, thunderstorm-shortened series, and unending screeching over the new stadium deal. Welcome to Marlins Country.

Here's the starting lineup, as projected by the Marlin's website:
1) CF Cameron Maybin (.277 BA, 13 HR, 49 RBIs)
2) C John Baker (.299/5/32)
3) SS Hanley Ramirez (.301/33/67)
4) 3B Jorge Cantu (.277/29/95)
5) 2B Dan Uggla (.260/32/92)
6) LF Jeremy Hermida (.249/17/61)
7) RF Cody Ross (.260/22/73)
8) 1B Gaby Sanchez (.314/17/92)

And the rotation:
1) Ricky Nolasco: 15-8, 3.18 ERA
2) Josh Johnson, 7-1, 3.61
3) Chris Volstad, 6-4, 2.88
4) Andrew Miller, 6-10, 5.87
5) Anibal Sanchez, 2-5, 5.57

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