The season that was to be the dream season for the new-look, now-large-market Marlins has finally, mercifully come to a mathematical conclusion. Not that said conclusion hasn't been foregone for months.
What went right
At least for one season, Jose Reyes' contract isn't horrible. Mark Buehrle has been every bit the durable innings eater the Marlins hoped they signed and Giancarlo Stanton's ascent to becoming the most jaw-dropping power hitter in baseball continues. Josh Johnson staying healthy was a plus. I do think that dealing Hanley Ramirez probably had to happen and getting back a talented young arm like Nathan Eovaldi shows good promise. Also, getting Jacob Turner back in the Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante deal should prove a good get.
What went wrong
Ozzie Guillen's mouth, Heath Bell, injuries, underperformance, Gaby Sanchez falling apart, Logan Morrison's on-field performance still failing to come even close to his Twitter presence and much more. This was supposed to be the year that the Marlins' front office announced their presence with authority to the rest of the baseball world as serious large-market players. Instead, the Marlins are cooked with just under two weeks left in the season and haven't been relevant for months.
MVP: Clearly, it's that new Home Run Feature in deep left-center (mostly center), right? If you want a serious pick, it's obviously Stanton, but it's hard to take this bunch seriously right now.
LVP: It's a three-way tie between David Samson, Jeffrey Loria and Larry Beinfest. They wanted to spend lots of money in the offseason to ensure that they made a splash in the Winter Meetings, and it worked. It just didn't translate to the field because the plan wasn't well thought out. Bell's peripherals the past few years showed he was due a steep decline, especially once he was out of Petco Park (even if Marlins Ballpark plays a pitcher's park, they didn't know that when they signed him). Buehrle is an innings-eater, yes, but he's not a frontline starter. That money could have been much better spent. As it turned out, the Marlins ended up with a bad mix and have to try and rebuild on the fly.
Gameplan heading into the offseason
They have to become an instant contender, lest they lose the momentum provided by the new stadium -- and attendance is up significantly this season as they've drawn over 2 million fans. The thing is, if they spend smarter this time around, it's possible to turn this thing around rather quickly.
Morrison is still plenty young enough to develop at first base, assuming they move him there and concentrate on landing a center fielder. Stanton is an elite talent. Reyes is still in his prime. That is the start of a good offensive nucleus. Maybe Justin Ruggiano is legit, too. There is that void in center field (Emilio Bonifacio makes more sense at second base, should he remain a starter), and B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino are free agents. Maybe overpay for Bourn if they are serious about spending again? He'd look nice batting leadoff with Reyes second in front of Stanton.
The rotation (Johnson, Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Eovaldi, Turner) seems serviceable enough to compete, so long as the young guys improve and Johnson gets even better in his second season back from surgery. The other caveat is they need a better bullpen behind them.
The bullpen needs some serious shoring up. If the Marlins learned their lesson, they'll avoid big-money closers and instead concentrate on doing what their Florida counterpart, the Rays, do and find guys on the cheap. It's much easier -- and better for the organizational bottom line -- to find a Fernando Rodney or Jim Johnson or Joel Hanrahan or Tyler Clippard or Tom Wilhelmsen than it is to pay for Heath Bell or Jonathan Papelbon. Some names that might make sense on the free agency market: Mike Adams, Jason Grilli and Jeremy Affeldt. If those guys are too pricey, they need to look within the organization and start developing their own relievers.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2013
Last place in the very competitive NL East. Things are going to get worse before they get better, and the momentum from the new stadium will stall to a near-standstill.