So here we are on Thursday, July 23rd with the Florida Marlins 6 games behind the Phillies in the NL East, and just 3.5 games out of the wildcard (Rox, Giants, Cubs, Astros ahead of them). The low payroll Florida Marlins are somehow in the thick of things for the playoffs. Even after all the of moves made by both the front office and the managerial braintrust that left us shaking our heads, the Marlins have an actual chance at a playoff birth with about 65 games to go.
The three headed monster in the starting rotation is starting to come around. Josh Johnson has been a horse all season long. Chris Volstad has a 3.24era and under a 1.00whip for the month of July. Since Ricky Nolasco was sent to the minors towards the end of May, he has made 9 starts. In this 59.1 innings, he has a 2.73era to go along with a 1.03whip with 68 strikeouts and just 13 walks. Opposing batters are hitting just .218/.361/.355 against him during his recent run of dominance. The Fish are lacking a legit 4th starter right now, but it looks like Rick VandenHurk might be ready to contribute to the team for the first time in his young career.
The Marlins bullpen is pretty damn good. Dan Meyer has found the form that made him one of the best prospects in baseball a few seasons ago. Leo Nunez has been a rock back there in the abscence of closer Matt Lindstrom. Brian Sanches and Kiko Calero have been absolute revelations, proving yet again that seemingly anyone not named Jorge Julio can pitch effectively in the Marlins bullpen at anytime. The additions of veterans Brandon Donnelly and Luis Ayala only strengthen the Marlins bullpen even more.
What the Marlins need is a bat. A guy that can step in and just mash the ball. A guy that can play either corner outfield spot if need be, and even some first base at times. Being that the Marlins have payroll constraints, they could use someone that isn't exactly making that much money. It would be nice if this masher could also take a walk here and there. In a best case scenario, this player the Marlins would bring in would be a veteran but someone the players on the team could instantly connect with. In a perfect world, there wouldn't be a bunch of teams lining up to get this guy because of bigger fish in the sea (Matt Holliday, Roy Halladay, Victor Martinez). And oh yea, this player's current team would have to be terrible and be in somewhat of a cost-cutting mode so they could maybe save some money to try and sign their top draftee from 2009.
Next on ABC: "I'm a good hitter... get me outtttta here!"
As it turns out.... there is such a guy out there. He meets all of our requirements. Ya'll remember Josh Willingham, don't you? The guy we unceremoniously shipped off to D.C. along with Scott Olsen in exchange for Emilio Bonifacio (seriously) and a bunch of minors leaguers. Well it turns out, rumors of his back being shot for good were greatly exaggerated. Former Nationals Manager Manny Acta, not knowing how potent a weapon Josh Willingham's bat really is, started him off on the bench to begin the 2009 season. In exchange for this treatment, Josh hit all of .143/.302/.257 in 35 at bats in the month of April.
May finally comes around and with injuries to Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge and every other outfielder that Acta liked over Willingham, Acta had no choice but to start giving The Hammer some legit at bats. Josh hasn't seen the pine since (although Acta is now watching games at home on his couch after being fired... no doubt for his lack of trust in Josh Willingham). Since May 5th, Willingham is hitting .328/.438/.632 in 174 at bats. He has 27 walks to go with just 36 strikeouts. On the season, even with that horrid start, Josh has a .984 OPS. If he had enough at bats to qualify(missed a bunch of time due to a death in the family), that OPS would rank him 7th in the majors. That would be ahead of guys like Hanley, Utley, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira.
But Nomahhhhhh you ask, Hammer is probably just feasting on lefties, he can't come in and just tear up all the righties like we need him to. I'm so glad you posed that thought. While Josh is hitting .326/.492/.674 against lefties, he is still crushing righties to a tuen of .288/.389/.540 in 163 at bats. He's turned himself into a legit force in the middle of the order. Can you imagine just plugging his bat right behind Hanley and in front of Cantu? The best part is that depending on where Hammer plays in the field that day, you either get Emilio Bonifacio (Cantu at 3rd) or Chris Coghlan (who I love, but still he isn't bringing much to the table right now) out of the lineup on those days. How about a 2-3-4-5 of Hermida/Baker (walk machines), Hanley, Willingham and Cantu? Obviously Cody should be hitting 6th with Uggla 7th, but I think that might be asking too much of Fredi. We know he doesn't look at stats or splits or anything when he makes his decisions. Hell, he'd probably ask Hammer to hit 8th in his order.
Why are no other teams even interested in Willingham anyway? There were rumors saying the Cardinals may go after Josh if they can't land Matt Holliday. How about just going after the guy that have .150 OPS points on Holliday and won't cost nearly as much (in prospects or in salary). Seriously, when was the last time someone playing this well, making this little amount of money, relatively inexpensive (prospect-wise) was available in the middle of the season? It's not like he has baggage with him and it's not like he's a bad clubhouse guy. Forget Roy Halladay, the road to the playoffs goes through whichever team decides to man-up and grab Josh Willingham. If no one decides to, he'll just continue to kill the ball in D.C. and be everyone's worst nightmare down the stretch.