Rotation is key to Miami’s success

MIAMI — Two weeks after the regular season ended, the Marlins still have so many unanswered questions.

Team owner Jeffrey Loria still hasn’t given any word on whether manager Ozzie Guillen will return, or if there will be any restructuring in the front office. The coaching staff also is in limbo.

Look for some answers next week, after the team’s organizational meetings.

Amid the uncertainty remains one simple fact. For the Marlins to become a contender, they must have a strong starting rotation.

Barring any trades, the rotation looks pretty set. Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco promise to again anchor the top three spots. And rookies Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi each showed promise down the stretch. Both have tremendous upside.

After the World Series ends, the trading and free agency periods will begin. When they do, you will hear speculation that Johnson and Nolasco could be dangled. Both are signed through 2013, but not beyond. Johnson is set to make $13.5 million, and Nolasco $11.5 million.

The Marlins considered offers for Johnson at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline, but they never lowered their asking price. Perhaps Johnson could be dealt in the offseason if he were the key piece to pull off a major deal to bring in,  say, a third baseman, the team’s biggest need.

That said, expect to see Johnson taking the mound for Miami on Opening Day. Starting pitching is too valuable to part with, especially a legitimate front of the rotation starter.

And don’t rule out the Marlins seeking to sign Johnson to an extension before Spring Training gets started.

In spacious Marlins Park, it is clear Miami needs to build around pitching and defense.

So much went wrong for the Marlins in 2012, but for the most part, the starting pitching did its part.

Miami’s staff logged 982 1/3 innings, the 11th most in the Major Leagues. Of the 10 teams ahead of them in this category, only the Mariners (1002 2/3 innings) had a losing record.

Immediately behind the Marlins were the White Sox and Tigers, coming in 11th and 12. Atlanta and Oakland, for example, rated 16 and 17, respectively.

The Marlins collective ERA of 4.12 ranked 16th, the middle of the pack.

One issue of concern about current staff is, it ranked near the bottom of the league in strikeouts. Miami’s starters combined for 714 strikeouts, 21st out of 30 teams.

Consequently, not being a high strikeout staff, opponents frequently put the ball in play. Not surprisingly, Miami’s rotation allowed a lot of hits, 979 to be exact. That is tied with the Red Sox for the 10th most in the Majors.

Considering how much ground there is to cover at Marlins Park, the team needs to add speed, especially in the outfield.

So when the Marlins formulate what areas they need to address, don’t expect to see the rotation on the list. Their starting five pretty much is in place.

Joe Frisaro

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