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Know Your Enemy: Miami Marlins

The Marlins have always been a strange little franchise. This year will be no different.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins thought they were in the wild-card race last year at the trading deadline. No, I'm serious! Two days before the deadline they were 53-53 and that put them 4½ games behind the wild-card leader, at that time the Braves.

So they made a trade with the Astros and picked up starting pitcher Jarred Cosart. (Which was kind of a shame for those of us who like wordplay, as that broke up Houston's "Anagram Battery" of Cosart and Jason Castro.) The primary player they gave up was outfielder Jake Marisnick.

This deal didn't mean much for the Marlins in 2014, as they finished 77-85, but it could pay dividends down the road. Jeffrey Loria is the worst major-league owner; he spent a ton of money trying to put together a winning team as his new park opened in 2012 and when they lost 93 games, he blew it up. That wasn't the worst idea, actually, and the prospects the Marlins received plus a few of their own might, just might, make a real run at that wild card this year.

There are still a few question marks. How will Giancarlo Stanton, now the highest-paid player on the planet, return from that frightening beaning he had near the end of last year? How will Jose Fernandez return from Tommy John surgery? He's scheduled to start the year on the DL but is going to start throwing off a mound soon.

Having Cosart, a 38th-round pick who threw quite well after the trade, in the rotation will help. So will Mat Latos, acquired from the Reds, and Dan Haren, acquired from the Dodgers. That is, if Haren doesn't force a trade to a West Coast team. He'd said he would retire rather than pitch somewhere far from his Southern California home, but he's in Marlins camp and says he's ready to go this year as a Marlins starter. (It would help if he pitched like the 2011 version of Haren rather than the 2012, 2013 or 2014 version, too.)

The Marlins also picked up second baseman Dee Gordon in the deal with the Dodgers. Gordon led the major leagues in triples and steals last year, but still put up just a 101 OPS+ and 2.4 bWAR. He'll still be an improvement over the four-headed monster Miami trotted out at second base last year.

Miami has a couple of other key young players who, if they take a step forward this year, could push the Marlins into that wild-card race again: outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, both of whom were good in 2014. The Marlins have hope that both will become stars.

And then there's Stanton, who has Hall of Fame talent if healthy. This time, the injury isn't anything to his knees, which were an issue before 2014. Last year his knees stood up as he set career highs in plate appearances, doubles, home runs and RBI before the accidental beaning by the Brewers' Mike Fiers. He could be entering his best years, not that his previous seasons were shabby by any means.

Former Cub Reed Johnson is in Marlins camp on a minor-league deal with a NRI; he could be a good veteran presence on the bench for this young team.

The Cubs face the Marlins for three-game sets in Miami June 1-2-3 and at Wrigley Field July 3-4-5.