SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With the Marlins ready to embark on one of the most-anticipated seasons in their history, we asked two former general managers (ESPN and SiriusXM Radio host Jim Bowden, MLB Network’s Dan O’Dowd) and the dean of baseball writers (MLB Network’s Peter Gammons) to assess the team. Some of their mostly optimistic views:
### On the rotation of Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos, Jarred Cosart, Dan Haren and Tom Koehler, with ace Jose Fernandez due back from Tommy John surgery by July:
Bowden: “Henderson Alvarez’s breakout was real. I’m not sure Jarred Cosart will pitch as well as he did for them the last two months, but I believe in his stuff, and as long as you call the game for him and not have him calling the game, he will be successful.
“Mat Latos has shown signs of brilliance this spring. The command is not quite there, but he won’t care that much about a spring training game. Haren is fine. Koehler has great stuff. Is it an elite staff? No. Is it the Nationals or Mets rotation? No. But you have Jose coming back, and if you make the wild card, guess who is pitching the one-game playoff for you? Jose.”
O’Dowd: “They may not have a true No. 1 until Fernandez comes back, but they have lots of twos, threes and fours. We tried to get Cosart [when O’Dowd was Rockies GM] at the same time the Marlins did last summer. He has electric stuff, inconsistent command and control, especially fastball command. If he can slow the game down, he can jump from a No. 5 starter to a 2 or 3.”
Gammons: “It’s an average rotation if Fernandez doesn’t come back [effectively]. If Fernandez comes back, it’s very good. He and Alvarez and Cosart can be a powerful Big 3. I like Koehler. Haren will be a great influence on the younger guys.”
### On the bullpen: O’Dowd: “What makes Steve Cishek so tough to hit is you don’t see that angle on a consistent basis. I loved the deal for Bryan Morris last season. AJ Ramos has a dominant arm. I fell out of my chair when he threw against us last year.”… Bowden: “Their bullpen is way better than people think.”
### Outfield: Bowden: “Along with Pittsburgh, one of the two best outfields in baseball. The contracts for Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich will allow them to reach their potential sooner because they are set for life and won’t have to worry about performing for numbers. Yelich, no doubt, could be a batting champ. I love the swing. When you see Fred Lynn, Joe Mauer, I put Yelich in that group.
That’s how good the mechanical swing is. Ozuna is  homers, 85 RBI now. There is another level for him. Maybe he can get to 28, 100 in that lineup.”
O’Dowd: “Yelich is the purest hitter in that lineup. A very gifted, handsy hitter. Ozuna has a chance to be a beast.” …. Gammons: “Marcell Ozuna can be an All-Star.”
### Middle infield: “The reality is up the middle [shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, new second baseman Dee Gordon] they’re way better than people think, way better than what the metrics say,” Bowden said. “And Perry Hill is the best infield instructor in the history of baseball.”
Offensively, Gordon “wasn’t great in the second half, which was phenomenal, because the Marlins don’t get him if his on-base percentage wasn’t a problem with Dodgers [brass],” Bowden said. “[Marlins coach] Brett Butler helps him with his bunting and already has helped him with sliding feet first instead of head first. I expect 80 stolen bases from him.”
O’Dowd: “At times, [Gordon] was an anxious player, but playing against him in the same division, his speed is crippling. He improved defensively in the second half of the year…. Hechavarria is a highlight film. It’s like watching a young Omar Vizquel. Jaw dropping what he does defensively.”
Gammons expects Gordon to continue improving as a hitter: “Doug Melvin used to say when Otis Nixon was coming up, guys that can really run learn how to hit and get on base at 27, 28, 29 and you shouldn’t lose patience with them. He will be a really good player. The genes are really good with Gordon [who is the son of former MLB pitcher Tom Gordon].”
### Corner infielders: Bowden worries a bit about first baseman Michael Morse’s history of injuries “and they need him to develop into an average first baseman [defensively]. He’s a below average first baseman now.” But all three like his bat (which was scorching this spring), makeup and professionalism.
“Morse is better served when he doesn’t play the outfield,” O’Dowd said. “The outfield is challenging for him. He’s a big lumbering guy. He’s a streaky player, but he’s the one guy that gives them protection in their lineup. He can carry a club for weeks when he’s going well. Best way to keep him healthy is playing him at first. That was great signing for them.”… Gammons: “Tough guy, and that toughness will add something to the team.”
On third baseman Martin Prado, a career .291 hitter: Bowden: “He puts the ball in play; that’s important in this lineup. Solid defensively at this point in his career. Chipper Jones told me Prado is the best teammate he ever had.”…
Gammons: “Martin Prado is one of the all-time team guys, a leader, which is what they needed. Some of their younger players complained they didn’t have enough veteran players.”
O’Dowd: “Prado is a more consistent player defensively than [predecessor] Casey McGehee. You will turn more double plays. Since he left the Braves, he has been all over the map where he’s used. He will settle into that spot at third base and get comfortable in the role. He’s a tough out, gets big hits, good job with runners in scoring position and less than two outs.”
### Catcher: Gammons on Jarrod Saltalamacchia: “There are very few people who try harder than he does. If healthy, he’s closer to the guy who helped win the World Series for the Red Sox [than the one who struggled badly last year]. I feel sorry for him, but I know how hard he wants to succeed.”… Bowden: “Saltalamacchia will not be as bad as last year. He will have to hit 15 to 20 home runs.”
### Overall: Bowden predicts the Marlins will seize a wild-card spot, calling them a “scrappy team” that will win in the high 80s….
O’Dowd: “This is an 84-to-86 win team [barring injuries]” and they’re on par with the other top wild card contenders, including the Mets, Giants and Padres (if the Dodgers win the division) and the Pirates or Cardinals (whichever doesn’t win the Central). Added O’Dowd: “I think they will push Washington and surprise people because it’s a mentally tough club.”...
Gammons: “The Marlins and Mets are sort of lined up behind Washington. It’s quite a change because Philadelphia and Atlanta were so good for so long. The Central Division is very tough. But if Jose comes back [strong], they can think about making the wild card in very competitive NL.”
DOLPHINS, CANES CHATTER
### We're told the Dolphins were willing to pay Michael Crabtree close to $3 million next season, but he wanted at least $4.5 million. He’s visiting Oakland this week, according to Yahoo.
### Add Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips to the select group of potential first or second-round picks that have been summoned by the Dolphins for meetings at team headquarters. The Dolphins flew Phillips to Davie this past week.
The Dolphins don't particularly need a defensive tackle because of the presence of All-Pro Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell and some young prospects they like (Anthony Johnson, A.J. Francis, Kamal Johnson).
But the Dolphins are intrigued by the upside of Phillips, who had seven tackles for loss and two sacks last season.
### What cornerback did the Dolphins really want this off-season but couldn't get? Ex-Brown Buster Skrine, who picked the Jets over the Dolphins.
### Colts running back Frank Gore, now with the Colts, said the Dolphins “showed some interest in me but not like other teams” and that teaming up with buddy and fellow Cane Lamar Miller “would have been great.”
### Miami’s Wednesday visit with Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, off knee surgery, was simply exploratory and the Dolphins haven’t ruled out signing him.
### This will enrage UM fans angry about the coaching: Todd McShay said Miami, which went 6-7, has the second most prospects with draftable grades in ESPN’s Scouts Inc rankings.
The other seven schools with the most had a combined 71-23 record last season, including the team with the most prospects -- FSU (13-1) --- and third-most, Louisville (9-4).
### If the Heat misses the playoffs, this 99-98 loss in Detroit will be one they won't forget for a long time. How in the world did the Heat blow a 93-78 lead with 5:14 left?
"We're all very disappointed in this locker-room. We're going to have to move on and learn from this," Erik Spoelstra said. "They were trapping either on pick and rolls or getting the ball out of Dwyane's hands. It started to snowball. We had a couple good looks that didn't go down.
"I don't remember a defensive stop except [a charge driven by Mario Chalmers with 31 seconds left]. Reggie Jackson was tremendous down the stretch. We couldn't get a relief basket going down the stretch. We have to show some grit, toughness and get back [Sunday in Indiana]."
Miami fell to 9th in the East, one half game behind No. 8 Boston and one game behind No. 7 Brooklyn. At 34-42, Miami is assured only its second losing season since 2003.
Dwyane Wade scored 24 but missed a 19-foot jumper with 12 seconds left and then missed a 27-foot three-pointer at the buzzer.
He said "there were no lanes open" on that final play. "We made some defensive lapses we shouldn't make. They ran the same thing they were running all game. This is a terrible loss. No way we should lose this game."
Said Goran Dragic: "We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We need to win [Sunday]. We need to correct the mistakes we're making in the fourth quarter. Those last three or four minutes, we just fell apart. We had a couple open shots we couldn't hit. Then maybe we start thinking too much."
Dragic had one of the Heat's five late turnovers when he stepped out of bounds on the sideline.
### Keep in mind that even if the Heat misses the playoffs, the odds are against Miami getting to keep its first-round pick, which is only top-10 protected. It goes to the 76ers otherwise.
### Hassan Whiteside played well tonight (13 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks) and entered the weekend ranked third in rebounds and blocks per 48 minutes and sixth in field-goal percentage (minimum 40 games). But Heat teammates want more.
“Sometimes he goes with the flow,” Goran Dragic said recently. “He needs in his mind that he can dominate every game. He needs to be focused every night.”
Whiteside said he opened up "a couple" of the stitches on his lacerated hand in the second quarter "but I tried to play through the pain." The Heat said it's unsure if Whiteside or Chris Andersen (who left with a foot injury) will be available Sunday in Indiana.
### The Panthers, by the way, were officially eliminated from playoff contention tonight.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz