MIAMI It seems the only argument about what sort of season the Miami Marlins had is which grading system to use.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was asked how he would rate the campaign.
"By numbers or by letters?" he said.
How about both?
"Letters, Z," Guillen said. "Numbers, minus-0. We failed in every department. We failed. Very sad and very embarrassing and a very tough situation. We thought the season could be a little different."
Actually, it was a lot different.
The Marlins began the season with high hopes. They signed ballyhooed free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. They openedsparkling new Marlins Park. Players talked openly about making the playoffs.
So what happened? The Marlins sputtered to a 69-93 record, their worst in 13 years, and finished last in the National League East.
There's a chance Guillen, who has three years left on his contract, might not return next season. With Marlins officials mum, Guillen left Thursday on a vacation to Europe uncertain of his future.
"Every time I do anything in life I want to be the best. I wasn't this year," said Guillen, who hopes to return but would understand if he is fired.
After an enthusiastic start to the season in the new ballpark, negativity soon hit the Marlins. Time magazine quoted Guillen as saying, "I love Fidel Castro," and he served a five-game suspension for the remark.
The Marlins briefly rebounded. They got some good starting pitching and actually were tied for first in the division as late as June 3 with a 31-23 mark. But then Miami, with the pitching falling off and the hitting never coming around, lost 17 of its next 20 games, and the season soon was lost.
"The season as a whole (was) obviously pretty disappointing because of the expectations we had," said catcher John Buck, who had believed the Marlins would make the playoffs. "A lot of people in baseball thought we should have won."
Hitting was a problem all season as Miami finished with a meager .244 average. Third baseman Hanley Ramirez, the 2009 NL batting champion, hit just .246 before he was traded July 25 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Outfielder Logan Morrison batted just .230 before being lost for the season's final two months with a knee injury.
Reyes, the shortstop who the won the NL batting crown last year with the New York Mets, got off to a horrendous start, and was hitting just .226 in early May. At least he did finish at .287.
"It's disappointing knowing the talent we had and we were last place in our division," Reyes said. "That's not the way we expected it to go in spring training. We expected to be competing in our division."
At least one bright spot was the play of outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Miami's only All-Star, although he had to miss the game due to a knee injury that would cost him a month. Still, Stanton finished the season with 37 home runs, 86 RBI and a .290 average.
"I took a definite leap forward as a hitter, but there's always room for improvement," Stanton said. "You got to look at the positives for the season and feed off that and learn from the negatives. You can cry about the season but you can't do anything about it."
When the Marlins realized they couldn't do much about this season, they began looking to the future. In addition to Ramirez being traded, Miami in late July also unloaded pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to Detroit and first baseman Gaby Sanchez to Pittsburgh.
The Marlins got some intriguing young players in the deals in catcher Rob Brantly and pitchers Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi, whom they hope will play key roles in the future. They also cleared playing time for journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano, and he responded by hitting .313 in 218 at-bats.
"We had some drastic changes that were made through the season and anytime that happens, you don't expect to gel a whole team together," Ruggiano said. "I think we have a really good nucleus. I think I showed what I'm capable of doing. We've got some young pitchers that we got that can be important in moving forward."
Turner, 21, and Eovaldi, 22, were decent in late-season starting roles. With Buehrle (13-13, 3.74 ERA) and hard-luck Josh Johnson (8-14, 3.81) having been Miami's best overall starters, there is hope with the rotation for the future.
While Buehrle and Reyes at least showed signs they might eventually live up to the hype surrounding their signings, that hardly has been the case with Bell. The reliever got off to a horrid start, lost his closing job at the All-Star break to Steve Cishek. and finished 4-5 with a 5.09 ERA and eight blown saves in 27 opportunities.
Bell provided some more negative Marlins headlines late in the regular season when he said in a radio interview about Guillen that "it's hard to respect a guy that doesn't tell you the truth." Bell later backtracked on the comments but there's a strong chance he will be traded during the offseason.
"It's hard to put a finger on something," Guillen said about willing to take the blame for Miami's brutal season. "I'll put the finger at myself."
Soon it will be seen if Marlins management points the finger at Guillen.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson