Jeffrey Loria’s legacy as the Marlins owner is up there with the worst in U.S. sporting history. He mortgaged the future of the team by promising competitiveness and provided evidence of such by handing out lofty contracts. For one bright off-season during the Loria tenure, the Marlins were seen as favorites for the division and a possible World Series contender. He leveraged the city into providing funding for a new stadium using taxpayer dollars, his selling point being that a competitive team would quickly provide returns in the form of tax revenue for the city on increased revenue brought in from the team. None of that came to fruition as Loria hastily dismantled a promising roster and sold the team for a quick (and large) profit. Now a few years removed from the Loria years, the team is finally on a serious plan to rebuild. Below we will take a look at the roster as it stands, and what prospects to be on the look out for this year.
Derek Jeter’s rebuild is set to enter its second season in Miami as the Marlins try to both assemble players for the future and move out of the NL cellar with last season’s League-worst 63-98 record. Neither of those goals seem likely, or even plausible, as Miami’s shortage of MLB talent matches up nicely with their shortage of MLB-ready prospects.
The Marlins added a couple veteran bats in an attempt to bolster their MLB-worst offense that saw star catcher JT Realmuto depart for greener (Phillies wear green!) pastures in Philadelphia. Infielder, but at this stage in his career first-baseman only, Neil Walker signed a one-year, $12 million dollar contract at the end of January. Though there was obviously a need for a switch-hitting veteran who has shown pop his entire career, this move, at that price, would lend one to believe that he was signed with the intention to hopefully be traded for prospects to boost Miami’s farm system. It’s important to note that Miami’s farm systems rank at or near the bottom third of the league, so if this rebuild is going to come to fruition, there will need to be a full scale overhaul of team prospects. A second veteran signing intended to boost the club’s hitting was bringing in outfielder Curtis Granderson on a minor league contract, with an invite to Spring Training. Granderson is fully expected to break club with the team and earn the major league part of his contract, and be starting in the team’s outfield on a regular basis. Surprisingly, Granderson turned in a rather good year at the plate in 2018 that was in line with his career wRC+ of 117. Granderson, like Walker, will provide a veteran presence and a possible July trading chip.
What has already been stated about the Marlins inability to produce runs on offense may hold even truer on the pitching side. For the umpteenth time in a row last season, the Marlins pitching staff lacked both reliable depth and front-end starters, but a promising Spring Training from a lot of candidates hopes to turn the tide on that front. José Ureña has been tabbed the opening day starter for the second year in a row. Ureña hopes to build on a 2018 that saw his FIP and BB/9 drop dramatically while increasing his K/9 by close to a full strikeout.
The rest of the starting rotation has a lot of question marks, but slowly they are being answered. The Marlins figure to hand the ball off every fifth day, at least to start the season, to Trevor Richards, after Ureña, though Mattingly has still not set anything in stone. The final three spots are more up for grabs, with as many as four players still being seriously considered; Caleb Smith, Wei-Yin Chen, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara. It would shock no one if each of the six aforementioned starters approached double-digit starts this season, as the Marlins have utilized a dozen-plus starters for a few straight years.
The bullpen will be anchored in a way that a rowboat can be anchored by a heavy stone on a string, by likely closer Drew Steckenrider. Steckenrider has strikeout ability, a usual prerequisite for closing ball games, but his peripherals don’t seem to suggest that he can be fully counted in the role. Lurking behind him on the save pecking order are Adam Conley and Sergio Romo. You may recall Romo from his “opener” status on last year’s Rays squad, but there is no word yet on if he will get the same call on the Marlins.
Including Walker, the rest of the infield will likely be filled out with Brian Anderson at the hot corner, a combination of JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas at short, and Starlin Castro at second base. The former three all have some upside but I would stop short of saying future star talent. Starlin Castro has had solid career and was sometimes the only bright spot on some very gloomy Cubs teams at the start of the decade.
Joining Curtis Granderson in the outfield will be former highly touted prospect Lewis Brinson, who failed to meet expectations in his first full major league season, to put it as lightly a possible. In right field, Peter O’Brien will be given the starting job on a nightly basis. Probably not well-known outside of Miami, and probably even less well-known inside Miami, O’Brien, in my belief, has the biggest chance of all the hitters to surprise fans this year. Between AAA and the MLB club, O’Brien showed a lot of power in 2018, and if he can cut back on the strikeouts he could be in for a fine season.
Obviously it would take a strong dosage of optimism to be truly excited about the previous parts of the article. But alas, there is some hope and excitement to be gleaned for the near-future.
Leading the pack of prospects is Sixto Sanchez. The righty starting pitcher was acquired in the Realmuto swap from the Phillies, and has the stuff to be the staff ace in the future. Sometime next season seems like the odds on favorite for when he gets called up to the Majors, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a late season call-up, provided he makes quick work of AAA hitters this year.
Marlins fans should be even more excited for the next top name on my list; Victor Victor Mesa. The Cuban prospect so nice he was named twice, should be on the fast track to the Majors once he recovers from a mild hamstring injury from February. Like Sanchez, next year seems most likely, but again it would not be shocking to see him up at the end of the season. Mesa would also provide the Cuba-Miami connection on the field to help fill a small part of the void since Jose Fernandez’s passing.
One more prospect to keep an eye on is Jordan Holloway. I won’t go in to too much detail in this post, but I urge you to take a deeper look at his interesting inclusion on the 40-man roster by reading Mick Callahan’s article here.
Now, finally, on to how the season could play out for the Marlins in 2019.
Best Case: The veteran hitters play up to their career averages and are traded to contenders in July for prospects that break their respective team’s Top 30 lists. The pitching staff for the first time in years doesn’t use twelve or more starters and a combination of the seven aforementioned in contention for starts the year is all the team needs to use. Sanchez and Mesa both come up to The Show for a cup-of-coffee in September and hope to break camp in 2020 (or a few weeks later….service time limitations).
Worst Case: The pitching staff immediately falls into disarray and a rotating cast of starters is given chances but none outside of Ureña fail to make an impression to ensure their future on the team beyond the season. The bullpen pitches as it did last year, and again finishes last in the league in save percentage. The veteran hitters play as well as the bullpen, and neither group is able to provide any return on investment in trade talks as the team finishes the season with under 70 wins again, and no new prospects to show for it’s troubles.
The two cases above are likely the limits of the extreme ends of how the 2019 season could play out. I believe the most likely scenario is that we see a hitter or two, maybe O’Brien and Rojas, outplay their projections and become nice players for the near-future of the club. Ureña should continue his ways as an under-appreciated pitcher who absolutely has 2-starter abilities and the stats to back it up. In the end, the goal for this year, and the next, and probably the year after that remains the same: hoard prospects, develop pitching depth, and build a personable team capable of winning back the fans of Miami.