All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward to what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Kara Godsey takes a look at the Marlins!
Miami made headlines in the first week of the shortened 2020 season for all the wrong reasons. The roster was decimated by COVID-19 and the team scrambled to field a healthy squad for the remaining schedule. While news outlets questioned the actions of the players and contemplated whether this incident would derail the entire season, the Marlins quietly rebuilt a roster that would produce the team’s first winning season since 2009.
Despite this early setback, the rest of the year was littered with success for the Fish, culminating in the first playoff game since 2003. Miami swept the Cubs on the road in the first round, solidifying the tradition of postseason success at Wrigley Field. Although they fell to the Braves, an offensive juggernaut, this too can be viewed as a success: by missing out on the World Series, the Marlins avoided the inevitable fire sale that has always followed championships in Miami.
So far, the offseason has been very good to Miami. Don Mattingly took home Manager of the Year honors after leading a makeshift roster compiled of minor leaguers, unsigned veterans, and regulars to postseason success. The Marlins also made a huge splash in the sports world, hiring Kim Ng as General Manager. Ng brings over 30 years of experience, most notably with the Yankees and Dodgers, who are no strangers to success.
This offseason will be a crucial time to make the statement that the Marlins are through rebuilding and are now looking to contend. Not only does this team already have playoff experience, there is good reason to believe this young core will stay intact long enough to taste some more champagne.
- 2020 Record: 31-29, 2nd Place in the NL East
- Team MVP: Brian Anderson
- Team Cy Young: Pablo López
- Biggest Positive Surprise: Lewis Brinson
- Biggest Negative Surprise: Jorge Alfaro
Although the team’s winning percentage barely eclipsed .500, this season produced far more successes than setbacks for a young team on the rise. The Marlins exceeded expectations in 2020 by a long shot. In the midst of a seemingly eternal rebuild, Miami was projected to finish last in the NL East, as well as bottom five in the entire league, by most experts. However, this season the Fish gave fans a glimpse of life on the other side of the rebuild.
Offensively, the Marlins stepped it up this year. Despite a run differential of -41, Miami scored 4.4 runs per game, which is up from 3.7 and 3.8 runs per game in the previous two seasons. Brian Anderson led the way with a wRC+ of 124, his highest so far in his career. He was a steady presence in the lineup in a year of uncertainty, playing 59 games. His 11 home runs had him on pace to eclipse 30 in a full season. The acquisition of Jesús Aguilar last offseason paid dividends, as Aguilar matched Anderson’s wRC+ and chipped in eight home runs of his own.
Pablo López was undoubtedly the leader of this staff throughout the year. He finished the year with an FIP of 3.09, a K/9 ratio of 9.26, and a HR/9 of 0.63; all of these numbers are significantly better than his previous two seasons as a starter. While the ace of the staff, Sandy Alcantara, missed some time, López filled in impressively. The case could also be made that Sixto Sánchez was the most exciting pitcher on the Marlins this year. The top pitching prospect showed ace potential, striking out 10 batters and holding the Rays scoreless in just his second major league game. While his performance later in the season was a bit shaky, there is certainly reason to believe that Sánchez can become the face of this rotation in the near future.
Lewis Brinson took an important step forward at the plate this year. While his numbers still are not good, he improved enough from the atrocity of his past two seasons to provide some promise looking forward. His wRC+ of 73 was well above his 2019 total of 25, and his batting average rose from a dismal .173 to a mediocre .226. As a former top prospect that was an important piece in the Christian Yelich trade, it’s refreshing that Brinson provided some hope that he may still be able to be a serviceable Major Leaguer. If Brinson can improve his production, it will give the Marlins depth in the outfield with Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, Harold Ramirez and Magneuris Sierra also available.
In my estimation, the player who underperformed the most this season was Alfaro. For three years, Alfaro posted a wRC+ of 95 or better. This season that number sat at just 71. While Alfaro excels in match-ups against the Phillies, there is a notable lack of offensive production otherwise. The offensive setback was exacerbated by defensive struggles. If this lack of offense were mitigated by a defensive prowess, he would be a serviceable option. However, Chad Wallach played a majority of the postseason innings for the Marlins, largely due to his ability to handle the young pitching staff. This shows that the Marlins might not be sold on Alfaro as a long-term solution behind the dish. If that is the case, an upgrade may be coming this off-season.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Areas of Greatest Need: Relief Pitching, Second Base, Catcher
The most pressing desire, according to the Marlins fan base, is to extend Brian Anderson. Anderson has been the young star that this team is built around, and with a pending free agency at the end of 2021, the clock is ticking. An extension this offseason is imperative, as Anderson continues to build on his value with each passing season. Anderson reminds me a lot of Christian Yelich, and if his play in 2021 gets anywhere near that level of production, the Marlins will not be able to compete with the kind of offers he will garner as a free agent. This team is characterized by a young core, and that young core is incomplete without Anderson.
The Marlins should look to bolster the back end of the bullpen, with both Kintzler and Boxberger becoming free agents. As a small market team, the Marlins won’t be in on the sweepstakes for big names like Brad Hand and Liam Hendriks. However, there are still several affordable options to solidify the late-inning situation (discussed below).
After trading Jonathan Villar early in the season, the Marlins found themselves missing an everyday second baseman. Isan Díaz, once a highly touted prospect, opted out of the season early in the year. Even when he made his return, his contribution was mediocre at best. The Marlins do have super utility man Jon Berti; however, his versatility can only be fully utilized if he is not consistently anchored at the second base position.
The Marlins starting staff took a huge step forward this year, with López emerging as a quality starter, Sixto bursting onto the scene and excelling right away, and Sandy Alcantara continuing to be a reliable ace. The latter half of the rotation remains a question mark. There are several young arms developing such as Elieser Hernandez, Daniel Castano, and Trevor Rogers. While they took great strides this season, the Marlins should consider adding a veteran rotation arm that can slide into the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. This would give the Fish reliable production on the back end of the rotation, while allowing the prospects time to further develop.
With a lack of big name players, the Marlins have heavily employed platoons and utility players over the last several years. Hernández fits right into that mold, as a dynamic player that could provide a spark off the bench and be utilized in a multitude of ways, namely second base or outfield. While his production dipped slightly last year to the tune of -0.1 fWAR, over his seven-year career his fWAR has eclipsed 1.0 in five seasons. He would also bring some sneaky power, with home run totals of 17 and 21 in the 2019 and 2018 seasons, respectively. Hernández would be a great fit in Miami.
Contract offer: 2-year/$9 mil
Blake Treinen/Shane Greene
Either Treinen or Greene would be an asset to the back of this bullpen. Treinen put up a 3.15 FIP and 0.5 fWAR last season with the Dodgers, while Greene posted a 3.81 FIP and 0.3 fWAR with the Braves. Both are righties, so I envision the Marlins signing either Treinen or Greene and not both. Treinen would be more desirable, but Greene is slightly more realistic.
Contract offer: 1-yr/$5 mil
Adding a veteran lefty to the mix would better equip the Marlins bullpen to play the match-up game. McGee, a nine-year vet, is coming off a bounce-back year with the Dodgers. He had 14.61 strikeouts per nine innings, while amassing a fWAR of 0.7 and FIP of 1.67. A majority of his appearances with the Dodgers came when the team held a lead of 3 or more runs. With about a third of the Marlins 2020 contests being one-run ballgames, McGee likely would not be used in this capacity with Miami. However, he would be a valuable arm with loads of experience and recent success.
Contract: 1-year/$3 mil
Kintzler was a serviceable closer for the Marlins this season, finishing the year with 12 saves and an ERA of 2.22. However, a closer look at his advanced stats reveals an alarming 5.00 FIP and -0.2 fWAR. While his fWAR has fluctuated over his career, this FIP is one of his highest yet.
Miami declined his $4 million option, but there is still a possibility that he will return to the team next year. His salary in 2020 was $3.25 million, so the organization did not believe that his performance earned him that amount of a raise. If he signs with other teams, he will likely return to the role of set-up man. Thus, there is some incentive to remain in Miami as the primary closer.
Contract offer: 1-year/$3.5 mil
Anderson would compete for a spot in the rotation, likely claiming a role on the back end. Pitching for the Blue Jays in 2020, Anderson had an alarming 7.22 ERA. However, over his career his ERA has fluctuated close to 4.00. This means that Anderson may be a low risk, high reward option. He is not that far removed from a stellar 2017 campaign in which he went 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA.
Contract offer: 1-year/$5 mil
Trade: C Christian Vázquez to Miami and OF Jesús Sánchez (Marlins #5 prospect, #80 overall), SP Jordan Yamamoto to Boston
Obviously, a reunion with J.T. Realmuto would be the most ideal scenario for the Marlins in terms of catching. Realmuto would take this team from average to legitimate contender. However, we all know that the Marlins are a small market team, making this hypothetical scenario a pipe dream.
Realistically, the Marlins would benefit more from trading for an upgrade at the catcher position than trying to compete on the free agent market. Vázquez would be a tremendous upgrade. He is adept at framing, converting 51% of non-swing pitches into called strikes in the Shadow Zone, as defined by Baseball Savant. That stat was third best in baseball in 2020, right behind the aforementioned Realmuto. Vázquez also posted a 115 wRC+ and 1.4 fWAR, making him an offensive asset to a team that could use a bit more pop in the lineup. The Red Sox also have another catcher in Kevin Plawecki. For that reason, they may be willing to part with Vázquez without receiving a catcher in return.
With Jackie Bradley Jr. likely leaving Boston in the free agent market, the Marlins can offer Sánchez, a highly touted outfield prospect who could be ready to patrol center field for the Red Sox very soon. Yamamoto has the potential to compete for a rotation spot or contribute in the bullpen. If Boston needs more out of this trade, I would also throw in José Ureña. He has been underwhelming for the Marlins, but could help with rotation depth. The Red Sox and Marlins have a history of making deals, most recently the trade involving Nathan Eovaldi, so this deal has some actual potential and would make sense for both clubs.
2021 Projected Roster
- SS Miguel Rojas
- CF Starling Marte
- 1B Jesús Aguilar
- 3B Brian Anderson
- C Christian Vázquez
- LF Corey Dickerson
- 2B Kiké Hernández
- RF Lewis Brinson
- Sandy Alcantara
- Sixto Sánchez
- Pablo López
- Chase Anderson
- Elieser Hernandez
- Daniel Castano
- Yimi García
- Richard Bleier
- James Hoyt
- Stephen Tarpley
- Nick Neidert
- Shane Greene
- Jake McGee
- Brandon Kintzler
The lineup will look very similar to last year, hopefully with the additions of Hernández and Vázquez. If the universal DH becomes a permanent rule change, Garrett Cooper will likely platoon for that role with Aguilar. Brinson’s spot is contingent on marginal improvement as mentioned earlier, since Ramirez and Sierra will also be competing for outfield spots.
I anticipate the rotation to look pretty similar as well. In the absence of any starting pitcher signings, I would expect Trevor Rogers to have a shot at the fifth spot in the rotation. The bullpen should see quite a bit of shakeup this offseason, notably due to the key losses. On top of the bolded additions, the Marlins should look closely at upgrades for Ryne Stanek and José Ureña. I believe these middle relief slots can be filled within the organization, and there are plenty of capable candidates such as Castano and Braxton Garrett.
The Marlins were not a great baseball team in 2020, but one that was much improved and full of promise. Miami had a lot to gain from the modified rules and structure of the season, and many questioned whether they would be a playoff team under normal circumstances. Regardless, a new standard has been set. The expectation of a record above .500 is actually a reasonable one; gone are the days of 100-loss seasons. Marlins fans are finally seeing the fruits of the rebuild, and no matter the structure of the 2021 season, this young club will be fun to watch.
Featured Photo: Izzy Rendell