Offseason In Review: Miami Marlins


After underachieving in 2021, Kim Ng’s Marlins entered the offseason looking to bolster a moribund offense to complement perhaps the finest collection of young pitching talent in the game. And while the Fish brought in some outfield pop that could push them into contention for a spot in the expanded playoffs, they’re also contending with the loss of their biggest name — albeit not one who would have contributed on the field.

Major League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

  • Sandy Alcantara, RHP: Five years, $56MM (includes $21MM club option for 2027 season with $2MM buyout)
  • Miguel Rojas, SS: Two years, $10MM
  • Richard Bleier, LHP: Two years, $6MM (includes $3.75MM club option for 2024 season with $250K buyout)

Notable Losses

Coming off a somewhat disappointing 2021, Marlins GM Kim Ng set out to reshape a lineup that scored the second fewest runs in the majors. She did much of her business ahead of the lockout, signing former Brewers outfielder Avisaíl García to a four-year, $53MM deal and acquiring catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates (for outfielder Connor Scott and righties Zach Thompson and Kyle Nicolas) and versatile infielder Joey Wendle from the Rays (for outfielder Kameron Misner).

After the lockout was lifted, the Marlins were linked to a number of players via both free agency (Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Eddie Rosario, Michael Conforto) and trade (Ketel Marte, Bryan Reynolds) they didn’t ultimately land. Ng acknowledged at multiple points that  her sights were set on acquiring a center fielder, and either Marte or Reynolds would have been a significant upgrade. The cost, however, proved to be prohibitive, as both players stayed put (Marte on a new five-year extension in Arizona). The free agent cupboard, meanwhile, was largely bare. Ultimately, what could be the Marlins’ most — or, depending which version of the mercurial slugger shows up in Miami this year, least — impactful move came when they beat out the Braves, Rockies, and Padres to sign 2021 World Series MVP Jorge Soler to a three-year, $36MM deal.

As fans of both the Cubs and Royals can attest, the powerful Soler has in essence been two different hitters throughout his career, and 2021 was no exception. Before a deadline trade to the Braves, the 30-year-old outfielder struggled to a .192/.288/.370 batting line across 36o plate appearances with the Royals but slugged his way to a robust .269/.358/.524 in 242 trips to the plate with Atlanta. Oddly, his hard-hit rate (the percent of balls in play with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher) actually dropped after the trade (from 51.2% to 41.2%). This could suggest a fair bit of randomness at play in both directions, but it could also be a product of a change in approach; Soler’s strikeout rate dropped from 26.9% (also his career average) with the Royals to 18.6% with the Braves, his walk rate ticked up from 10.6% to 12%, and his willingness to go to the opposite field increased dramatically (9.8% of his batted balls went to right with the Royals, 18.3% with the Braves).

Regardless of which Soler the Marlins get, though, the Marlins’ failure to land a legitimate center fielder could yield one of the leakiest outfield defenses in the game — particularly within the relatively capacious confines of Miami’s LoanDepot Park. While Jesús Sánchez (who’s covered the position in the early weeks of 2022) has proven himself capable in a corner, he’s hardly a natural fit in center. García (who was noted as a center field option when he was signed) has been similarly solid in right, but he’s been a clear liability in limited action in center across his ten previous big-league seasons. Between the lack of a league-average option in center and a Garrett Cooper/Jesús Aguilar timeshare at first base/DH that forces Soler into a corner, the Marlins’ staff may well look to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible.

Defensive limitations aside, the offense should score more runs in 2022, if only by default. A combination of trades (Starling Marte, Adam Duvall, and Corey Dickerson), injuries (Marte, Cooper, Aguilar, Brian Anderson, Miguel Rojas, and Jazz Chisholm Jr. all missed significant time), and ineffectiveness plagued the team throughout the year. Both a reversion to the mean in missed time via injury and Ng’s various upgrades should push the Marlins closer to the middle of the offensive pack.

Indeed, while the addition of Wendle — whose .265/.319/.422 line in 2021 neatly matches his career numbers — to take at-bats covered last year largely by Isan Díaz (.193/.294/.282 in 2021), Joe Panik (.172/.241/.221), and Jon Berti (.210/.311/.313) represents a clear upgrade, it also leads to something of a glut in the Miami infield. An oversupply of quality players is hardly a problem worth bemoaning, of course, but Wendle’s arrival could signal a diminution in Anderson’s role. The third baseman struggled to .249/.337/.378 line in an injury-riddled 2021, but he was an above-average hitter from 2018 to 2020 (posting a combined 112 OPS+ over that period) and could well wind up on the trading block.

Several of Ng’s other additions also provide relatively clear offensive upgrades. Stallings, for instance, is primarily known for his glove (he finished first among catchers in the 2021 Fielding Bible Awards), but the career-representative .246/.335/.369 triple-slash he posted with the Pirates in 2021 substantially outpaced Jorge Alfaro’s .244/.283/.342 line even before accounting for the defensive gap. Similarly, the combination of Soler and García (.262/.330/.490 in 2021, a slight boost in slugging relative to his career numbers) in place of Magneuris Sierra (.230/.281/.268 in 2021) and Lewis Brinson (.226/.263/.376) robs the lineup of some speed and the outfield of some range but adds a significant power threat to a batting order that sorely needs it. And as difficult as the team’s 2021 struggles surely were for the Miami faithful to endure, the offseason demotion of Díaz and departures of Brinson and Monte Harrison (all acquired in the 2018 Christian Yelich deal) — as well as Sierra (the Marcell Ozuna deal in the same offseason) and Alfaro (the 2019 J.T. Realmuto trade) — effectively closes the book on the position-player side of the most recent fire-sale for a fanbase far too used to them.

The pitching side of the equation is, of course, an entirely different story, and the primary source of optimism in south Florida. It’s the strength of Miami’s staff — specifically its rotation — that makes the Marlins something of a dark-horse contender in 2022, and a potential powerhouse in the years to come. Ng added a few pieces to the bullpen via trade, including Cole Sulser and long-time minor-league journeyman Louis Head, but stood pat in rotation. It’s easy to understand why: the Marlins possess the sort of stable of young arms capable of anchoring a contender for the better part of a decade.

In an effort to ensure the leader of that potentially formidable bunch stays in Miami for the foreseeable future, Ng gave budding ace Sandy Alcantara — who quietly posted a 3.19 ERA (3.42 FIP) while logging 205 2/3 innings in 2021 — a five-year, $56MM extension that keeps him under club control through the 2027 season. He’ll head a group that also includes 2021 All-Star and Rookie of the Year runner-up Trevor Rogers (who’s struggled so far in 2022 but posted a 2.64 ERA and 2.55 FIP across 133 innings in 2021), Pablo Lopez (who threw 102 2/3 innings of 3.07 ERA/3.29 FIP ball last year before a rotator cuff strain ended his year prematurely), and Jesús Luzardo (who struggled to a 6.61 ERA across 95 1/3 innings between Oakland and Miami last year but has an electric left arm and is off to a promising start to 2022). Former Rule 5 pick Elieser Hernandez opens the season in the fifth slot, but he’ll face pressure from both consensus top-100 prospect Max Meyer and Sixto Sánchez, the headliner in the Realmuto deal who briefly took the league by storm in 2020 but has since been out of action with a shoulder injury (which ultimately required surgery).

As impactful as the acquisition and departure of players on either side of the lockout is likely to be on the Marlins’ near-term future, perhaps the most significant change came while it was ongoing. In a surprise announcement reportedly tied to a clash with majority owner Bruce Sherman, minority owner and club CEO Derek Jeter announced in late February that he had cut ties with the organization. The precise reasons for Jeter’s departure are, of course, somewhat opaque, but reporting from the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson suggests that Mr. November expected the famously attendance-starved franchise to make a more substantial post-lockout investment in the roster than Sherman was prepared to authorize. (Interestingly, Jeter’s desire to sign Castellanos, who would have represented a clear offensive upgrade but hardly would have remedied the defensive issues in the Miami outfield, is reputed to be among the factors exacerbating the rift between Sherman and his erstwhile partner.)

Regardless of the reasons for Jeter’s unceremonious exit, his absence robs a franchise in search of an identity of the most recognizable face of his generation in baseball history. It does not, however, rob it of its enviable rotation depth, deep farm system, or significantly improved lineup. Whether Ng’s upgrades to the Miami offense and bullpen will be enough to make the them contenders in 2022 — and, indeed, what Jeter’s departure means for the likelihood of keeping the core of the team together for longer than previous talented Marlins squads — remains to be seen.



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