As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Erik McKeen takes on the Miami Marlins. Enjoy!
2017 Record: 77-85 (2nd in NL East)
2017 Payroll: $117,557,599 (21st)
All player projections for 2018 from Steamer
Projected 2018 Lineup:
1. RF Cameron Maybin, .250 AVG/.328 OBP/.372 SLG, 0.3 WAR
2. 3B Martin Prado, .274 AVG/.326 OBP/.399 SLG, 0.9 WAR
3. 2B Starlin Castro, .271 AVG/.311 OBP/.419 SLG, 0.8 WAR
4. 1B Justin Bour, .264 AVG/.342 OBP/.480 SLG, 1.4 WAR
5. C J.T. Realmuto, .274 AVG/.324 OBP/.433 SLG, 2.8 WAR
6. LF Derek Dietrich, .252 AVG/.337 OBP/.423 SLG, 0.5 WAR
7. CF Lewis Brinson, .256 AVG/.317 OBP/.426 SLG, 0.8 WAR
8. SS J.T. Riddle, .258 AVG/.297 OBP/.362 SLG, 0.3 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
1. Dan Straily, 182.0 IP/4.60 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 1.4 WAR
2. Jose Urena, 169.0 IP/4.88 ERA/1.46 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
3. Justin Nicolino, 19.0 IP/4.45 ERA/1.41 WHIP, 0.1 WAR
4. Odrisamer Despaigne, 18.0 IP/4.86 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 0.1 WAR
5. Dillon Peters 37.0 IP/4.02 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 0.5 WAR
The Marlins traded away their four best players during the offseason, and there have been talks about trading catcher J.T. Realmuto as well. First, they traded away the league leader in stolen bases three out of the last four years in Dee Gordon to the Mariners for three prospects. Four days later, they traded the NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and sent some cash to Jeter’s Yankees for second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects. Three days after that they traded away breakout star Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals for four prospects. Five weeks after that they traded away Christian Yelich for four prospects. A couple weeks ago they also signed outfielder Cameron Maybin to a 1 year, 3.25 million dollar deal. The Marlins’ top starting pitcher Dan Straily was also quoted by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald as saying “Glad they’re gone. If they don’t want to be here, then good for them.”
2018 Season Preview:
The tragic death of Jose Fernandez took a long time to process. A lot of Marlins fans, and really a lot of baseball fans in general, including myself, were deeply affected by it. Once we were able to shift our focus back to the product on the field, we faced a harsh reality when we saw how the 2017 Marlins performed: the pitching was, once again, atrocious. According to ESPN, last season Marlins pitching was ranked 26th in the league in ERA with 4.82, tied for last in quality starts with 54, and had the 5th most earned runs in the MLB with 772. 2017 saw a resurgent Marlins offense, thanks to the performance of the NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, but it was certainly not enough to make up for that pitching.
After Jeter and company took over, they had a big decision to make. They could stand pat, or they could sell. By standing pat I mean just that. The Marlins had one of the worst farm systems before all the trades so they certainly couldn’t have traded for a star pitcher or two. Trying to sign good free agents would seem like another option, but what good free agent starting pitcher would have wanted to sign with Miami over a top major league team at that point? All of the pitching prospects that they did have other than Dillon Peters were a couple years away from just getting to the major leagues, let alone making a meaningful impact. If a couple of them end up becoming star pitchers in the future, by that time Stanton, Ozuna, Gordon, and probably Yelich would all be past their primes.
The decision to sell was a widely unpopular decision by the fans, but it was no doubt the right one. If the Marlins ended up keeping their star-studded outfield trio and speedy second baseman, they basically would have been paying them millions and millions of dollars over several years to be on an average team. Selling these valuable assets now gives the Marlins a real chance to have sustainable success in the future. How far into the future is yet to be determined, but selling these guys was a no-brainer.
The Marlins acquired 13 prospects from the big trades this offseason. 11 of them are currently in the Marlins top 25 prospects on MLB.com, including 6 of their top 8. Listed below are each of the prospects from each of the 4 trades, followed by their rank within the Marlins’ system.
CF Lewis Brinson, 1 (27 MLB top 100)
CF Monte Harrison, 2 (71 MLB top 100)
2B/SS Isan Diaz, 8
RHP Jordan Yamamoto, 23
RHP Jorge Guzman, 4
SS/2B Jose Devers, 25
RHP Sandy Alcantara, 3
RF Magneuris Sierra, 7
RHP Zac Gallen, 14
LHP Daniel Castano
RHP Nick Neidert, 10
SS Christopher Torres, 18
RHP Robert Dugger
The biggest haul was from the Yelich trade. Yelich has 4 years left on his current deal at a little under 11 million per year on average (and a team option 5 years from now). That’s a pretty good contract for a guy who had a 4.5 fWAR 3 out of the last 4 seasons. Lewis Brinson had a brief stint in the majors with the Brewers last season, and throughout his minor league career he hit about 15 home runs and stole about 15 bases per season. He should be the opening day center fielder this year and for many years to come. In 122 games between A and A+ last season, Monte Harrison had a slash line of .272/.350/.481, hit 21 home runs, and stole 27 bases. He has a 55 fielding grade on MLB.com and an arm grade of 70. His ETA isn’t until 2019, but hopefully when he gets called up, he’ll be there alongside Brinson for a while. Isan Diaz played a full season of A+ ball last season, so he still has a couple years to go, but he could be in the majors faster than we think. He offers good power potential in a middle infield spot for the Marlins in the future. Jordan Yamamoto had a great season in A+ last season and could turn out to be a serviceable pitcher in the majors in a few years.
The Marlins didn’t get nearly enough for Stanton as they did for Yelich, especially if, in 2022, Stanton opts into the rest of his massive contract (the Marlins would have to give the Yankees 30 million dollars as part of the trade if he does). Jose Devers, the cousin of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers, isn’t the most highly rated prospect. He didn’t do much in rookie ball last year other than steal 16 bases but could offer some middle infield depth if he makes it to the majors. The biggest piece the Marlins got in the Stanton trade was Jorge Guzman, who had a 2.30 ERA and struck out 88 batters in 66.2 innings of A- ball last season. He has the potential to become a very good starter for the Marlins in a few years, but overall this trade was awful. The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in the majors with six guys currently in the MLB.com top 100 and the Marlins couldn’t even get one of them. The massive contract might have been a big factor for the Yankees, but come on, Stanton just hit 59 home runs, had a 6.9 fWAR and won the NL MVP. And did I mention they’re the Yankees?
The Marlins got a pretty good haul from the Ozuna trade. Sandy Alcantara had a brief 8-game stint in the majors with the Cardinals last season. He had a great 2016 season in A and A+ with 153 strikeouts in 122.2 innings, but not so much in 2017 in AA with 106 strikeouts and 60 earned runs in 125.1 innings. Only time will tell if he can live up to his potential and be a good starter in the majors. Outfielder Magneuris Sierra also had a brief 22-game stint in the majors last season and got 19 hits. Like Brinson and Harrison, Sierra also is a speedy outfielder, stealing about 20 bases per season in his few years in the minors. He should be up at some point this season, so we’re looking at a potential future outfield of Brinson, Sierra, and Harrison. All three are speedsters who play good defense. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about the potential of this future Marlins outfield trio. Pitcher Zac Gallen is rising very quickly through the ranks of the minors, getting to AAA early in his second season out of college. He started 26 games and had a 2.93 ERA between A+, AA, and AAA last season, so hopefully, he can develop into a decent major league starter.
Dee Gordon had 3 years left on his contract at about 12 million per year on average, plus a team option 4 years from now. Considering that, I’m definitely disappointed in the return the Marlins got for him. Shortstop Christopher Torres is another speedy prospect but is years away from making the majors. The best player the Marlins got back in this deal was pitcher Nick Neidert, who had a 3.45 ERA to go along with 122 strikeouts in 127.2 innings in 25 starts between A+ and AA last season.
Overall not as much as us Marlins fans would have liked to get from those 4 stars, but we still got a decent return. These prospects join the Marlins past two first-round picks, left-handed pitchers Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers. The ETA for both of them to get to the majors on MLB.com is 2021, and they are currently prospects numbers 5 and 6, respectively, in the Marlins system. Marlins’ number 9 prospect, Brian Anderson, is a power-hitting third baseman and could see time in the majors this season.
Now that you know all about the new guys that could become a part of the future of the Marlins, let’s get to the team we’ll see at the start of 2018. Brinson, Maybin, and former third baseman Derek Dietrich figure to get most of the outfield playing time this season. Maybin rejoins the Marlins many years after spending 3 seasons here, starting in 2007, when he was sent back in the Miguel Cabrera trade. Last season he put up a 1.2 fWAR and stole 33 bases with the Angels and Astros, so hopefully, he can be productive in the first half so we can flip him for a couple prospects. Dietrich, 28 years old, has been decent as of late, putting up 2.0 and 1.5 fWAR seasons the past 2 years. He should be a decent placeholder until Sierra gets called up.
The Marlins’ infield will be interesting this season. First baseman Justin Bour had a breakout year in 2017, achieving a 2.2 fWAR, but only playing 108 games due to injury. He won’t have nearly as good of a season this year considering the drastic drop off in the lineup but offers the Marlins more potential trade bait if he does get off to a hot start. Former All-Star Starlin Castro offers leadership potential for the young players considering this will be his 9th year in the majors. The same goes for 10-year veteran Martin Prado. This will be J.T. Riddle’s 2nd season in the majors, but we shouldn’t expect much out of him since he was never very productive in the minors. He is merely a placeholder until Diaz gets called up.
Far and away the best player on the team is catcher J.T. Realmuto. There have been talks of him being traded as well, but the asking price has been high. He is 26 years old and has three years of team control left. He has been one of the best catchers in the majors over the last two seasons, having put up fWARs of 3.5 and 3.6, but his production is bound to regress some amount considering the lineup change. Who knows if he’d want to re-sign with the Marlins when his contract runs out; he’ll be 29 by then and the Marlins probably won’t be a World Series contender at that point. If I were Jeter, I would continue to look for the best offer for him because right now is most likely the highest he’ll be valued at in his career.
The Marlins’ pitching staff consists of washed up old guys and prospects that aren’t panning out. Straily had a 2.0 fWAR last season, the best of his career, but is 29 years old and has only had 2 seasons with a fWAR above 1.1. It may have seemed like Urena had a good year in 2017, with a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA, but his fWAR was only 0.2 and he had a FIP of 5.20. Nicolino has split time between the minors and majors each of the last three seasons and has gotten progressively worse while at the major league level. Despaigne is 30 years old and has never had a fWAR above 1.0. Peters has been great in his minor league career, but didn’t show anything special in his first 6 major league starts last season. Hopefully, he can turn that around this year. There’s not much to look forward to from these guys this season, but it will be interesting to see if any prospects can deliver quality production once they get called up.
The bullpen has a few good pieces, but as a whole is not great. Only three relievers on the team have had success in the majors. Set-up man Kyle Barraclough has been great since he came up to the majors three years ago, having ERA’s of 3.00 and under each season, and having K/9 rates of 11.10, 14.00, and 10.36. He should take over as the closer at some point this season if Brad Ziegler doesn’t rebound from his terrible 2017 campaign. The third decent reliever, Drew Steckenrider, put up a 2.34 ERA in 34.2 innings with a 14.02 K/9 rate in his first season in 2017.
Record Prediction: 56-106
Player to Watch: J.T. Realmuto
We’ll see if he gets traded at some point this season, but as long as he is a Marlin, he is bound to regress. This isn’t based on his performance or trends, but based on the fact that the guys hitting around him this year are going to be considerably worse. Steamer projects him to have a 2.8 fWAR this season, a drop of 0.8 from last season. Even with the drop, 2.8 is the highest projected fWAR on the team, considerably higher than Bour’s and Straliy’s projected 1.4. He will be the team star as long as he is in Miami.
Player to Watch: Lewis Brinson
Brinson was the best player the Marlins got back in the big trades and became the number one prospect in the system (27th overall on MLB.com). He had a brief 21-game stint in the majors, but in AAA last year with the Brewers system he was on his way to a great season before it got cut short due to injury. He had a fantastic slash line of .331/.400/.562, hit 13 home runs and stole 11 bases in 76 games. He also is a fantastic defender, and if he lives up to the hype, he will be a centerpiece of the Marlins for years to come.
Player to Watch: Dan Straily
The quote from Straily, once again, was, “Glad they’re gone. If they don’t want to be here, then good for them.” Straily better back this up with a strong 2018 season. In 2017, his first season with the Marlins after being sent back in a trade involving Luis Castillo (ugh), he went 10-9 with a 4.26 ERA en route to a 2.0 fWAR, the best of his career. Unless he surprises everyone with an all-star type season, most of his value to the team will come from mentoring the younger pitchers.