Miami made history last week with the hiring of Kim Ng to fill their open general manager position. Ng arrives with an extensive and impressive resume. She’s earned her spot atop a front office with 30 years of experience. Now, she helms the Marlins as they move into a pivotal offseason.
The Marlins fast-forwarded the timeline of their rebuild last season by crashing MLB’s postseason. After finishing 31-29, Miami swept the Cubs in the Wild Card Round to advance to the NLDS. But a 3-0 sweep at the hands of the Braves laid bare clear deficiencies on their roster.
Here’s a look at what Ng, Derek Jeter and the Marlins need to consider this offseason to build on last season’s successes.
Marlins Offseason: Sort out the 40-man Roster
Step one for Ng and Co may very well be sorting out the 40-man roster. As it stands this week, Miami’s 40-man remains loaded with pitchers (21). 17 position players fill out the remainder of the list. None of those players are expected to be removed from the 40-man roster, which has two open slots.
Why does this matter? The Rule-5 Draft. Minor leaguers who have exceeded a threshold of service time within an organization must be added to their team’s 40-man roster by November 20th or else teams risk them being poached by other clubs in the Rule 5 Draft.
SS José Devers, OF Jerar Encarnación and LHP Will Stewart stand among the prospects that need to be added to the 40-man or risk being lost in the draft. That’s at least three players for just two available spots at present. Something’s gotta give.
Miami has had success with Rule 5 in the past, like poaching Elieser Hernandez from the Astros in 2017. In 2013, the Marlins landed Justin Bour from the Cubs in the minor league phase of the draft. The club’s biggest success in the Rule 5 draft remains picking Dan Uggla from the Diamondbacks in 2005.
In 2019, the Marlins selected Sterling Sharp from Washington, but eventually returned the reliever to the Nationals after an unsuccessful stint with the club.
The Marlins surprised many with their resilient play and postseason push in 2020. Many of the talented young prospects got their first taste of MLB competition. Miami saw 18 players make their MLB debuts in 2020. While much of that came out of necessity after the COVID-19 outbreak, some of those players proved ready to contribute at baseball’s highest level.
That said, there remain clear deficiencies on this roster. Ng could turn to the trade market to address some of these issues, but others can be solved by signing free agents.
The Marlins offense sputtered at times last season. The finished 2020 23rd in runs-per-game, averaging 4.23 per contest. While a marked improvement on their 2019 figure (3.80), runs-per-game still needs to be closer to 5.0 to be considered a high-octane offense.
It wasn’t just run scoring where Miami lagged. The team managed a middle-of-the-pack batting average (.244) and on-base percentage (.319), ranked 17th for both. They struggled with slugging percentage (.384), coming in at 25th in MLB.
Home runs were also difficult to come by. Miami’s 60 homers in 2020 were also just 25th in baseball. The connected on 0.98 homers-per-game (26th), a number that slightly improved upon 2019’s 0.90 rate (30th).
What this means is, Ng and the Marlins front office need to consider adding a bat or two this offseason.
Marlins Players with Much to Prove
Another position of need could be second base. The Marlins hoped Isan Diaz would be the answer there, but the young slugger struggled to find consistency. Diaz underwhelmed in 2019, then lost much of 2020 to a brief opt out and eventual injury.
Jazz Chisholm performed well in moments during 2020 and remained the most productive of the positional prospects that got run last season. Although acquired as a shortstop, Chisholm could take second base.
The Marlins would do well though to add another middle infielder to the mix. They don’t have to focus on a single position, considering Miguel Rojas’s versatility.
The other position that could use an upgrade is corner outfield. Corey Dickerson underwhelmed in his first season with the Fish and right field was a turnstile throughout the season. Although the team expects Harold Ramirez to return from his leg injury, there’s still a clear need for a power bat in the middle of this lineup.
The strength of Miami’s team last season came from the pitching staff. The starting rotation, once fully healthy after the COVID outbreak, stood as a potentially elite grouping. Heading into 2020, the Marlins top arms include Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez and Sixto Sanchez.
In 2020, the Marlins came in 21st with a team ERA of 4.86. Roster turnover warped that figure though, as Miami pressed a number of young arms into service before they were ready for MLB hitting. The starters fared better, with a 4.31 ERA (14th), but even that number is skewed.
Combining Alcantara, Lopez, Hernandez and Sanchez’s numbers in 2020 would yield a 3.34 ERA. That would’ve been the third-lowest starter ERA in MLB last season.
But Miami can’t throw just four arms in a season, so they’ll need some help in the rotation. José Ureña is the club’s longest tenured player, but he could be released. Daniel Castano pitched admirably at times, but he could use more seasoning at the Triple-A level.
This means the Marlins could use at least one veteran starter this offseason. Someone who can eat innings and bridge the gap to the frontend of the rotation.
The Marlins also need help in the backend of the bullpen. The Marlins declined closer Brandon Kintzler’s $4 million option and saw Brad Boxberger hit free agency. Yimi Garcia returns for 2020, but Miami definitely needs to add at least one more high-leverage arm to a bullpen that posted a collective 5.50 ERA in 2020 (26th).
Marlins Offseason Options
The Marlins’ new GM has her work cut out for her in free agency. While there’s the possibility of adding someone like Francisco Lindor via trade, the club will more likely look to add a few pieces to reasonable deals.
Former Marlin J.T. Realmuto tops the free agent list this season, but he might be looking for more money than Miami is willing to offer. Former White Sox catcher James McCann may be a more realistic target for the Fish, but even he could be expensive. McCann has hit .276 with 25 home runs and 75 RBI in 149 games over the last two seasons. He’s considered one of the best pitch framers in the business.
Another catching option could be Tampa Bay Ray’s Mike Zunino.
For the middle infield, Miami’s options expand somewhat. At second base, DJ LeMahieu may be too pricey, but former Athletic Tommy La Stella or former Cardinal Kolten Wong could be signed. Former Dodger (and Marlin) Enrique ‘Kike’ Hernandez would provide a versatile utility veteran, as well.
As far as a power bat for either the corner outfield or designated hitter slot, Miami may seek a reunion with Marcell Ozuna. If he proves to be too expensive, perhaps Michael Brantley or Nelson Cruz could be inked. Other names here include Jay Bruce, Brett Gardner and Joc Pederson.
For the starting staff, Miami may turn to a World Series veteran like Charlie Morton. It’s unlikely they’ll be in the running for someone like Trevor Bauer, but taking a flyer on left-hander James Paxton could be interesting. Mike Minor and Jake Odorizzi are also talented, playoff-experienced options.
The bullpen market remains robust, so the Marlins have plenty of options there. Liam Hendricks may prove to be too pricey for the Fish, but maybe someone like Trevor May or Trevor Rosenthal could be added. Former Marlin Brad Hand is coming off a great season with the Indians. Former Padres closer Kirby Yates could be an interesting addition as well.
A best-case scenario could see the Marlins add a catcher (Realmuto or McCann) and difference-making bat to the middle of the order (Ozuna or Lindor), as well as a middle infielder (Semein or Hernandez). They’d also land high-leverage relievers (Rosenthal and Yates) and at least one starter (Odorizzi or Paxton).
Marlins Payroll & Arbitration
It will be interesting to see if this augmented front office elects to increase the team’s payroll. Miami may have a new TV deal in the works, and could use the naming rights to Marlins Park for another revenue stream. In 2020, the Marlins sported the third-lowest pro-rated payroll in MLB at $28.5 million. That was in line with their 2019 approach, which saw the Marlins payroll come in at $71.2 million, the second-lowest in baseball.
It remains to be seen what Ng and the Marlins will do from a payroll stand point. At present, Starling Marte leads the club with a $12.5 million salary. Dickerson is on the books for $9.5 million. Rojas comes in at $5 million.
From there, the Marlins have eight players who are arbitration eligible: Jesus Aguilar, Alfaro, Brian Anderson, Richard Bleier, Garrett Cooper, Garcia, Ryne Stanek and Urena. Most of these players would be in line for a raise from their 2020 salaries.
The Marlins have until December 2 to decide whether or not to tender them contracts. The team could (and probably should) consider extensions for players like Anderson and Cooper, at the very least. Aguilar, meanwhile, may have to wait to see if the National League gets to use the Designated Hitter moving forward. If so, he’s likely to have a role. If not, given Cooper’s play and Lewin Diaz being on the cusp, Aguilar may be jettisoned.
Miami’s payroll should be north of $62 million for 2021. And if the team gets new TV deal and sells the naming rights to Marlins Park, it could be much higher than that.