News

Five Possibilities for Marlins spring training

The Marlins are one of the MLB’s most interesting franchises. Founded in 1993, they’re a young team. They’ve never won a division title and seen the league’s fewest playoff appearances with three total. Even so, they’ve got two World Series titles to their name, and one accounts for the MLB’s only championship-winning Wild Card berth.

Needless to say, it’s been an interesting run for baseball fans in Miami. In the past few years, the Marlins have sought to rebuild their roster from the ground up. Rather than sign on trusty senior players, Don Mattingly and franchise execs are looking to revitalize the squad with up-and-coming players. 

Though it’s been slow going, the team’s roster heading towards 2021’s Opening Day has depth, talent, and more than a few possible stars. As the Marlins cruise through Spring Training in Jupiter with the Cards, fans and pundits alike have their eyes on the Fish.

Each year, Spring Training gives fans the opportunity to size up their own team along with divisional competition. League experts who provide analysis on MLB betting odds rely on a team’s performance in Spring Training to gauge how rosters will be constructed heading into the regular season.

Meanwhile, on the diamond, rookies battle against each other to make it onto a team’s final 26-man roster. Though not official games, Spring Training can be some of the most high-pressure games for certain players looking to graduate from a team’s farming system, like the Marlins’ Sixto Sánchez and Trevor Rogers.

 

Elieser Hernandez pitching against the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 2021 Spring Training. Picture by Alejandro Villegas

 

Chisolm or Díaz Take Second

With solid moves in the off-season that have left the Marlins with a nearly-set roster, this year’s battle for second base is the franchise’s most hotly-contested position. Both prospects, Jazz Chisolm and Isan Díaz, the latter of which is coming off a groin injury from 2020. 

With both players plenty comfortable in the field, it’s their batting records that will likely decide who ends up on second. Though there’s also been some movement from Jon Berti, pundits and fans seem to lean on Díaz as a final candidate on the roster. 

Though only 24, Díaz has more experience than Chisolm has a (slightly) better record at-bat, and is a strong, reliable player. Given the Marlins’ need for a stronger offense, the verdict is likely to land with Díaz on second, Chisolm back in Triple-A for another season, and Berti floating around as a utility player. 

 

Isan Diaz at Clover Park in the 2021 Spring Training. Picture by Alejandro Villegas

 

 

Rogers or Neidert Take the Mound

With 39 pitchers on their list, the Marlins don’t have an empty mound by any stretch of the imagination. But with senior talent José Ureña gone, Sandy Alcantara will be the starting pitcher, with relievers Pablo López, Sixto Sánchez, and Eleiser Hernandez jockeying behind him.

That leaves a fifth position open for a newcomer.

At the moment, pundits have their eye on Trevor Rogers and Nick Neidert to inch into the starting rotation. Though Rogers’ ERA isn’t anything to write home about at 6.11, his strikeout stats show a promising future on the mound.

However, Neidert has experience on the mound after a few appearances in 2020. Given he was already in a bullpen role last season, Neidert is the stronger candidate—though Rogers is likely to graduate from Triple-A soon.

 

Aguilar Takes First Base

Between Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper, the obvious candidate for the first base starter is Aguilar. He’s consistent and hasn’t struggled with injuries since entering the major leagues like Cooper.

With Adam Duvall, recently signed to the Marlins, heading for the outfield, it’s likely Cooper will serve as Aguilar’s backup—though some would prefer to see him as an all-around utility player and boost at the plate. The only issue is Cooper’s ongoing health concerns. 

Should he manage to go through the 2021 season without any barring injuries, he could find a more permanent place with the Marlins. However, at age 30, Cooper is running out of time to find his rhythm—especially as the Marlins look to revitalize their roster for a long-haul run in the east division.

Loading
Loading...

 

Marlins Rule 5

Marlins Active During Rule 5 Draft

The Miami Marlins front office has remained largely quiet so far this offseason, but that changed during Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. The Marlins added five players to the organization but also saw a player plucked from their minor league system.

Miami has a long history of activity in the Rule 5 Draft, with some significant successes. Many of the players who’ve been drafted in this setup don’t make much of a difference. However, 33 All-Stars have been selected during this process over the years, as well as one Hall of Famer (Roberto Clemente).

Marlins Land Two Pitchers in Rule 5 Draft

The Marlins held the No. 13 overall selection in this year’s Rule 5 draft and chose right-handed pitcher Paul Campbell from the Tampa Bay Rays. Miami also added reliever Zach Pop in a draft-day trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Campbell comes to Miami with the potential to make an immediate impact as a long reliever and spot starter. Rated the Rays’ No. 24 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Campbell sports high spin rates on his fastball, curveball and slider. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph with cut action and he has good command.

For his career, Campbell registers a 3.12 ERA with 188 strikeouts, allowing opponents to hit just .231 against him.

The Marlins picked up Pop from Arizona in exchange for the infamous player-to-be-named-later. Pop actually comes from the Baltimore Orioles’ system, as the Diamondbacks selected him with the No. 6 pick in Thursday’s draft. Pop made his way to Baltimore as part of the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years ago.

Pop underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 but profiles as a potential closer. When healthy, his arsenal includes an upper-90s sinker and a plus slider. His fastball clocked at mid-to-upper 90s prior to his surgery.

In limited opportunities due to injury, Pop piled up 80 strikeouts over 80.1 IP. He’s registered eight saves in 11 opportunities and sports a 1.34 ERA with a 0.91 WHIP.

There’s high upside for both of these pitchers. If they can reach their potential, both will be significant upgrades for the Marlins bullpen. These additions complete Miami’s 40-man roster, but that will not prevent the team from being engaged in both the free agent and trade markets.

Minor League Additions (and Subtraction)

The Marlins remained active during the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft as well, which is set up in a similar way to the MLB phase. If a player is picked from Double-A, they move to Triple-A. Single-A players move to Double-A with their new club.

Miami selected three players during this phase. They nabbed LHP Jake Fishman from the Blue Jays, RHP Dylan Bice from the Rangers and INF Marcus Chiu from the Dodgers.

Fishman might be the best of the three picks. He’s a low-slot lefty reliever with some starting experience. At 6-foot-3, the 25-year-old’s awkward angle and horizontal movement of his fastball make him an interesting prospect. He figures to be a Triple-A reliever in 2021, but could see a promotion during the season.

Bice is a 23-year-old hard-throwing reliever who hasn’t pitched above Single-A. Chiu is a 23-year-old utility infielder with some power but who hit just .215 at High-A in 2019.

The Marlins lost right-handed reliever Brett Graves during the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Interestingly, Oakland picked Graves from the Marlins three years after Miami took him from the A’s in the 2017 Rule 5 draft.

Injury issues stalled Graves’ development with the Fish. He made 21 appearances for the Marlins in 2018. He registered 21 strikeouts over 33.1 innings pitched and notched one win, one loss and one save along the way. Graves spent 2019 between Double-A and Triple-A, and wasn’t part of Miami’s 60-man player pool in 2020.

Marlins Rule 5 History

The Marlins have had some success in the past during the Rule 5 draft. The team nabbed Dan Uggla from Arizona in 2005. Uggla put up some gaudy numbers for the Marlins over his five-year run with the Fish and remains Top-10 in 30 offensive statistical categories for the franchise. He’s No. 2 all-time in home runs (154) and strikeouts (760), and No. 6 in RBI (465).

In 2013, the Marlins selected Justin Bour from the Chicago Cubs during the minor league phase of the draft. Bour went on to parts of play five seasons with the Fish, hitting 83 homers, 63 doubles and driving in 272 runs. In 2017, the Marlins added Elieser Hernandez from the Astros and he pitched very well for the Fish in 2020.

Last year, the Marlins selected RHP Sterling Sharp from the Nationals, but ultimately returned the reliever to Washington after an unsuccessful stint.

Interestingly, the Marlins were also involved in the Rule 5 selection of two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. In 2000, the Astros left Santana off of their 40-man roster and the Marlins, who held the No. 2 pick that year, selected the future star.

The Marlins then flipped Santana to the Minnesota Twins in what was later deemed a prearranged draft-day deal. The Marlins received minor leaguer in Jared Camp, who the Twins had taken with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft that year, and $50,000. Camp didn’t make the Marlins Opening Day roster that year and was ultimately returned to the Cleveland Indians. Santana, meanwhile, went one to be a four-time All-Star and won the AL Cy Young in 2004 and 2006.

Marlins offseason

Marlins Moves This Offseason

MLB’s offseason begins far quieter than that of the NBA. While basketball fans see a flurry of moves come the moment free agents can agree with new teams, baseball moves at a much slower pace. Although teams have been able to sign free agents for weeks, only a handful have done so. The Marlins started this offseason by bringing in a new GM, and this week, Kim Ng finally started making moves.

Marlins Offseason Starts with a Trade

On Monday, the Marlins acquired right-hander Adam Cimber from the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. In 152 career MLB appearances, Cimber posts a 3.89 ERA with 104 strikeouts and 38 walks over 136.1 innings pitched.

Cimber, 30, works as a sidearm hurler and provides Miami with a unique look out of the bullpen. Although his fastball only averages around 86 mph, he’s generated good results as an MLB reliever, including posting a 3.97 ERA and 3.99 FIP with a 52.4 percent groundball rate and a 1.59 BB/9 in 2020.

New Marlins GM Kim Ng noted Cimber’s “very unorthodox delivery” during her media availability on Thursday morning. She also said: “He’s just a really difficult guy to prepare for as a hitter. That was one of the very attractive things that we found out about him.”

The Indians will receive $100K, according to the Associated Press. That figure matches what a team would fork over when making a Rule 5 selection. This implies the Marlins are looking to build out the bullpen with veteran MLB arms instead of looking for a diamond in the rough.

“We need some help back there,” Ng said of the bullpen.

Last season, Miami made right-handed reliever Sterling Sharp a Rule 5 pick to little avail. Sharp pitched in four games for the Fish, going 0-0 with a 10.13 ERA over 5.1 innings with three strikeouts. He was returned to the Nationals and ultimately assigned to their Triple-A affiliate.

Marlins DFA Jose Urena

To make room for Cimber, the Marlins designated right-hander Jose Urena for assignment. The longest tenured Marlin on the roster, Urena’s time with the Fish comes to an end with mixed results. The Opening Day starter in both 2018 and 2019, Urena never found the consistency needed to perform at the highest levels. He was certainly miscast as an Ace.

In 2020, Urena, 29, resumed his role as a starter after an ill-fated run as a reliever in 2019. He posted a 5.40 ERA and 6.06 FIP with 5.79 K/9 and 5.01 BB/9 rates over 23.1 innings. His season ended painfully when he suffered a fractured right forearm at the end of September.

Urena proved to be an innings-eater from 2017 through 2018, but never developed beyond that. He’ll be most remembered for his clashes with Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. The Marlins elected to cut ties with Urena rather than pay the expected $4 million price tag for him.

Marlins Offseason: Non-Tender Deadline Signings

The Marlins made additional moves on Wednesday at MLB’s non-tender deadline. The team surprised some by inking both first basemen, Jesus Aguilar and Garrett Cooper, to new contracts. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Universal DH for 2021, the Marlins elected to bring back a player in Aguilar deemed be a leader on last year’s club.

Aguilar hit .277 in 2020, with 10 doubles, eight home runs and 34 RBI over 188 at-bats. His infectious attitude and joy seemed to help spark the young group last season. It was a solid bounce-back for Aguilar after a subpar 2019 landed him on the waiver wire in Tampa Bay. Aguilar’s $4.35 million one-year deal includes a $150K bonus for plate appearances.

Cooper, meanwhile, took over as the team’s main first basemen through the playoffs. After his stint on the injured list while dealing with COVID, Cooper returned to hit .283 with eight doubles, six home runs and 20 RBI over 120 at-bats. His clutch home run in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Chicago Cubs helped propel the Marlins into the NLDS.

Cooper’s injury history earned him some doubters along the way, including Marlins manager Don Mattingly, but he seemed to overcome those this season. That said, his $1.8 million one-year deal includes plate-appearance bonuses that could push his earnings to over $2 million.

No Real Non-Tender Surprises

The Marlins agreed to tender contracts to most of the eligible players on their list. Among them: third baseman Brian Anderson, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and relievers Cimber, Richard Bleier and Yimi Garcia.

The only player to be non-tendered by the team was reliever Ryne Stanek. The Marlins acquired Stanek in a 2019 trade deadline deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Miami shipped reliever Nick Anderson and right-hander Trevor Richards to the Rays for Stanek and outfield prospect Jesús Sanchez. Unfortunately for the Fish, if Sanchez doesn’t become a frontline player, that seems like a lost deal.

Stanek came to the Marlins as a potential closer, but he never seemed to overcome injury issues. In 31 appearances for Miami, he posted a 6.03 ERA, allowing 21 earned runs over 31.1 innings. He registered 39 strikeouts and 27 walks, a 1.76 WHIP.

No Extension for Andy

The Marlins tendered a contract to Anderson Wednesday but not a long-term deal. MLB Trade Rumors projects Miami’s 27-year-old third baseman to earn somewhere between $2.2 and $4.2 million.

Anderson anchored Miami’s lineup for much of 2020. He played 59 of the 60 games and put up a .255 batting average with seven doubles, 11 home runs and 38 RBI in 200 at-bats. His sterling defense at the hot corner saw him earn a spot as a finalist for the Gold Glove at third. For his career, Anderson sports a .266 batting average with 42 home runs and 177 RBI.

“I personally would like to see how this year goes before we venture down that road, so I have a better understanding of who he is as a player and get a better sense of the situation,” Marlins GM Kim Ng said Thursday.

Other Marlins Offseason Tidbits from Ng

  • Ng noted the Marlins top offseason priority will be the bullpen. Miami’s added Cimber, but lost Stanek, as well as former closer Brandon Kintzler and late-inning reliever Brad Boxberger.
  • Ng said the Marlins will have an open competition at second base, pitting Isan Diaz and Jazz Chisholm against one another. The team isn’t beyond adding another player to this competition for the spring.
  • Ng also mentioned the team will look to add another bat to the lineup.

Don’t miss the latest Marlins Report episode on the Five Reasons Sports YouTube Channel! Check it out below!

Marlins offseason

Marlins Offseason Primer

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.

Offensive Needs

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

The lack of faith in Jorge Alfaro during the postseason indicated that catcher could be an offseason focus. Chad Wallach can’t be the everyday catcher for a playoff contender.

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.

Pitching Needs

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.

If they’re in the market for a shortstop, Didi Gregorius and Marcus Semien head that list. Andrelton Simmons and Freddy Galvis could be options 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.

Pitching Options

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.

Marlins free agent

Top 5 Free Agent Targets For Miami Marlins

It’s no surprise coming off an incredible 60-game season which saw the Marlins make their first postseason appearance in 17 years (and win a playoff series at that) amid a COVID-19 outbreak which ravaged the roster three games into the season that Jeter and Co. are looking to build upon their 2020 success. This starts when the Marlins turn to the free agent market.

This process really began with the monumental hiring of Kim Ng as the team’s next general manager, marking the first time that a woman had been named GM of any North American professional sports team. Further, it is the first time that a Asian-American has held the role, breaking a barrier that had stunted the success of women and minorities in sports while giving new hope and inspiration to girls from all different ethnicities and walks of life interested in a high-level career in sports.

This, however, does not mark the end of the offseason for the Fish. It’s only the beginning. With a seemingly minuscule payroll relative to the rest of the league at $46 million and an ownership group which has made it clear that they’re willing to spend appropriately, there are several aspects of the Major League roster that could be improved upon via free agent additions to make the club even better heading into the 2021 season. 

Today, we’ll take a look at the top five free agent targets for the Marlins this offseason.

Marlins Free Agent Target No. 5: Michael Brantley, OF/DH

The Fish’s depth chart in the outfield is, crowded, to say the least. Despite this, the team had a combined bWAR of 0.4 in the outfield in 2020, due to struggles from rookie Monte Harrison and a lack of production from veteran left fielder Corey Dickerson. Though the Marlins have many prospects on the horizon awaiting their ability to contribute at the highest level and impact player Starling Marte manning center, the Fish still lack a consistent, everyday hitter. Enter: Michael Brantley.

Brantley has swung the bat well everywhere he’s been. He posts a career 116 OPS-plus while bringing solid power numbers and a high average to the table. Unlike Dickerson, Brantley is an above-average left fielder. He had one of the highest DRS (defensive-runs-saved) totals of any left-fielder in the truncated 2020 season with five. Adding a professional bat into the lineup who wouldn’t be a liability in the outfield while providing DH flexibility (assuming the DH stays in the National League in 2021) could provide the Marlins a substantially better offense.

Drawbacks to Adding Brantley

However, there are several downsides to this signing. As stated, the Marlins have MANY outfield options. Dickerson, Lewis Brinson, Harrison, Jesus Sanchez, Magneuris Sierra, and JJ Bleday are all assured or competing for a spot. If Brantley is signed with the intentions of him DH’ing, what does that mean for Garrett Cooper or Jesus Aguilar?

With Aguilar coming off a resurgent year and Cooper cementing himself as a legitimate threat in the lineup, only one of the two can play first base at a time. That leaves the other on the bench if Brantley is the DH. This wouldn’t bode well for the Marlins, as they could see a drop off in production in the two if they were not playing every day, which they should be. The two combined were 25 percent better than the average major league hitter (a .125 OPS-plus).

My conclusion is this. With the logjam of outfielders and lack of a spot for him, the Fish shouldn’t consider talks with Brantley. That is, unless one or multiple pieces at either first base or outfield are moved to make room for him. If this occurs, then the enticing upside of the left-fielder may reel Ng and Jeter into pushing for a deal.

Free Agent Target No. 4 Tommy La Stella, 2B

After the departure of Starlin Castro via free agency in the 2019 offseason, it was all but given that former top prospect Isan Diaz would run away with the starting second base role. However, a pandemic halted any of these talks. Diaz, who had presumably won the role during the summer camp ramp-up before the season, made the tough decision to opt-out of 2020 play. He cited concern over the virus for his and his family’s sake.

This led Jonathan Villar (among many others) to play the position when play resumed. Villar was traded to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline, leading to speculation as to who would man the spot. Soon thereafter, Isan opted back into the season to play the remainder of the year with the Fish. As exciting as this was, it did not provide many results. He slashed .182/.182/.182 in seven games before going out with a groin injury, ending his season.

Top prospect Jazz Chisholm split time with utility man Jon Berti after this, though it’s possible Jazz was rushed to the bigs, as he posted a .161/.242/.321 slash line in his cup of coffee. 

Adding La Stella

This lack of production, aside from Berti, who has provided consistent offense, speed, and defense during his tenure, though does not fit into the Marlins’ future plans at age 30, leads to questions about Diaz and Chisholm’s actual readiness for the big leagues, and raises questions as to whether or not the duo should start 2021 with the team’s Triple-A affiliate. If this is in Ng’s plans, she may seek a stopgap at the position, whether to split time with Berti or to play there every day. This stopgap could be Tommy La Stella.

La Stella would be a nice fit in Miami as a left-handed infielder with positional flexibility and consistent contact. (27 walks to only 12 strikeouts in 2020.) He improved his power numbers (slugging percentage of .486 and .449 in 2019 and 2020 compared to .331 in 2018). La Stella could either split time with Berti (La Stella is a .303 hitter vs righties compared to a  .216 one vs lefties). Or play there every day until Isan or Jazz proves they’re ready for the highest level. At that point, La Stella could be flipped for more prospect depth at the deadline.

Potential Negatives to La Stella

A negative facet to this signing is similar to that of the proposed Brantley one, heavy depth at the position. With unofficial captain Miguel Rojas holding down the fort at shortstop in 2021, Chisholm and Diaz are both competing for the job at second. This leads to a possibility that one or the other show they are ultimately ready for the position during spring training. Even 21-year-old Jose Devers could be in the mix. He was added to the team’s taxi squad during their postseason run despite never playing above class A-advanced in the minors.

This leaves La Stella in a tough spot if he is signed. He can’t play third because of Brian Anderson. First base remains loaded with major league depth, and second may not garner much playing time either. Not even a DH role would be guaranteed. Inking La Stella to a deal is useless if he doesn’t play every day.

With a contract I expect will demand upwards of $7-million, signing La Stella to a one-year deal would speak lengths as to where the organization feels Isan and Jazz are. He would most likely be their placeholder until one is ready. Otherwise, a diminished role is a moot utilization of the 31-year-old veteran.

Marlins Free Agent Taget No. 3: James McCann, C

Perhaps the most important position to address, the Marlins did not see much production at all from two of their top three catchers in 2020. Aside from Francisco Cervelli (who has retired), the Marlins’ two other catchers on the roster from Opening Day on were not very valuable behind the dish.

Jorge Alfaro, the team’s immediate catcher of the future after trading J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies in 2019, has seemed to regress from his time with his old team. A gaudy K rate of 33.1 percent in 2019 was somehow topped this year in 2020, as Jorge K’d 36 percent of the time this past season (36 strikeouts in 100 at-bats). He provided a negative dWAR all the while. His struggles on both sides of the ball warranted his benching during the postseason. Backup catcher Chad Wallach, who slashed .227/.277/.364 in the regular season, started over him. Manager Don Mattingly cited defense as the reason. 

This tandem posted a combined -0.4 WAR in 2020. And though Alfaro was infected by COVID-19 and never got into a groove, this lack of impact behind the plate cannot be perpetuated if the Marlins want to contend in 2021. Especially with little catching depth at the minor league level.

Upgrading at Catcher a Must

This leads to the possibility of the Fish signing former Tiger and White Sox catcher James McCann. It would be a GREAT signing at that. The 30-year-old has been one of the most consistent backstops over the last two seasons, posting a solid 4.0 oWAR and 126 OPS-plus in that time frame. And that isn’t all.

He has been VERY valuable behind the plate. He registered a nine DRS and a 32 percent caught-stealing-rate since 2019, whilst ranking in the top 11 percent in framing in 2020 (per Baseball Savant). Alfaro ranked in the 34th percentile in said metric in 2019 (not enough data to track this season). Meaning, McCann was able to steal strikes for his pitchers a lot more effectively than Alfaro.

Signing McCann would allow for Miami’s young starting pitching core to build a better rapport and trust with him. And they would in turn be more successful due to the intangibles and experience McCann has that Alfaro unfortunately lacks.

Final Thoughts on McCann

McCann’s dWAR the past two seasons alone (1.7) is more than Alfaro and Wallach’s total WAR combined in that time (1.1). 

The only qualm with signing him is the money he may command. The highest AAV on the books belongs to Starling Marte at $12.4 million over one-year. Though ownership cited a willingness to spend, it’s possible McCann could seek an AAV upwards of $15 million over several years, a financial commitment I’m not sure the Fish are willing to make.

Furthermore, if McCann is signed and deemed the catcher for the foreseeable future, where does that leave Alfaro? Undoubtedly talented with a rare combination of power and speed for a catcher, his role as a backup at age 27 could stunt any further player growth and even diminish his confidence. This could lead to the possibility that he’d be traded if McCann were inked to a deal in Miami.

Closing thoughts? McCann in caliente red makes all the sense as the position lacks production offensively and defensively with the current options. But the looming inevitability of a big payday and the inquiries surrounding current starter Jorge Alfaro’s role lead to many questions as to the legitimacy of a deal materializing

Free Agent Target No. 2: Alex Colome, RHP

The most obvious allocation of 2021 free agent money should be towards the Marlins’ bullpen. With some of their biggest 2020 contributors in Brad Boxberger and Brandon Kintzler becoming free agents, the Fish should aim to resign those two. Yimi Garcia, signed in the 2019 offseason, dazzled in 2020. And he looks to be a key setup man moving forward. However, there isn’t much certainty after that.

Right-hander Jamey Hoyt was effective with a 1.23 ERA this past season. But the 34-year-old was in the bottom eight percent in exit velocity per Baseball Savant. He threw his slider 67 percent of the time, leading to regression and predictability concerns.

Jose Urena, the longest-tenured member of the organization currently, had a rough 2020 amid a bout with COVID and a season-ending forearm fracture. He finished with a 5.40 ERA and 6.06 FIP. Other bullpen arms weren’t too reliable, either. This includes Ryne Stanek (diminished velocity and pitch effectiveness), Stephen Tarpley (BB/9 of 6 with average stuff), Robert Dugger and Nick Neidert (unproven rookies who struggled with COVID), and Jordan Yamamoto (let’s not talk about it).

Signing Colome Helps the Bullpen

If nothing else, signing Alex Colome would make that heads or tails bullpen a bit less worrisome. The Dominican right-hander logged 22 and a third sparkling innings for the White Sox in 2020. He pitched to a 0.81 ERA combined with a 2.97 FIP, ensuring that his success wasn’t influenced by good luck. The numbers back this up. He was above average in exit velocity, xSLG (expected slugging percentage against), and barrel percent (how frequent opposing batters barreled him) percentiles. This means he induced soft contact the entire year and was rarely hit hard.

This bodes well for a Marlins ‘pen that has had many volatile relievers who have had elite stuff but weren’t been able to limit hard contact, and he’d immediately fit into a setup or even closer’s role.

There aren’t many downsides to a signing like this, except for fear of regression due to the fickle nature of relievers in general. It may be noted though that Colome only relies on two pitches: a high-80s cutter and a mid-90s fastball. As long as Colome does not lose velocity on his four-seam fastball, as Kenley Jansen did, all indications point to continued effectiveness from him.

This would be a slam-dunk signing by the Fish. A one-year deal for $12-ish million would fortify a bullpen with high upside but many inconsistent performers. Colome’s track record, veteran experience, and overall ability would make the Marlins even better in 2021.

Marlins Free Agent Target No. 1: Brad Hand, LHP

Nothing more necessarily needs to be said about the Marlins’ bullpen. But for what it’s worth, lefty Richard Bleier cannot be the only southpaw to hold the fort down. Tarpley’s future fit with the team is questionable even right now. Hmmm…if only there were a former Marlin on the free-agent market who became one of the most effective left-handed relievers in the game after departing from the team. Oh wait, there is…BRAD HAND!

Hand has been nothing but rock solid since being DFA’d by the Fish back in 2015. He’s posted a 2.70 ERA and 157 ERA-plus (meaning he has been 57 percent better than the average MLB pitcher) between 2016 and 2020. And racked in an amazing 1.37 FIP in the truncated 2020 season for the Indians.

Hand still has an elite slider, one that moves 7.2 inches more than the average slider. Though he may not have a 95-mph fastball anymore, his low-90s heater plays up due to high spin rates (top 14 percent in fastball spin). He still performs extremely well in expected stats such as xERA (expected ERA), xSLG, and xBA (expected opponent batting average), leading to the low FIP.

Will Hand Accept a Pay Cut?

Barring an unwillingness to pay Hand a probable salary of $10-$14 million, he should fit in amazingly with Bleier. The two could form one of the best southpaw duos in the sport. One would contributed as a late relief option and the other projecting as the dominant closer they’ve vied for for ages.

Whether the Fish sign one, two, multiple, all, or none of these guys, the 2021 Miami Marlins offseason is set to be filled with tons of hype and excitement for hopefully a much better 162-game product than we’ve seen in a long time.

Marlins Ng

Marlins Make History with Hiring of Kim Ng to GM Position

Fresh off a season where they ended a 17-year playoff drought, the Miami Marlins continued to make history by hiring Kim Ng as the organization’s general manager. Ng becomes the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations among the 30 MLB teams and is believed to be the first woman hired to the General Manager position by any of the professional men’s sports teams in the North American Major Leagues.

Ng sports an extensive and impressive resume. For the last nine years, she’s served as MLB’s vice president of baseball operations. Prior to that, she piled up 21 years of experience in the front offices of the Chicago White Sox (1990–96), the New York Yankees (1998–2001) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2002–11). Ng played an integral roll in assembling rosters that made eight postseason appearances, including six League Championship Series, and won three World Championships.

A statement from Marlins CEO Derek Jeter on Ng:

“On behalf of Principal Owner Bruce Sherman and our entire ownership group, we look forward to Kim bringing a wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience to the Miami Marlins. Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success. Additionally, her extensive work in expanding youth baseball and softball initiatives will enhance our efforts to grow the game among our local youth as we continue to make a positive impact on the South Florida community.”

While working with MLB, Ng directed international baseball operations. She worked closely with the front offices of all 30 MLB clubs and other leagues around the world. Ng led a group that set policy for and enforced international signing rules, established MLB’s first system for registering international players for signing and managed protocols for signing said talents. She raised the standards for international academies and negotiated agreements with various international winter leagues.

Ng’s Statement

“I entered Major League Baseball as an intern and, after decades of determination, it is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins as their next General Manager,” Ng said in a statement from the club.

“We are building for the long term in South Florida, developing a forward-thinking, collaborative, creative baseball operation made up of incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have, over the last few years, laid a great foundation for success.

“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly,” she continued. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring Championship baseball to Miami. I am both humbled and eager to continue building the winning culture our fans expect and deserve.”

Ng’s Path to Becoming Marlins GM

Ng started her career as an intern with the White Sox in 1990. Eventually, she made her way up the ladder to Assistant Director of Baseball Operations.

In 1998, Ng landed a role as Assistant General Manager of the New York Yankees. She held that position from 1998 until 2001, a time when current Marlins CEO, Derek Jeter, was an integral part of that club. At the time she was hired, she was the youngest assistant GM in MLB and only the second woman to attain that position with an MLB club.

Ng went from New York to Los Angeles in 2002. There, she assumed the role of Vice President and Assistant General Manager. While there, she assisted in all player transactions, including trades and free agent signings. She also oversaw LA’s arbitration efforts, as well as the scouting, medical and video departments. Her time with the Dodgers overlapped with Marlins manager Don Mattingly’s tenure there by one year.

Ng’s hiring continues a trend with the Miami Marlins. Jeter became MLB’s first Black CEO after his group, led by Bruce Sherman, bought the club in 2017. Jeter hired Caroline O’Connor to be senior vice president, making her one of the highest-ranking women in pro sports.

Ng becomes the fifth person in club history to hold the top position in baseball operations.

Dave Dombrowski filled the role from the franchise’s expansion season in 1993 until 2001. Larry Beinfest manned the GM position from 2002 to 2007, helped the club claim its first World Series title. Michael Hill and Dan Jennings followed Beinfest. Hill operated as GM from 2008 to 2013, then earned a promotion. Jennings was GM for two years, 2013-2015. Hill resumed GM duties in 2016 until the end of this past season.

Check out our discussion of Ng’s hiring & free agent possibilities on the Five Reasons Sports Network’s YouTube channel:

Reaction to Ng’s Hiring

 

Mattingly manager of the year

Marlins’ Mattingly Named NL Manager of the Year

Yesterday, Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) named Don Mattingly National League Manager of the Year. He joins Jack McKeon (2003) and Joe Girardi (2006), becoming the third Marlins manager to win the award.

Mattingly manned the helm for the Marlins during a turbulent season that eventually ended in the NLDS. The Marlins sailed over preseason predictions and vaulted into the NL playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons. Most baseball pundits pegged Miami for no more than 25 wins, but Mattingly helped lead the club to 31 wins and a playoff berth.

This isn’t the first award Mattingly has won this year. Earlier this offseason, Sporting News named Mattingly NL Manager of the Year. He became the third Marlins manager to win that award, joining Fredi Gonzalez (2008) and Girardi (2006).

Mattingly earned 20 first place votes from the BBWAA and finished with 124 points total. Second place went to Padres’ manager Jayce Tingler. David Ross, the Cubs’ skipper, came in third.

Mattingly Earned His Manager of the Year Award

Mattingly navigated an unprecedented start to the 2020 season. The Marlins were struck with a COVID-19 outbreak that saw 18 players and two coaches sidelined. Miami’s front office reshaped the roster on the fly while Mattingly was literally meeting players for the time on the pitching mound.

Even in a truncated 60-game schedule, Miami made 174 roster moves. The team used 61 different players over the 60 games. Miami’s nine different starting pitchers in their first nine games of the season set a new MLB record. Of the 61 players who appeared for the Fish this season, 21 were rookies. 18 of those made their MLB debut.

This unlikely group crashed the NL postseason and swept the Chicago Cubs in the process.

“That’s a step froward for us,” Mattingly said. “We’ve gotten a lot of young guys experience this year. We’ll have a tremendous amount of competition within our camp next year for jobs and who’s going to be where. This is just the start of it. One of our slogans a couple of years ago was ‘Just getting started’ and that’s what I feel like now.”

Rojas, Jeter on Mattingly

The fact that Mattingly navigated the team through that uncertainty and kept them competitive was not lost on most.

“He’s a great person,” said Marlins shortstop and de facto captain Miguel Rojas. “He’s a great human being before being a baseball player or manager. The communication he has with the players, the confidence he gave the players is unbelievable.”

Rojas and Mattingly both inked extensions with Miami in 2019 and they’ve come together to help lead this young club forward. Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has long called Mattingly a calming influence on this young group of players.

“Donnie believes in our vision,” Jeter said after extending Mattingly’s contract. “He believes in our direction, and he’s all in. He has shown a lot of patience with our young, developing team.”

Here’s the statement from Jeter following Mattingly being named NL Manager of the Year:

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award in 2020 than Donnie. His leadership and teamwork with staff and players were on display day in and day out in one of the most challenging seasons this sport has seen, as he guided the team to the organization’s first postseason appearance in 17 years. He continues to believe in our vision and invests in our young, talented players to help us work toward our goal of sustained success. This is another great honor in his storied baseball career.”

Mattingly, who was the American League MVP in 1985, becomes the fifth individual in Major League Baseball history to win both MVP and Manager of the Year honors. He joins Don Baylor, Kirk Gibson, Frank Robinson and Joe Torre.

Check out FiveReasonsSports.com and get one of the amazing Tees there! Click here to shop!

Marlins Marte

Marlins Pick Up Marte’s Option

MLB’s offseason officially began today as the 2020 World Series came to an end. The Los Angeles Dodgers took home the trophy in what was the strangest season in MLB history. The Marlins made some history along the way as well, making the postseason for the first time since 2003. The Marlins, meanwhile, started their offseason by picking up the $12.5 million team option on centerfielder Starling Marte.

Marte Back with Marlins for 2021

This news shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, considering the price the Marlins paid to acquire Marte from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Miami sent starting pitchers Caleb Smith and Humberto Mejia, as well as a low-level minor league relief pitcher Julio Frias, to the DBacks for Marte’s services.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said the team always planned to bring back Marte. He was never considered a rental by the club.

“We moved some very talented players in our mind to get Marte,” Jeter said of the deal last week.

For the Marlins, Marte hit just .245, with a .286 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage. He tallied 13 RBI, six doubles, five steals and four home runs in 28 games played for Miami. He stabilized a centerfield that was in flux throughout the first half of the season. Marlins manager Don Mattingly rotated five different players in center prior to Marte’s arrival.

Marte had his Marlins cap make it to Cooperstown since he played 61 games in MLB’s 60-game season.

Unfortunately, Marte finished the season injured, after Chicago Cubs reliever Dan Winkler’s pitch broke Marte’s pinky. The injury forced him to miss the Marlins’ NLDS series with the Braves and his offense would have been useful. Miami scored just five runs in the three-game sweep.

Bringing back Marte adds a reliable veteran presence to the Marlins’ outfield and lineup. Although he struggled at times this season, a look at his career stats indicates he should be able to hit consistently. He’s athletic and speedy, making him a threat on the base paths and an excellent defender. At $12.5 million, the team option isn’t cheap, but if the 32-year-old Marte underperforms, the Marlins can move on next year.

This move makes Marte the highest paid players on the Marlins active roster for 2021, topping Corey Dickerson‘s $8.75 million. It’s the right choice for an up-and-coming club that needs reliable veterans to mentor the young players.

Beyond Marte, the Marlins also have to decide on Brandon Kintzler’s team option. The 36-year-old reliever locked down the closer position for Miami in 2020. He converted 12 of 14 save opportunities during the regular season and posted a 2.22 ERA over 24.1 innings pitched.

Kintzler’s option stands at $4 million and the team open to bringing him back for 2021.

More Marlins Moves to Come

With the World Series now complete, MLB’s free agency is set to begin on November 1st . The market will see additional names added after December 2nd non-tender deadline. Beyond that, the Winter Meetings loom, with the Rule 5 Draft set to happen on December 10th. The makeup of the 40-man roster, which needs to be addressed, must be finalized by November 20th.

The Marlins, though, may enter this stretch without a President of Baseball Operations. Michael Hill and the club could not come to an agreement to extend his contract. Hill’s departure opens a front office position, but the team is in no hurry to fill that spot.

“We have a lot of smart baseball minds in our organization and there’s smart baseball minds around the game. It takes some time to sit down and see what type of person we need in this particular role,” Jeter said last week.

MLB Network’s Craig Mish said New York Yankees vice president Tim Naehring and special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman Jim Hendry, who’s a former GM himself, are two potential possibilities to fill the vacancy. The Yankees connection between these clubs runs deep.

Mish mentioned Gary Denbo, the Marlins’ Director of Player Development and Scouting, is likely to stay in his current role. Meanwhile, Dan Greenlee, another former Yankees’ executive, earned a promotion to Assistant General Manager after spending time as Director of Player Personnel.

We’ll see where the Marlins go from here, but it’s clear that even with a new President of Baseball Operations in tow, all front office decisions will likely go through Jeter.

Mattingly

Don Mattingly Named Sporting News Manager of the Year

The Miami Marlins season may have come to an end last week. However, the team still finds itself as part of the national baseball discourse. On Thursday morning, Sporting News announced their 2020 MLB awards, and among the recipients was Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

After enduring a COVID-19 outbreak which cost him more than half of his Opening Day roster, Mattingly led the Marlins to the club’s first winning record since 2009 and its first playoff berth since 2003. The Marlins earned a Wild Card spot and summarily dumped the NL Central winners, the Chicago Cubs, in a two-game sweep. Miami ultimately fell to the Atlanta Braves, but the team earned the respect of the baseball world in the process.

Mattingly Earns Manager of the Year

The Marlins lost 18 players in the COVID-19 outbreak and that was just the start of a tumultuous season for the roster. Even in a truncated 60-game schedule, Miami made 174 roster moves. The team used 61 different players over the 60 games. Miami’s nine different starting pitchers in their first nine games of the season set a new MLB record. Of the 61 players who appeared in a game for the Fish this season, 21 were rookies. 18 of those were making their MLB debut.

The fact that Mattingly navigated the team through that uncertainty and kept them competitive was not lost on most.

“He’s a great person,” said Marlins shortstop and de facto captain Miguel Rojas. “He’s a great human being before being a baseball player or manager. The communication he has with the players, the confidence he gave the players is unbelievable.”

Rojas and Mattingly both inked extensions with the Marlins in September and they’ve come together to help lead this young club forward.

“Donnie believes in our vision,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in September. “He believes in our direction, and he’s all in. He has shown a lot of patience with our young, developing team.”

That development was clearly evident this season. The Marlins bucked every prognostication that said they’d finished last in the NL East for a third-straight season. Mattingly became the first-ever National League manager in the Modern Era to lead his team to a playoff appearance after losing 100 games the previous season.

“The great thing about Donnie is he understands what we’ve been building here as an organization,” Jeter said. “He keeps our guys competing on a daily basis.”

Mattingly is the 15th manager in franchise history. This season, he became not only the longest tenured, but also the winningest. Mattingly’s 307 wins as a manager are most, as he passed Fredi Gonzalez (276) Jack McKeon (281).

Mattingly was no stranger to award as a player, winning an MVP and three Silver Sluggers, as well as nine Gold Gloves. He becomes the third Marlins manager to win the award from Sporting News, following Gonzalez (2008) and Joe Girardi (2006).

Marlins 2020 season

5 Takeaways from Marlins Successful 2020 Season

No one expected it outside of the Marlins’ Roger Dean Stadium facility in Jupiter, FL. No one believed in this Marlins group. They were picked to be last in the NL East. Most assumed they’d struggle to win 20 games. They were even labeled a ‘bottom feeders.’ But the Marlins always believed, and the proved the doubters wrong with a wildly successful 2020 season.

Miami’s run to the MLB postseason remains one of the most unlikely sports stories in recent memory. The season, which started amid a COVID-19 outbreak that saw the club lose more than half its Opening Day roster, turned into a celebration of resilience and development as the #WhyNotUs refrain took hold and the Marlins rocketed into playoffs.

“Our message to our guys was pretty simple,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said via Zoom. “We talked about it when we went to [Spring Training]. We talked about [how] it’s time. It’s time to take the next step forward as an organization.”

Miami certainly demonstrated that step forward. Here’s a look at five takeaways from a wildly successful 2020 season for the Marlins.

Marlins 2020 Season: They’ve Closed the Gap

Miami was widely selected to finish last in the NL East this season. A young roster, coupled with bargain-basement veteran additions, led most to think they’d only be marginally more competitive coming off 105-losses. But the Marlins surprised everyone by making a run to the National League Division Series.

Miami’s season ended at the hands of the Braves this week. While a three-game sweep leaves a bitter taste in their mouths, the Marlins can only look at their 2020 season as a success. Last season, the Marlins went 24-52 against the NL East, and 4-15 against the Braves specifically. In 2020, Miami went 21-19 versus NL East rivals and 4-6 against Atlanta.

The Fish have certainly closed the gap between them and Atlanta. In 2019, Miami finished 40 games behind the Braves. In 2020, they finished just four games back of them.

“I think we’re closer,” Miguel Rojas, the team’s leader and de facto captain, said. “But we know [the Braves are] not going anywhere. They’re a good team. I’m pretty positive that the guys that gained the opportunity and gained the experience this year, especially in the postseason. It was pretty important for us moving forward.”

Starting Pitching Remains the Strength

The obvious focus for this organization in the rebuild has been starting pitching. With elite-level pitching prospects and MLB difference makers, the future of the Miami Marlins seems to be in good hands. The 2020 season showed the Marlins starting pitching remains the team’s strength.

Sandy Alcantara emerged as a legitimate ace this season, even after his bout with COVID-19. In seven regular season starts, Alcantara went 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 39 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched. He dominated the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the Wild Card round, going 6.2 innings, surrendering just one run.

In the NLDS versus a potent Braves lineup, Alcantara kept the Marlins in the game through six innings but faltered late. Sandy’s best start, though, came in New York, against the vaunted Yankees lineup. With a playoff berth on the line, Alcantara went 7.1 innings, giving up just two runs to help propel the Marlins to the postseason.

Pablo Lopez presented himself as a clear Number 2 starter in this league. He took the ball coming off of the long COVID quarantine and helped lead the Marlins to the top of the division early in the 2020 season. His development makes Lopez one of the most improved players from 2019.

Throughout the season, Lopez focused on execution to great success. He started a team-high 11 games and went 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA. Take out back-to-back bad starts in early September and Lopez would have posted a sparkling 1.93 ERA in 2020.

Sixto Sanchez flashed on the scene and showed his potential as a frontline starter. Sanchez made seven starts and posted a 3-2 record with a 3.46 ERA. He tallied 33 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched, and when he had command of his full pitching arsenal, he was masterful.

“I learned that I can help the team,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “That’s one of the things I saw in my two [playoff] starts. I know that I’ve got the tools to keep helping the team in the future.”

The Marlins also saw Elieser Hernandez take a step forward in his development before being lost to a season-ending injury. Hernandez made six starts and finished with a 1-0 record and 34 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched.

“Sandy and Pablo, you’ve seen the growth that they’ve been able to make,” Mattingly said. “I think Sixto and Rogers, you see that they’re still a little young. They’ve got steps to take, as well as Sandy and Pablo continuing to grow, but those guys are still at another level than those other guys. Sixto and those other guys are going to have to take steps forward to improve.”

Alcantara, Lopez, Sanchez and Hernandez are likely locks for the 2021 starting rotation, but there are others who could push for a spot as well. Trevor Rogers had his moments in 2020, as did Braxton Garrett and Daniel Castano. The Marlins also have Edward Cabrera and Max Meyer near the Majors.

Positional Prospects Need to Develop

While the pitching talent showed it’s ready to take the next step, Miami’s positional prospects lagged behind some. If the Marlins are going to continue to push for the playoffs after this 2020 season, they’ll need to see some of that position talent develop into difference makers.

The Marlins have seen the steady development of players like Brian Anderson and Rojas, but the frontline prospects called up to the Majors this season did not impress.

Monte Harrison started the year as the fan-favorite among the prospects. Unfortunately, Harrison’s struggles at the plate in his first call up showed he still had work to do. Between his two stints with the Marlins this season, Harrison managed just a .140/.213/.233 slash line. He connected on one dramatic home run but struck out 24 times in 47 plate appearances.

To his credit, Harrison became a weapon on the basepaths and craved out a pinch-running/defensive role during the postseason push. At 25-years-old, though, Harrison will need to adjust to Major League pitching in order to stick moving forward.

Lewin Díaz, acquired via trade last season, appeared in 14 games for the Marlins in 2020. The sweet-swinging lefty has an MLB-ready glove, but at the plate, he lacked production. In 39 at-bats, Diaz hit .154, striking out 12 times but hitting a pair of doubles and getting three RBI. At 23-years-old, he may still get some seasoning in the Minors.

One prospect who wouldn’t get any additional Minor League work is Isan Díaz. The 24-year-old second baseman was projected to be the starter for Miami this year, but after the COVID-19 outbreak, he opted out for a time. After returning late in September, Diaz saw action in five games before a season-ending injury. Although Diaz has a power bat, he’s lacked discipline at the plate thus far. In 201 career MLB ABs, Diaz has managed just a .174 batting average.

Jazz Chisholm remains Diaz’s primary competition at second base moving forward. The only one of these positional prospects to start in the postseason, Chisholm flashed his glove through his time with the Marlins. His bat is behind his glove though, as he managed just a .161 batting average in 56 at-bats. Chisholm connected on two regular season home runs and just missed a postseason homer.

Jesus Sanchez and Eddy Alvarez also struggled to perform at the plate in their time with the big club. The Marlins will need one or more of these positional prospects to make the leap moving into 2021.

Tough Choices Ahead for Marlins Front Office

The Marlins used a whopping 61 players this season. Among that number were 37 pitchers, including 13 different starting pitchers. The Marlins set a new MLB record by have nine different starting pitchers in their first nine games of the season.

Beyond that, the Marlins used 21 rookies this season, including 18 players who made their MLB debut. This constant roster shuffle started in July and led the front office to make an astounding 174 roster moves. Marlins President of Baseball Operations, Michael Hill, remained a busy man throughout the season. And he’ll have his work cut out for him moving forward.

The Marlins 40-man roster is full, but there are an additional 12 players on the Injured List. So tough decisions stand on the horizon. The team will likely pick up the options on centerfielder Starling Marte and closer Brandon Kintzler, and they’ll have to decide what to do about Jesus Aguilar, who was the team’s MVP.

Several bullpen arms will also need to be resigned or extended for 2021, including Richard Bleier, Brad Boxberger and Yimi Garcia. Mike Hill will also need to decide whether or not to bring back veteran starter Jose Urena, who missed the playoffs due to injury.

Other key players stand to enter their arbitration years and could use a long-term contract extensions. Among those: Alcantara, Anderson and Lopez.

Miami will need to decide if Jorge Alfaro, who did not start a single postseason game, is the catcher of the future. With the retirement of Francisco Cervelli and the offensive limitations of Chad Wallach, the Marlins may look to free agency if they’re not sold on Alfaro.

Marlins 2020 Season: The Future is Bright

All that said, the 2020 season for the Miami Marlins can only be viewed as a success. The team emerged from the NL East cellar to fight and secure their first playoff berth in 17 years. The Marlins rallied around the ‘WhyNotUs’ hashtag and ‘bottom feeders’ label.

“When I first got to Spring Training, I felt like this team was very young,” Kintzler said. “I feel like these guys got hungry. They matured really fast. What do they need to do to get to the next step? They just need to get better. Experience is the only thing that helps you get better up here. The window is just opening for this team. Hopefully, they take advantage of it.”

The mix of savvy veterans and hungry youngsters catapulted the Marlins into the MLB limelight. That sort of experience remains valuable, despite the disappointing ending to the 2020 season.

“At the end of the day, this is just the beginning of where we’re going to go. I feel like this organization, the things that we’re going to do here are going to be sustainable for a long time. We have to be happy but not satisfied,” said Rojas. “We got a taste of the postseason and we know how to play in the playoffs now.” Rojas said they need to use the experience as motivation to get better.

With such a bright future ahead of them, Marlins fans can finally feel excited for the upcoming season. No one expected this performance outside of those in the clubhouse and front office. But this success validates so many of the difficult decisions they’ve had to make during this rebuild, including bringing back Mattingly as manager.

“This was the closest group I’ve had as far as a group of guys who fight and feel like they’re united in their stance in where they want to go,” Mattingly said, “and that’s really what we talked about. I’m really proud of this club and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

“We did give ourselves an opportunity this year. I think that’s a step forward for us.”

Voices

Kim Ng Marlins

What Kim Ng Means for the Marlins

It has been quite a rocky road for women in sports. Just ask Kim Ng, the new General Manager of the Miami Marlins. Although her resume speaks for itself (30 years in the sport, two Assistant GM roles, three World Series championships), she has consistently found herself on the short end of the stick. Finally, a team has given her a chance, and as a Miami native, I couldn’t be more proud that the Marlins were the team to pull the trigger. 

Let’s first set the record straight. This is not just a breakthrough for women in sports, it is a breakthrough for the Marlins. Kim was far and away the best choice for the job. With her experience and inherent comfort working in baseball front office, the choice was easy. Within her press conference yesterday, these sentiments were expressed to the fullest extent. Let’s take a look at what Kim Ng talked about and what this means for a promising Miami Marlins future. 

Kim Ng

There were over 100 people at the press conference yesterday. This is not just a local news story, but one that has garnered national attention. Early on, it was clear that Kim has a special bond with both Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly, which will allow her transition to be smooth and effective. As questions rolled in about her past and what led her here, she gracefully expressed her humble origins. Stickball in the streets of Queens growing up, applying a positive mindset to the seemingly insurmountable odds that laid ahead, and her failure is simply an opportunity for growth mentality helped to show her poise in this situation. We got to learn a lot about her and her talents. 

“When I got the job, I felt a huge weight of pressure lift off of my left shoulder. But after 30 minutes, I felt it transition to my right shoulder,” she said. Ng understands that getting this job is the first step. There is plenty more that has to be done to make the Miami Marlins a championship-level team. She expressed that she will continue to utilize everything that she has learned to do this.

What this means for the Marlins

Because of the national attention that this signing received, there was a lack of questions revolving around where Kim will actually take the team. Her personal story of triumph highlighted the day. And although this is clearly deserving, we are left wondering what route she will take to achieve that aforementioned success.

In our recent Youtube video, David, Alejandro, and I talked about where she can take this team. The conclusion we came to was clear. If she trusts the Farm System that has been developed, Kim can potentially put together a winning team internally. Otherwise, she will have to make deals involving our younger talent to win now. Based on our previous year (which was most likely not determinant of how good this team actually is), she will be forced to either accelerate the timeline or simply continue on the path that was originally set. If she decides to do the former, we will go over all of our free agent/trade options in an upcoming video.

All in all, we most likely will not know what is next until Kim Ng makes her first tangible move as GM. Until then, we wait.