by Christopher Wenrich
Key Acquisitions: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Carter Capps, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson
Key Losses: Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Ryan Webb, Chad Qualls
The Miami Marlins are a team in turmoil whose performance on the field, good or bad, is super-ceded by their reputation for hosting fire sales. Since their inaugural 1993 season, the Marlins have had two post-season berths and won the World Series both times (1997 and 2003). After each World Series title, the team was dismantled, first by owner Wayne Huizenga, and then by owner Jeffrey Loria. The Marlins made dubious headlines again prior to the 2013 season when they traded away the likes of pitcher Josh Johnson and shortstop Jose Reyes. The end result was a disastrous 62-100 record and animosity from fans whose money helped Loria build a new ballpark.
Despite the laughable record, the Marlins were not without their bright spots. Rookie Jose Fernandez made the leap from Single-A to the majors as a 21-year old and pitched like a true ace (12-6, 2.19 ERA and 187 K in 172.2 IP). Fans have high expectations for their 2013 Rookie of the Year award winner and the Marlins need him to deliver results.
The Marlins scored an MLB-worst 513 runs in 2013, after being near the bottom of the pack the prior two years. Their offense will go as far as Giancarlo Stanton can carry it. Stanton showed tremendous potential in 2012 when he produced 37 home runs and a .969 OPS, but injuries have played a significant part in his young career. After playing 150 games in 2011, Stanton appeared in 123 in 2012 and 116 last year (He still managed to hit 24 home runs and compiled an .845 OPS).
If Stanton stays healthy enough to approach 155 or more games played, a 40-plus home run season would not be out of the question. Although he does not boast a high batting average (.265 career), his .354 on-base percentage is respectable and will bat in an RBI spot.
Stanton isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015 and won’t reach free agency until 2017, so the Marlins are paying him a mere $6.5 million this season. If the front office was to approach Stanton about a long-term deal, they must show him a commitment to winning or else Stanton will likely leave in 2017. Of course, based on their history, Loria could deal Stanton well before free agency.
Helping to set the table for Stanton this season will be veteran infielder Rafael Furcal. During his prime years with the Atlanta Braves (2000-2005), Furcal had a spectacular throwing arm, great speed and swung a respectable bat. If he’s healthy with Miami, Furcal will be the everyday second baseman after years at shortstop.
The 13-year veteran missed the entire 2013 season with an elbow injury, but he was productive with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 (.264 AVG and .325 OBP in 121 games). As of this writing, Furcal has been sidelined by a hamstring injury but is expected to be ready for opening day.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the Marlins’ big free agent signing this off-season. The catcher has untapped potential as a home run threat (he’s topped 20 HR just once in his career), and should help the Marlins score more runs. “Salty” caught 119 games last year for the Boston Red Sox and will see a heavy workload for the Marlins. Given enough playing time and at-bats, he should approach 30 home runs in 2014.
Manager Mike Redmond hopes that left fielder Christian Yelich can be a breakout star in 2014. Yelich’s lack of power (four home runs in 240 at-bats) as a rookie in 2013 may have disappointed some fans and scouts, but the 22-year old is still developing that part of his game. More importantly, he recorded a .370 on-base percentage and stole 10 bases in 10 attempts. Yelich’s ability to reach base safely is vital to help set up RBI opportunities for Stanton and Saltalamacchia.
The Marlins also picked up veteran infielders Garrett Jones (first base) and Casey McGehee (third base) to add some pop to the lineup.
Joining Fernandez in the rotation are Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. The three are promising youngsters who should keep the Marlins competitive in their games. Eovaldi is a hard-thrower who induces ground balls, and has the tools to be an All-Star. He must become more consistent with his performance though, and gain better command of his pitches.
Steve Cishek (34 saves, 2.33 ERA last year) will be the closer for Miami while Mike Dunn sets up. Through 192.1 career innings, Cishek sports a 2.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and limited opposing hitters to a .217 batting average. Cishek is eligible for arbitration after this season, so the Marlins may trade him at, or before, the deadline.
Carlos Marmol was a smart free agent signing for the Marlins. While Marmol has struggled with his control the past few years, he does have tremendous upside as a strikeout pitcher (730 career strikeouts in 563.2 innings). The Marlins were a last-place team before they signed Marmol and will likely be a last-place team again, so they have nothing to lose by giving Marmol a shot.
Jeff Mathis will likely be the backup catcher. Jeff Baker will serve as a utility infielder who can also play the corner outfield spots. Greg Dobbs can play the infield corners and serve as a power bat on the bench. Solano should have a spot and may be Furcal’s replacement in the event of an injury. The final bench spot will likely go to outfielder Brian Bogusevic, second baseman Derek Dietrich or third baseman Ed Lucas.
The Marlins have more pop in their lineup this year and should score more runs. Their pitching rotation shows promise and so does the bullpen, but they will struggle to win games. Look for the Marlins to make a minor improvement in winning percentage and to again finish last in the NL East.
Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment. Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).