After an absolutely disastrous offseason last winter, expectations were low for the Miami Marlins heading into 2013. Predictably, they finished with the worst record in the National League. However, things were a little different this offseason. The Marlins actually had a really solid winter, perhaps one of the best in baseball. They didn't guarantee any players money past 2016, and only Jeff Baker, Garrett Jones, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are signed through 2015. The club didn't dump any of their young, potential-laden players for pennies on the dollar. This could be an interesting year in Miami.
Depth Chart (as of 2/10)
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Rafael Furcal
SS: Adeiny Hechavarria
3B: Casey McGehee
LF: Christian Yelich
CF: Marcell Ozuna
RF: Giancarlo Stanton
SP: Jose Fernandez
SP: Jacob Turner
SP: Nate Eovaldi
SP: Henderson Alvarez
SP: Tom Koehler
CL: Steve Cishek
Miami brought in several new players to fill holes, including a quartet of infielders – Rafael Furcal, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones, and Casey McGehee. The lone holdover is shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, a gifted fielder that can't hit worth a lick. The Marlins also improved their bench by bringing in Jeff Baker on a two-year deal, and acquiring left-hander Brian Bogusevic from the Cubs. Miami also bought low on reliever Carlos Marmol, who could provide dividends for them in July at the trade deadline, and picked up flamethrower Carter Capps from the Mariners. There's also some potential for minor league signees Reed Johnson, Ty Wigginton, and Henry Rodriguez to have a positive impact on the club in 2014 for a minimal salary.
It says something about your team when several of your departing free agents still haven't signed with new clubs the week that Spring Training begins. Matt Diaz is probably retiring. Austin Kearns, Juan Pierre, and Placido Polanco are still unemployed. Chad Qualls got three years from the Astros. Aside from that crew, Chris Coghlan and Ryan Webb were both non-tendered, but caught on with the Cubs and Orioles respectively, and Logan Morrison was finally dealt out of Miami, landing with the Mariners in exchange for Capps. Also, Justin Ruggiano was the cost it took to acquire Bogusevic from the Cubs, but his triple slash fell to the level of mediocrity last season as he got more playing time. All in all, the Marlins subtracted a total of 0.1 fWAR from their club getting rid of those players – not exactly a group of huge losses.
The Marlins' biggest impact of young talent will probably end up being on the mound. After the club pushed Jose Fernandez onto the Opening Day roster and benefited fantastically from that, could the same thing happen again in 2014? If it would, the most likely candidate to crack the rotation either on Opening Day or soon thereafter is Andrew Heaney, who Miami took ninth overall in the 2012 Draft. Heaney has blazed his way through the minors since, and split 2013 between high-A and AA. In 95 1/3 innings combined at both levels, he had a 1.60 ERA, striking out 89 and walking 26. He's Miami's top prospect, a top 30 prospect in baseball, and will be in the majors sooner rather than later.
Another young player who could make an impact on the Marlins in 2014 is outfielder Jake Marisnick, who will turn 23 in March. Marisnick struggled in a 40-game major league cameo in 2013, but played very well in AA despite missing the first month of the season due to a fractured hand. In 67 games with Jacksonville, Marisnick hit .294/.358/.502 with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases. If he sets the world on fire at AAA New Orleans to start the year, Marcell Ozuna could be pushed aside in center field for the former Blue Jays prospect.
I think the Marlins with the depth chart I listed above, but there are some possible stones that could be moved during the spring. Furcal is scheduled to be the Opening Day second baseman for Miami, but a nice spring from Derek Dietrich could make him expendable, regardless of his $3.5 million salary. Dietrich is also going to get some time at third base during the spring, and that added versatility could bump the limited, mediocre Donovan Solano from a spot on Miami's bench. Veteran Ty Wigginton could also push Solano and Dietrich for a bench spot, but if his prior seasons are any indication, this looks like the end of the road for him.
Koehler isn't a lock by any means for the final spot in Miami's rotation – he just has the spot because of his experience in 2014. He could be pushed by numerous players, including the aforementioned Heaney, Brian Flynn, or Brad Hand, depending on how each player fares during Spring Training. The bullpen competition will also probably be a bloodbath, and if you want a guy who could kick the door down in the spring, look no further than Arquimedes Caminero, who struck out 81 in 67 1/3 innings over three levels last year – including 12 in 13 major league innings.
When you have a 21-year old starter like Jose Fernandez that threw 178 innings in his rookie year, you need to keep an eye on him. However, I don't think it will be a huge deal unless he starts getting hung out to dry in his starts when he's clearly out of gas. Giancarlo Stanton has spent time on the DL in each of the last two seasons, and the continual injury problems in his lower half are a red flag going forth, though not a massive one. Rafael Furcal didn't play at all last year following Tommy John surgery, and it'll be interesting to see if he has anything left, but moving from shortstop to second base should help him. Henderson Alvarez missed most of the first half while dealing with shoulder inflammation, but was fine in the second half. Center fielder Marcell Ozuna's season ended in July following thumb surgery. Yeah, there are some concerns, but aside from Stanton's legs, none of those concerns are lingering, pressing issues.
From 1999 to 2000, the Marlins improved themselves from a 98-loss club to an 82-loss club. They stayed slightly under .500 until 2003, when they won their second World Series, and never really bottomed out with a 95 loss season until this past year. This Marlins team isn't a playoff contender yet, but if they finished somewhere around .500, I'm pretty sure Mike Redmond would be ecstatic.
If Fernandez or Stanton gets hurt, this team could be completely screwed. Hell, even if both players stay healthy and their new assortment of veterans struggle, the Marlins will likely be a 90-loss team. But man, if *both* of those things happen…this could be a 110 loss team.
Miami is, at best, the third-best team in the NL East. No one is going to confuse them with the Braves or the Nationals, but are the Marlins much worse than the Mets or Phillies? I don't think so. Realistically, these three clubs will be contending for the bottom three spots in the division, and I wouldn't be shocked at whatever order finish it – but Miami will be in the mix with New York and Philadelphia as opposed to miles behind them.