The Marlins hold an interesting combination of some of the best players in all of baseball (Stanton, Fernandez and Gordon) and some of the worst. This turned into 71 wins in 2015 and a third place finish, well ahead of the Braves and well behind the Nationals. Because of the stars, this version of the Marlins, which is very similar to last year’s, should be very entertaining, but not really expected to contend.
Depth Chart (as of 3/23)
C: J.T. Realmuto
1B: Justin Bour
2B: Dee Gordon
SS: Adeiny Hechavarria
3B: Martin Prado
LF: Christian Yelich
CF: Marcell Ozuna
RF: Giancarlo Stanton
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
SP: Jose Fernandez
SP: Jarred Cosart
SP: Tom Koehler
SP: Adam Conley
CL: A.J. Ramos
New Faces: Robert Andino, Craig Breslow, Wei-Yin Chen, Edwin Jackson, Chris Johnson, Justin Maxwell, Dustin McGowan, Adrian Nieto, Nefi Ogando, Xavier Scruggs
Departures: Henderson Alvarez, Casey McGehee, Donovan Solano
Position Battles: The Marlins haven’t announced a fourth or fifth starter yet and there are plenty of players in camp. Edwin Jackson, Dustin McGowan, Adam Conley, Chris Narveson, and others all have a shot, but Jarred Cosart seems to have the upper hand thanks to 9.2 scoreless innings so far this spring. After his impressive 2015, Jackson seems the most deserving, but he has pitched poorly this spring to this point. Most likely, both Cosart and Jackson will be featured in the rotation along with others as Fernandez plays with an innings limit.
Injury Concerns: Speaking of Fernandez, the Marlins ace’s last full season saw him win the Rookie of the Year with a 2.19 ERA in 172.2 innings, but in the two years since, he’s only thrown 106.1 innings total. Tommy John surgery cost the incredibly talented pitcher most of 2014 and a strained bicep cost him a large part of the middle of 2015. This year, the Marlins will be very cautious with their star to make sure he’s able to pitch for the next three seasons. In addition, Carter Capps was initially expected to compete for the closer’s role, but instead has undergone a Tommy John surgery of his own and will miss all of 2016.
Key Player: To avoid talking more on Fernandez, the Marlins’ obvious key is Stanton. This isn’t just about them being able to contend, but because he is the face of the franchise and could be for more than a decade. The right fielder is legitimately one of the top five hitters in baseball, a three time All-Star, and has never not hit at least 20 home runs in a season. Thanks to injury, he only played 74 games last year, but still hit 27 home runs with a .606 slugging percentage, the second highest in his career. Expect another All-Star campaign out of Stanton and another high MVP finish even if he’s not going to be on a contending team.
Underrated Asset: While Stanton grabs all the headlines whether he’s in or out of the line-up, Justin Bour actually lead Miami in RBI last season and came in second in home runs (23). This was his first full season after playing in just 39 games in 2015 and if he can repeat this effort with Stanton in the lineup, it would give the Marlins two real run producing threats to go behind their litany of possible table setters that include Gordon, Yelich, Hechavarria, and Ozuna.
Burning Question: Is one man’s trash really another man’s treasure?
Taking advantage of MLB contract rules, the Marlins picked up three players essentially for free after they were released from their previous deals. One of these was the already mentioned Jackson, who could be a huge steal if he can throw near 200 innings for a cost of about $550,000 (the Cubs are still paying him almost $12.5M). Likely to be less of a steal, the Yankees are paying $3M for Martin Prado and the Indians about $7M for Chris Johnson. Since the Marlins are only on tab for the league minimum on all these players (except Prado), they should have no trouble cutting their losses should things not work out or if they need room to promote internally.
Best Case Scenario: The Marlins should win more games than last year just by expecting full (or nearly full) seasons from Fernandez and Stanton. Fangraphs agrees and projects them for 79 wins, something that certainly doesn’t seem too crazy given that the only great team in the division is the Mets. If all goes well, Miami could compete for a possible Wild Card, but will probably finish at least a few games back. At most, they should hope for about 82 wins.
Worst Case Scenario: What happened to the Marlins last year wasn’t just bad for the team, but bad for baseball. Gordon, Fernandez, and Stanton are three of the most marketable players in baseball and to lose two of them for so long was the worst thing that could happen. Even if something similar were to happen this year, the Marlins have enough of a core that they should still finish above Philadelphia and Atlanta who are projected to win 64 and 68 games. Even if all goes wrong, Miami should still be able to eke out 74.
Realistic Prediction: Both the best and worst cases for Miami see them falling in third place, which should be generally expected. Of course, crazier things have happened than a team like Miami coming from nowhere to take the division, but this time I think Fangraphs got it right and they will win between 77 and 80 wins.