As the offseason approaches, we continue to outline the potential goals of this season’s non-contenders. We’ve already covered the Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, Reds and Phillies, and the next team in line is the Miami Marlins.
Before the 2015 season, the Marlins had a splashy winter in which they extended Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich and acquired Mat Latos, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Martin Prado, Michael Morse and Ichiro Suzuki, among others. But they suffered through injuries and quickly fired manager Mike Redmond, and now they’re 20 games below .500, in third place only because they’re in a very weak NL East division. Here are a few areas the club could address this offseason.
1. Solidify leadership positions. After dismissing Redmond, the Marlins made the unusual decision of moving GM Dan Jennings to the manager position. The move wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t a rousing success either. This month, the team fired pro scout Mickey White and reassigned vice president of player personnel Craig Weissmann, both of whom were close with Jennings.
Now, the Marlins want to replace Jennings as manager, and although he reportedly has a standing offer to return as GM, it’s unclear whether he’ll want to return, potentially with less power than he once had. The Phillies also reportedly could consider hiring Jennings, and the Mariners might be another possibility. It might be, then, that the Marlins could replace both their manager and their GM this winter (although they could simply promote assistant GM Mike Berger to fill the latter role).
2. Improve the farm system. The Marlins did take a recent step to improve their minor league system by hiring former Pirates special assistant Marc DelPiano to oversee it. Otherwise, it will admittedly take longer than an offseason to address their prospect pipeline.
Still, any upgrades they can make this winter, either by acquiring minor leaguers or by improving their development processes, would help. As Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald noted last week, it’s been an awful year for the Marlins’ minor league system — several of their top affiliates finished in last place, and their system appears to be sorely lacking in impact talent beyond 2014 second overall pick Tyler Kolek (who himself didn’t have a very good season). “[Y]ou go beyond [Kolek], and you get to guys who are not top 200- or 300-type guys,” Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper told Spencer.
Contending in 2016 will probably be a longshot for the Marlins, so one potential option is to be proactive about upgrading their base of young talent this winter. Last offseason, for example, the Braves added Arodys Vizcaino, Tyrell Jenkins, Max Fried, Mallex Smith, Dustin Peterson, Manny Banuelos, Rio Ruiz and others to their system. The Marlins don’t have the trade chips the Braves did … unless, of course, Miami’s front office is willing to get crazy and trade Stanton, Jose Fernandez or Gordon. (Stanton has a no-trade clause.) If not, they could make smaller trades (dealing someone like Prado and replacing him with Derek Dietrich might make sense) and attempt to add talent in the Rule 5 Draft. As a baseline, they probably shouldn’t trade from the shallow pool of minor league talent they currently have.
3. Develop a long-term plan. The Marlins’ most recent attempts to contend through the acquisitions of veterans have failed — last offseason didn’t work, and the 2011-12 offseason (when they brought in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and manager Ozzie Guillen to drum up interest in their new ballpark) didn’t either. Now, they’ll need to decide whether the third time will be the charm, and if not, what path to pursue.
While actually contending is a long shot, some acquisitions of veterans might actually make sense, even if they only might lead to a .500-type season. The Marlins have two franchise talents, Stanton and Fernandez, under control for the long term, and they can reasonably expect better health from both next season. They can also hope for more from talented young outfielders Yelich and Marcell Ozuna (assuming Ozuna returns). Barring a trade, Gordon will be back after a strong season, along with some capable role players, including Prado, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher J.T. Realmuto, and relievers A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps. In fact, there are hints of competence or upside at every position on the diamond (although a bit of additional bench depth would help them).
What the Marlins need most in the short term is starting pitching. Their young starters behind Fernandez didn’t take significant steps forward this season, and the Marlins’ collection of starting pitching now consists of a number of hurlers who look like placeholders (such as Tom Koehler, Brad Hand, Justin Nicolino and Adam Conley) alongside wild cards Jarred Cosart, Jose Urena and the injured Henderson Alvarez. This offseason’s free agent market is rich in pitching, and acquiring a couple starters to bolster the rotation might give the Marlins a chance to be competitive next season.
They probably ought to avoid trades of young players for veteran pitchers, however, unless they come very cheaply. Last offseason’s trades of Nathan Eovaldi to New York (in the Prado deal) and two young players to Cincinnati (in the Latos deal) were arguably small mistakes that the Marlins shouldn’t repeat. Regardless of their offseason moves, it would be very surprising if they won, say, 90 games in 2016. So the long term needs to be their top priority. Their most obvious route to long-term success is to build around Stanton and Fernandez, but they could also potentially consider the less obvious route of trading them. Either way, they appear to have a long swim ahead, one that might be tough to navigate for notoriously impatient owner Jeffrey Loria.