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The Marlins will enter the offseason focused on trading some veterans and gathering up as much young talent as possible.
- Wei-Yin Chen, SP: $42MM through 2020 (plus vesting/player option)
- Martin Prado, 3B: $15MM through 2019
- Starlin Castro, 2B: $12MM through 2019 (plus club option)
Arbitration Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- J.T. Realmuto – $6.1MM
- Derek Dietrich – $4.8MM
- Dan Straily – $4.8MM
- Jose Urena – $3.6MM
- Miguel Rojas – $2.6MM
- Adam Conley – $1.3MM
- Bryan Holaday – $1.2MM
- Non-tender candidates: Rojas, Holaday
The Marlins have already knocked out a key piece of offseason business, landing Cuba’s Mesa brothers off of the international market. Elder brother Victor Victor Mesa may not be too far from the majors, though surely the Miami organization will take care not to rush him.
After all, there are no expectations that the team will be competitive at the MLB level in the near future. The Marlins won 63 games in 2018 after an offseason chock full of change. Most of the veteran players that weren’t dealt over the winter, but could be moved over the summer, ended up heading out the door.
That’s not to say, of course, that there weren’t some exceptions. First and foremost is catcher J.T. Realmuto. While the organization insists it intends to pursue an extension with the 27-year-old, who emerged in 2018 as arguably the game’s best overall backstop, it’ll be hard pressed to convince him to sign on (at least, at a palatable rate of pay).
It seems quite likely, then, that the Marlins will at least entertain trade offers. Perhaps it’s likelier still that the club will once again act as auctioneer, asking rivals with interest in Realmuto to come forward with offers. With two more years of affordable control remaining, Realmuto has a rather appealing contractual situation to go along with his on-field excellence and a significant amount of demand at the position.
The Marlins will need to choose wisely from the offers they receive on Realmuto, assuming that’s the route they take, because he’s the last top shelf label behind the bar. That said, the club does have some other candidates to move.
Starter Dan Straily is arguably the next-most valuable veteran asset, though rough peripherals lurked behind his 4.12 ERA from the 2018 campaign. Left-handed-hitting utilityman Derek Dietrich has produced above the league average with the bat in each of the past four seasons, though his glovework isn’t much-loved by metrics. And though he hasn’t drawn much interest over the past year, second baseman Starlin Castro has turned in consecutive solid campaigns and would seemingly represent a useful piece for the right organization. Finally, it’s not too hard to imagine southpaw Adam Conley being moved; interest may not be all that great, but he has had his moments and is still affordable and controllable.
Other potential trade assets seem less likely. The Marlins would dearly love to free their payroll of some of what’s owed to Wei-Yin Chen and Martin Prado, but it’s hard to imagine either will be candidates to move unless and until they show some life in the first half of the 2019 campaign. Dealing more youthful players likely won’t make a ton of sense, though perhaps it’s not possible to rule that out. Drew Steckenrider has loads of cheap control remaining, but he’s a reliever and therefore arguably ought to be cashed in if the price is right. Starter Jose Urena, who is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, probably shouldn’t be taken off the shelf entirely. It’s always possible another team will come calling with an offer that’s too good to pass up, as the Marlins themselves did to acquire Straily.
If it seems as if this post has dwelled quite a bit on what the Marlins might part with, well, that’s because the time still doesn’t seem ripe for this club to begin building up in earnest. What does the MLB roster need, in particular? Talent, anywhere and everywhere.
Indeed, third baseman/corner outfielder Brian Anderson is arguably the only youthful position player who has fully locked up a roster spot before camp opens. Otherwise, beyond the short-term veterans mentioned above — any one of whom could be traded — there’s immense uncertainty. After a nice 22-game run at the plate, long-time minor-league slugger Peter O’Brien arguably has the inside track at first base, which he could share in part with a healthy Garrett Cooper (who’s also a possibility in the corner outfield). JT Riddle could handle a chunk of the time at short. In the outfield, Lewis Brinson might be allowed to sink or swim in the bigs but could also end up back at Triple-A. Monte Harrison isn’t far from getting his first shot and Magneuris Sierra is also among the other near-term possibilities.
Given that state of affairs, there’s opportunity aplenty in Miami, which should make it a popular destination for young-ish castaways looking for a shot at the big leagues. The Marlins front office will no doubt look for ways to take advantage of the situation, including waiver claims, the Rule 5 draft, minor-league signings, and trades for players that don’t quite fit on other 40-man rosters. At the end of the day, there isn’t a single position on the diamond where existing options will cause the club to shy away from taking a low-risk chance on a player they really like. (Even Anderson, after all, isn’t locked into a single position.)
The state of affairs is a bit different on the pitching side, though there are quite a few openings there as well. The Fish hooked some interesting arms last year, with Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards emerging as cost-efficient starters with some promise. Since the Marlins will want to see if Chen can pitch his way back into a tradeable asset, the starting five cold be set with Urena and Straily.
Of course, the Marlins could choose to be aggressive and find a way to put top prospect Sandy Alcantara back in the rotation despite his walk problems in a six-game stint in 2018. There are also quite a few other young starters on the 40-man — most notably, out-of-nowhere righty Pablo Lopez — which perhaps provides added impetus to the notion of dealing away one or more of the veterans.
There are pitching options, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean the Marlins will hesitate to pick up intriguing rotation pieces should they see a way to do so at a nice value. If that creates any 25-man and/or 40-man roster pressures, then the leftover arms can slide into a bullpen that is quite light on sure things. Having already traded away Kyle Barraclough, the Marlins’ most experienced relievers are now pitchers like Conley, Nick Wittgren, and Jarlin Garcia. While existing players can fill out the relief corps, it’s another area that’s fully susceptible of improvement.
In this situation, it’s hard to imagine the Marlins really even having much preference at all other than to get the most talented possible players into the organization. There’s little sense in resolving would-be logjams before they exist. While that makes for a rather boring offseason preview piece, it also leaves the door wide open for a creative and fruitful winter.