The rebuilding Marlins will continue to add low-cost veterans and potential hidden-gem younger players as they continue to assemble what they hope will eventually be a winning core.
- Wei-Yin Chen, SP: $22MM through 2020 ($16MM player option can vest for 2021)
- Miguel Rojas, SS: $10.25MM through 2021 (includes $500K buyout of $5.5MM club/vesting option for 2022)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Starlin Castro, 2B: $16MM club option for 2020 ($1MM buyout)
The Marlins achieved one major bit of winter business before the regular season even ended, inking manager Don Mattingly to a two-year extension with a mutual option for the 2022 season. The longest-tenured skipper in Marlins history will continue his work mentoring the young faces in Miami’s dugout, though given the contract’s length, it’s an open question as to whether Mattingly will get a chance to manage a Marlins team that is actually trying to win.
As the Marlins come off a 105-loss season, some pieces have started to come into place in South Beach. Brian Anderson has two seasons of quality results under his belt, and he’ll line up as the everyday option at either third base or (less likely) in right field, allowing the Fish a bit of flexibility in their offseason shopping. The newly-extended Miguel Rojas and top prospect Isan Diaz can handle middle infield duties, though Diaz is still getting his feet wet and could stand to be supplemented. Jorge Alfaro is still something of a work in progress, but he’ll continue to function as Miami’s everyday catcher. The Marlins also netted some good results from such unheralded pickups as Garrett Cooper, Harold Ramirez, and Jon Berti. In the rotation, Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith showed some potential, though Smith’s production tailed off in the second half.
The larger question is, as with Mattingly, whether any of these players could conceivably be part of the next winning Marlins team, given that the Fish still look to have at least two more rebuilding years ahead of them. This wouldn’t be a case of cutting payroll since almost every member of Miami’s roster is a pre-arbitration player, though CEO Derek Jeter and president of baseball operations Michael Hill could look to turn any single one of the club’s notable performers into a younger/higher-upside player (or players) who could help the team down the road.
To that end, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Anderson, Alcantara, Alfaro, or Smith (who already drew some attention at the trade deadline) dealt if the right offer came along. On the other hand, after so much roster churn in recent years, the Marlins’ front office could also see value in some simple continuity as part of the building process, plus 2020 is another year for the team to see what they really have in several of these still-developing players.
That question also extends to some Marlins who have yet to make the leap. Diaz struggled over his first 201 Major League plate appearances, though Miami will give its hopeful second baseman-of-the-future plenty of time to develop. The same might not be true of Lewis Brinson, who is entering his final option year and (through 709 PA) has shown no sign of being able to hit MLB pitching. Brinson’s struggles have only been magnified by the fact that he was the headliner of the prospect package the Marlins received from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade — in fact, it could be argued that each of the three other players (Diaz, Jordan Yamamoto, Monte Harrison) in the deal have now surpassed Brinson in importance to the Marlins’ future plans.
While the Marlins would obviously love to see Brinson finally break out in 2020, the club will look to add at least one veteran outfielder to help carry the load. Cooper, Ramirez, Austin Dean, and utilityman Berti will also be in the outfield mix, and reinforcements could be on the way relatively early in the season if minor leaguers Harrison and Jesus Sanchez play well at Triple-A. Sanchez, acquired from the Rays in the Nick Anderson/Trevor Richards trade last July, will be looking to regain some of his prospect stock after a disappointing 2019 season.
Cooper could be deployed at first base, or the Marlins could opt to add a more proven bat at the position to upgrade one of the league’s worst offenses. Free agents like Justin Smoak or Mitch Moreland wouldn’t break the bank, or a multi-positional player (e.g. Howie Kendrick, Brock Holt) could be penciled in at first base but really move around the diamond to help at various spots. If Diaz were to struggle again, for instance, a Kendrick or a Holt could end up seeing more time at second base.
In terms of adding a veteran presence, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Fish re-sign some of their veteran additions from last season. Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson have both expressed an interest in returning to the Marlins, while Martin Prado is a beloved figure in Miami who would also seemingly have a place as a bench piece, if he decides to continue playing.
Even though Miami will buy out Starlin Castro’s option, a case could be made that he could also be re-signed to an inexpensive one-year deal to play third base (and provide second base cover for Diaz), with Anderson moving into right field until the younger outfielders were ready. Castro is coming off an unusual season that saw him post a dreadful .571 OPS over the first three months (345 PA), only to then deliver a .909 OPS over his final 331 plate appearances. The veteran clearly has something left in the tank and will be only 30 years old on Opening Day. The more likely scenario, however, is that the Marlins will let Castro leave after two seasons.
With Prado and Castro both off the books, the Marlins have only $33.625MM in payroll committed to guaranteed salaries and projected arbitration salaries, and that number could drop even moreso if the Fish choose to non-tender Adam Conley or JT Riddle. Given the organization’s usual M.O., it’s hard to project that the Marlins could spend the extra money on a higher tier of free agent, but the financial flexibility is there if Jeter and Hill see an intriguing opportunity. Notably, there are a few relatively youthful corner outfielders kicking around that may not all find the kinds of opportunities they are hoping for with other organizations.
One tactic the Marlins could explore is taking on an undesirable contract from another team, with the other club throwing in a couple of interesting prospects to sweeten the pot. Such a bad-contract swap is also the only way the Marlins could possibly unload Wei-Yin Chen, who is single-handedly responsible for almost two-thirds of Miami’s current payroll, though parting with their own young talent to further pare an already barebones payroll probably won’t make sense for the Fish. If Chen can’t be dealt, the team might simply release him to make extra roster space.
Alcantara and Smith headline the rotation, with Yamamoto, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, Robert Dugger, and potentially Jose Urena in the mix for the other starting jobs. Urena finished an injury-shortened 2019 season pitching out of the bullpen in September once he returned from the injured list. Given that he was a solid workhorse in both 2017 and 2018, the Marlins will likely stretch him out as a starter again in Spring Training before considering more relief work. Alternatively, due to the fact that he’s only controlled through the 2021 season, Urena could also be a candidate to be moved this winter, although Miami would hardly be selling at a high point.
There’s plenty of room in this young rotation for a veteran innings eater or bounce-back candidate, and if the Marlins were to spend some money, this might be the most logical spot. Free agents like Alex Wood, Tanner Roark or Matt Harvey could all fit, or the club could look into signing Miami native Gio Gonzalez.
Any veteran arm signed for either the rotation or bullpen could also double as a possible trade chip come the deadline, as was the case in 2019 with Sergio Romo, who was flipped to the Twins last July. Since Romo is a free agent again, the Marlins could look into a reunion, if they want an experienced closer to handle the ninth inning rather than Ryne Stanek. Also picked up in that Rays trade last July, Stanek didn’t pitch well as a Marlin and has continued to struggle when used as anything other than an opener; Stanek has a 2.71 ERA over 83 career innings as an opener and a 4.93 ERA in a more conventional relief capacity. Given these unusual numbers, one wonders if the Marlins would consider deploying an opener/bulk pitcher strategy for one of their rotation spots, with Stanek kicking off the game before another pitcher handles the majority of the early work.
Another last-place finish is likely awaiting the Marlins in a tough National League East next season, but there is opportunity this winter for the team to get creative in figuring out ways to continue planting the seeds for its next winning team.