While the Marlins are far from pushing for contention, they did spend some money to add proven veteran talent to their roster.
Major League Signings
- Corey Dickerson, OF: Two years, $17.5MM
- Brandon Kintzler, RHP: One year, $3.25MM (includes $250K buyout of $4MM club option for 2021)
- Francisco Cervelli, C: One year, $2MM
- Matt Joyce, OF: One year, $1.5MM
- Yimi Garcia, RHP: One year, $1.1MM
- Total spend: $25.35MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired INF Jonathan Villar from the Orioles for minor league LHP Easton Lucas
- Acquired LHP Stephen Tarpley from the Yankees for minor league 3B James Nelson and cash considerations
- Acquired minor league INF Angeudis Santos from the Red Sox for RHP Austin Brice
- Acquired minor league OF Diowill Burgos from the Cardinals for OF Austin Dean
- Acquired minor league C Jose Estrada from the Angels for RHP Kyle Keller
- Claimed 1B Jesus Aguilar off waivers from the Rays
- Selected RHP Sterling Sharp from the Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Starlin Castro, Wei-Yin Chen, Jarlin Garcia, JT Riddle, Tayron Guerrero, Tyler Kinley, Hector Noesi, Bryan Holaday, Jose Quijada, Brian Moran, Martin Prado (retired), Curtis Granderson (retired)
In something of a role reversal, the Marlins took an undesirable contract off a rebuilding team’s hands when they landed Jonathan Villar in what was essentially a salary dump for the Orioles. Villar ended up avoiding arbitration by agreeing with Miami on an $8.2MM salary for the 2020 season — lower than both the $10.4MM MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz’s projection model forecast for Villar, and also the roughly $9MM or so that Swartz personally predicted in his closer examination of Villar’s rather unique case.
Even at $8.2MM, Villar was deemed too expensive by a Baltimore team that is stripping its roster down in the early stages of a lengthy rebuild, leaving the Marlins in position to add a quality second baseman coming off a 4.0 fWAR season. Or, I should say, a potentially former second baseman who will be seeing some time in center field, as the Marlins will try Villar on the outfield grass to free up a position for prospect Isan Diaz. It could end up being a short-lived audition depending on Villar’s glovework or if Diaz (who had only a .566 OPS over 201 MLB plate appearances in 2019) continues to struggle against Major League pitching. However, considering that former top prospect Lewis Brinson has also yet to break out at the big league level, there’s no harm for Miami in seeing if Villar can help their center field situation. If so, it could only enhance his trade value at the deadline, as Villar is only under contract through the end of the season.
The Fish added another veteran regular in Corey Dickerson, who was signed to a $17.5MM deal that covers the 2020-21 seasons. The outfield was a prime area of need for Miami this winter, as such names as Yasiel Puig, Kole Calhoun, Avisail Garcia, and — somewhat surprisingly — even Nick Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna were considered. The fact that the Marlins at least checked in on the latter two names could indicate that the team had at least some willingness to really expand their payroll, or it could be that they were simply doing due diligence to see if either Castellanos or Ozuna were willing to lower their asking price. (As it happened, Ozuna did end up signing a one-year deal, but with the reigning NL East champion Braves.)
In the end, it will be Dickerson who mans left field at Marlins Park, as the 30-year-old looks to rebound from an injury-plagued 2019 campaign. Dickerson was still very productive when healthy, batting .304/.341/.565 over 279 PA with the Pirates and Phillies, and anything close to those numbers would greatly boost a Marlins lineup that was arguably the worst in baseball last season.
In other offensive upgrades, the Marlins claimed Jesus Aguilar in the hopes that he can regain his 35-homer stroke from the 2018 season, and also signed Matt Joyce to share playing time in right field. Garrett Cooper will see plenty of at-bats as either a first baseman or right fielder, with Aguilar or Joyce (or utilityman Jon Berti, or younger outfield options like Magneuris Sierra or Harold Ramirez) in the mix to handle the other position.
With Jorge Alfaro perhaps questionable for Opening Day due to an oblique injury, Miami’s signing of Francisco Cervelli looks like an even more important move. Cervelli could end up getting a bit more time behind the plate than expected if Alfaro is on the injured list, though when Alfaro is back, Cervelli will slide into a backup role and offer a bit more seasoned glovework than the somewhat defensively erratic Alfaro.
Cervelli isn’t far removed from being one of the game’s better-hitting catchers, which fits the model of Miami’s approach to their position player acquisitions. All of these players were solid-to-very good just last year (Joyce), as recently as 2018 (Aguilar, Cervelli, minor league signing Matt Kemp) or in both seasons (Dickerson, Villar). Should the Marlins get some in-form production from the majority of these new faces and get continued improvement from the likes of Cooper, Alfaro, and Brian Anderson, Miami’s offense could take some pitchers by surprise.
The revamped bullpen also offers some upside, as Brandon Kintzler was signed to be the likely first choice at closer after the veteran righty’s solid 2019 season with the Cubs. Kintzler is a few years removed from his last closing experience at the back of the Twins’ bullpen, but he’ll handle the ninth behind a core group that includes Ryne Stanek, minor league signing and former All-Star closer Brad Boxberger, and Yimi Garcia, inked to a big league deal after the Dodgers non-tendered him. Garcia is perhaps the most intriguing of the newcomers, as his peripheral numbers hint at some real talent, were it not for the right-hander’s alarming propensity for allowing home runs. Pitching at Marlins Park could help that issue to some extent, and if Garcia can more fully limit the damage, he could be something of a steal.
While this winter’s expenditures count as something of a spending spree by Marlins standards, they aren’t doling out any new money. Villar’s $8.2MM and Miami’s $25.35MM in offseason free agents contracts just about match up to the 2019 salaries of several veterans who are no longer on the books (Martin Prado, Starlin Castro, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker). As per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Marlins’ projected $68.925MM Opening Day payroll is actually lower than their $71.9MM figure from last season’s opener.
In short, the Marlins might not have done enough this winter to escape the ire of the players’ union. The MLB Players Association has filed an amended grievance against the Marlins (as well as the Pirates and the Rays) for their use of revenue-sharing funds in both the 2018-19 and 2017-18 offseasons. Given that none of those clubs broke the bank over the last few months, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 2019-20 offseason also added to this grievance.
It was no surprise that Miami didn’t spend big this winter, as the organization has been very clear about its intentions to build around young talent and resist the quick-fix splurges that often marked the Jeffrey Loria era. It still might be a couple of years before the Marlins feel they have enough of a core group in place to ramp up spending as the White Sox and Reds did this offseason.
It’s a sign of progress, however, that the scorched-earth phase of the rebuild seems to be over. Villar, Kintzler, or other veterans on short-term deals could well end up being moved at the trade deadline, but it doesn’t seem like younger talent is on the move. Despite interest from multiple teams, the Marlins held onto controllable rotation arms like Caleb Smith, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and Jose Urena. Miami seems ready to find out if the young players it already has in the fold could end up being part of that next Marlins winner, and it will be intriguing to see which of the pitchers and position players take that next step in 2020.
2020 Season Outlook
Will the Marlins lose 105 games again? The NL East (and pretty much the entire National League) still looks quite competitive, but it seems on paper as if the Fish have done enough to get back down to double digits in the loss column. Fangraphs projects “only” 95.5 losses for Miami in 2020, which counts as some small victory, but it would still be a big surprise if Miami escaped another last-place finish.
How would you grade the Marlins’ offseason moves? (Link for app users.)