Even the game’s largest Covid-19 outbreak couldn’t derail the Marlins’ Cinderella season, as the Fish surprised the league with a 31-29 record and went on to topple the Cubs in the Wild Card round of this year’s expanded postseason format. With a slew of young talent bubbling up to the Majors, newly minted general manager Kim Ng will be aiming to bring the club back to October baseball in 2021.
- Starling Marte, OF: $12.5MM through 2021
- Corey Dickerson, OF: $9.5MM through 2021
- Miguel Rojas, SS: $5.5MM through 2021 (includes $500K buyout of 2022 club option)
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Jesus Aguilar – $3.9MM
- Jorge Alfaro – $1.7MM
- Brian Anderson – $2.2MM
- Adam Cimber — $800K
- Garrett Cooper – $1.5MM
- Yimi Garcia – $1.4MM
- Ryne Stanek – $800K
- Richard Bleier – $1.1MM
- Exercised $12.5MM club option on OF Starling Marte
- Declined $4MM club option on RHP Brandon Kintzler (paid $225K buyout)
Much of the Marlins’ surprising success in 2020 can be attributed to the team’s enviable collection of young pitching. Right-handers Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez and Sixto Sanchez each gave strong performances, with Alcantara and Lopez soaking up the most innings. Alcantara, Lopez and Hernandez are all locked into next year’s rotation, manager Don Mattingly said after the Marlins’ postseason run ended. Sanchez’s omission from the mix may surprise some, given his strong rookie effort, although he’ll surely have the opportunity to cement his spot in Spring Training.
Behind that quartet of righties is a mix of intriguing but still unproven arms. Righty Jordan Yamamoto had some success in 2019 but was clobbered in 2020. Prospects Nick Neidert, Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers all struggled in small samples of work as well. Veteran righty Jose Urena is out of the mix after yesterday’s DFA, although that’s hardly a surprise given that he stood out as one of the game’s likelier non-tender candidates. The Marlins have some intriguing yet-to-debut options (e.g. Edward Cabrera), but their pitching depth was thinned out a bit when they sent Caleb Smith and Humberto Mejia to the Diamondbacks in this August’s Starling Marte trade.
Beyond Alcantara and Lopez, Marlins starters have at best limited track records of MLB success. Even Hernandez, whom Mattingly proclaimed as a member of the rotation, pitched just 25 2/3 solid innings in 2020; in 2018-19, he posted an ERA north of 5.00. The youth and years of team control are obviously appealing, but the Marlins would still be well served to bring in a veteran both to help mentor the staff and to provide some stable innings. Names like Rick Porcello, Martin Perez and south Florida native Mike Fiers are all available if the team’s priority is dependable innings, and there are plenty of interesting names looking for bouncebacks from injured seasons (e.g. James Paxton, Jose Quintana, Corey Kluber).
With Kintzler and Boxberger both returning to the market, the Marlins will have some work to do to round out their bullpen. Miami could’ve retained Kintzler at a seemingly reasonable $4MM price point, but there were quite a few solid reliever options declined this year. Perhaps the hope is that recently acquired righty Adam Cimber, another ground-ball specialist, can provide similar production at a fraction of the rate. Miami picked him up from the Indians in exchange for cash, and he’s projected to earn $800K via arbitration. Even with Cimber aboard, it’s likely that the Marlins will talk to Kintzler about coming back at a lower price than his option would have guaranteed.
More intriguing bullpen options will become available after the non-tender deadline. The Marlins seem likely to again look for affordable veteran help to complement their in-house options, particularly with an unsettled mix at the back of the ’pen. Two offseasons ago, the Marlins did quite well on a low-cost, one-year deal with Sergio Romo. Last winter, it was Kintzler. It seems reasonable to expect a similar approach this time around, even with a new GM at the helm.
Turning to the offense, the Marlins have plenty of intriguing youngsters on the cusp of Major League readiness, but struggles behind the plate could lead the club to look outside the organization for upgrades. Jorge Alfaro was a key piece of the trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia — along with the aforementioned Sanchez — but he’s yet to solidify himself as the team’s long-term replacement for Realmuto. In two years as a Marlin, Alfaro has a .256/.306/.410 batting line, and both his offense and defense took marked steps back in 2020. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Miami was starting the light-hitting Chad Wallach over Alfaro.
Miami doesn’t figure to spend particularly aggressively in free agency. A Realmuto reunion is off the table, but any of the market’s second-tier options — James McCann and Yadier Molina headline the group — could seemingly fit into the budget for a team whose current payroll projection check in shy of $60MM now that Urena no longer factors into the mix. Additional trades or non-tenders could yet lower that mark.
The trade market could offer myriad other possibilities. Many Marlins decision-makers have Yankees roots and are familiar with Gary Sanchez. There’s bound to be speculation about the Cubs moving Willson Contreras as they look to cut costs. MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently explored the reasons that San Diego might move Francisco Mejia. The Blue Jays have a glut of catchers on their 40-man roster.
Looking up and down the rest of the lineup, the needs aren’t as palpable. The outfield should be more or less set with Corey Dickerson’s contract locking him into left field and Starling Marte set to return as the primary center fielder. Garrett Cooper hit well in 2020, but if he falters in right field, the Marlins are rife with corner-outfield alternatives; any of Jon Berti, Monte Harrison, Harold Ramirez, Magneuris Sierra, Jesus Sanchez or Lewis Brinson could earn an increased role there.
If somehow that entire bunch struggles, the club could always consider moving third baseman Brian Anderson back to right field. Between Berti, Miguel Rojas, Isan Diaz and Jazz Chisholm, the Fish should be able to cover third base, shortstop and second base even if Anderson is needed in the outfield. It’s possible the Marlins still bring in a versatile veteran infielder, if only so they have the option of allowing both Diaz and Chisholm to continue to develop in Triple-A without compromising their bench mix.
Over at first base, the Marlins got a big rebound performance out of Jesus Aguilar and will surely tender him a contract after he raked at a .277/.352/.457 clip with eight long balls in 216 trips to the dish. Should he sustain an injury or see his 2019 struggles recur, the Marlins could turn things over to Cooper or dip into the farm and call on prospect Lewin Diaz to get an earnest look at first base.
Given the wealth of young options in both the infield and the outfield, a major addition at any position other than catcher seems unlikely. Minor league depth signings and a veteran bench piece to add to either the infield or outfield mix — possibly both, if the target is someone like old friend Enrique Hernandez — make plenty of sense for the Marlins. However, this is a club whose collection of position players simply needs some time to audition for the front office.
The pitching side of things presents a bit more of an opportunity for some veteran pickups, but again, there are several key young players in place and others who are ready for a chance to show they belong in the conversation as long-term building blocks.
Had there been a traditional season with expected revenue streams and ample time for said young players to get their feet wet in the Majors and upper minors, the Marlins’ outlook might be a bit different. They’d have a better sense of who is and who isn’t vital to their long-term competitiveness and would perhaps have a better idea of where they need to spend in the long run. Given that they remarkably don’t have a single guaranteed dollar on the books for the 2022 season, the Marlins might have been considered a dark horse to again splash around with some notable free-agent spending.
That doesn’t seem as likely now with a year of zero revenue and with so many young questions to be answered. Still, that blank slate on the 2022 payroll is worth bearing in mind both as the 2021 trade deadline approaches and as next offseason looms. If the organization’s younger options aren’t cutting it, this is a team with such a wide-open financial outlay that they could take on salary either via trade or (next winter) free agency. The Fish have reached the point where they’ll look to rise from NL East cellar dweller to a legitimate threat in what could be the game’s most competitive division race for several years to come.