No team in baseball has undergone more change over the last six months than the Miami Marlins. The sale of the franchise from Jeffrey Loria to the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter group closed in October, and since then the roster has been gutted for the sake of cost-cutting. Giancarlo Stanton is gone. Dee Gordon is gone. So are Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
"It's as difficult for me as it is for the fan base. From the fan's standpoint, I get it. They're upset," said Jeter to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald back in December. "... What has been in place has not been working. It's evident it has not been working. We need to fix that. We just can't continue to dig ourselves a bigger hole."
The Marlins have trimmed their payroll from $115.4 million on Opening Day last season to a projected $89.8 million on Opening Day this season. They also shed tens of millions -- really hundreds of millions given Stanton's contract -- in future payroll obligation. This was the plan all along. MLB and the other 29 owners knew payroll would be cut when the franchise sale was approved.
As a result, the Marlins are left with a mostly bare-bones roster and little chance at contention in 2018. After finishing 5th in the NL with 778 runs scored last year, PECOTA projects the Marlins to score 676 runs this year, the fewest in baseball. Their pitching staff might be one of the worst in recent memory. The MLB roster is in bad, bad shape. Let's preview the club's upcoming season.
- 2017 record: 77-85 (minus-44 run differential)
- 2018 depth chart: Click here.
- 2018 schedule: Click here.
- 2018 fantasy outlook: .
Although they project to have the worst offense in baseball, the Marlins do have some name power and promising youngsters in their lineup. Here is manager Don Mattingly's projected Opening Day lineup:
- CF Lewis Brinson
- LF Derek Dietrich
- 2B Starlin Castro
- 1B Justin Bour
- C J.T. Realmuto
- RF Cameron Maybin
- 3B Brian Anderson
- SS Miguel Rojas
Third baseman Martin Prado (knee) and shortstop JT Riddle (shoulder) are currently rehabbing from surgery and will begin the season on the disabled list. Also, Realmuto is currently nursing a lower back issue and is questionable for Opening Day, though he won't be out long-term.
The Marlins finished well out of the postseason race last year because of their pitching. The offense was plenty good. They just didn't have much talent on the mound. And this offseason, the club did basically nothing to improve the MLB rotation. Here is the projected starting five:
Righty Dan Straily, the club's No. 2 starter, recently came down with forearm inflammation and . Lefty Wei-Yin Chen is currently rehabbing an elbow injury -- he has a partially torn ligament and opted to rehab the tear rather than have Tommy John surgery -- and could return at some point in the first half. When healthy, Straily and Chen are probably Miami's two best starters.
For now the Marlins will roll with Despaigne and Turner, two veteran journeyman, in the rotation alongside Hernandez, a Rule 5 Draft pick. Hernandez has never pitched above High Class-A ball. Also, he had his wisdom teeth removed last week and it's possible he will open the regular season on the disabled list, which means the Marlins will have to come up with another starter until Straily is ready. Yeah, not a great situation.
The bullpen might be the strength of this Marlins teams. I know that's not saying much, but they do have some nice under-the-radar arms in their bullpen. Here is the projected Opening Day relief crew:
Smith is a candidate to step into the rotation early in the season, if Hernandez has to miss time. Righty Nick Wittgren is just now returning from surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, and once he gets up to speed, he'll rejoin the bullpen.
Barraclough and Steckenrider combined for a 2.77 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings last season. That's a nice little setup crew the Marlins have there. Ziegler is unspectacular but he's good enough in the ninth inning, so if the Marlins have a lead after six innings this year, they're in pretty good shape.
Who else is getting traded?
More trades are coming. The fire sale is not over. The major pieces (Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna) have been moved, but the Marlins still have some viable trade chips on the roster. Realmuto is the big one. A quality two-way catcher under team control through 2020 will be in very high demand. It'll be an upset if he's not dealt to a contender -- for a significant package, at that -- before the trade deadline.
Veterans like Castro, Bour, Dietrich, and Maybin are all useful pieces who could fetch a return at the deadline, the qualify of which will depend on their performance and the level of desperation of the acquiring team. A healthy Straily may net the largest return among non-Realmuto trade chips. He may not bring back as much as the Marlins sent to the Cincinnati Reds to acquire him last year (Luis Castillo!), but he'll bring something.
Point is, the Marlins are still looking to strip down the roster in an effort to trim payroll and acquire prospects. Their work was not completed in the offseason. The Marlins could be a major hub at the trade deadline, especially on the position player side.
Alcantara, Anderson, Brinson, Sierra highlight projected prospect arrivals
The Marlins are going to have some youth on the roster this season. Anderson and Brinson will be in the Opening Day lineup, and right-hander Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra are expected to join the club at some point this summer. Here are their MLB.com prospect ranks among Marlins prospects:
- Brinson: 1st (No. 27 on MLB.com's top 100 list)
- Alcantara: 3rd
- Sierra: 7th
- Anderson: 9th
Four of the top nine prospects in the system could be regulars by the end of the season. Brinson had a tough MLB debut with the Milwaukee Brewers last season -- he hit .106/.236/.277 in 55 plate appearances before coming over in the Yelich trade -- but he hit .331/.400/.563 with 13 homers in 76 Triple-A games and is widely considered a future All-Star center fielder.
Alcantara made his big-league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals last season (six runs in 8 1/3 innings) before coming over in the Ozuna trade. He had a 4.31 ERA in 125 1/3 Double-A innings last year -- the scouting report is more glowing than the stats -- and after some Triple-A time this year, the Marlins could give him an extended look in the rotation.
Sierra and Anderson are projected to be solid regulars more than future All-Stars, but hey, solid regulars are valuable, especially to teams like the Marlins when they're in their cheap pre-arbitration years. Don't get me wrong, the Marlins are very early in their rebuild and there's lots of work to be done, but these four prospects are all promising and they're all expected to be big-league factors in 2018.
How long will Mattingly stick around?
Loria, the team's former owner, is a native New Yorker who has long had an affinity for the New York Yankees. That absolutely played a role in hiring Mattingly as the manager two years ago. Mattingly signed a four-year contract when he came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers and there are still two years to go on that deal.
Generally speaking, when a new ownership group takes over, they like to bring in their own people, and the Sherman/Jeter group may look to hire a new manager soon. Two questions immediately jump to mind:
- Is the ownership group willing to eat the remainder of Mattingly's contract and pay a new manager? Given their cost cutting, I don't think that's an unreasonable question.
- How will Jeter (a Yankee legend) feel about firing Mattingly (a Yankee legend)? It could create a media frenzy. That shouldn't be a factor in the decision-making process, but who knows.
Mattingly is under contract another two years and, given baseball's trend toward younger managers, I doubt he'd resign and forfeit the rest of his contract. He's stuck with a torn down roster for the time being, at least until the Sherman/Jeter group decide it's time for a new voice in the dugout.
Will the home-run sculpture stay or go?
The single biggest question regarding Miami baseball in 2018, as far as I'm concerned.-- -- . Look at this thing. Who would want to get rid of it?
In all seriousness, it seems the majority of Marlins fans don't like the sculpture, and I imagine the Sherman/Jeter group will continue pushing for its removal. Miami-Dade County technically owns the ballpark and thus the home-run sculpture, so they'll have the final say, not the team.
It's enormous and it's gaudy, yeah, but it is so perfectly Miami. I say embrace the sculpture and make the team as fun as possible.