Fish Stripes is set to examine the current status of the Miami Marlins as part of the 2014 Marlins Offseason Plan, and the first aspect of inspecting the franchise's status is finding the team's strengths. The franchise boasts some significant strengths going into an important offseason, and knowing where these strengths lie will give the Fish either places where they are set and do not need improvement or areas from which they can trade and help fill other holes.
So where are the Marlins' primary strengths on the roster? There are only two main places to truly look.
The Starting Outfield
The current crop of starting outfielders may be the best in baseball. In Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, the Fish boast three players who are capable at the plate and excellent defenders in the outfield. Yelich has already laid claim to his first Gold Glove of what should be an excellent defensive career. Stanton and Ozuna both excelled, and Stanton was a Gold Glove finalist in right field, while Ozuna worked well in center field on a full-time basis.
But their gloves are not the only interesting things roaming in Marlins Park. Each player is a capable hitter at the plate. We all know about Stanton and his power, which got him to be a finalist for the National League MVP award this past season. But despite Yelich's pedigree as a top prospect and "natural" hitter, his batting is probably highly underrated. After all, Yelich did not hit .300 or make it to even ten home runs. He did, however, bat .284/.364/.402, which was good for a .341 wOBA after posting a, well, .341 wOBA in 2013 as well. Yelich has been a robot of batting consistency, and he seems primed to take the league by storm if he ever develops some muscle strength and power.
Marcell Ozuna is a polar opposite of Yelich's, but is just as effective. He is a prototypical free-swinging slugger, but he makes just enough contact and delivers enough power to make his offense worth it. His swing is not pretty like Yelich's, but it generates good lift and the kind of power numbers Marlins fans have not seen from the non-Stanton division in some time.
Last year, as a group, this trio generated just over 14 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), making them the most valuable full-time outfield tandem in the game. As long as Stanton remains on the team, this is the club's premiere strength.
The Marlins did not have a great rotation in terms of a fantastic ace in 2014, though Henderson Alvarez's sub-3.00 ERA certainly helped the cause. It made up for it with strong depth. Miami boasts three potential middle-rotation players in Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jarred Cosart, along with a surprisingly decent Tom Koehler hanging out in the back of the rotation. Last year, the club struggled to find a fifth man for the job, but that should be remedied if Andrew Heaney continues the dominance he showed in Double- and Triple-A in 2014.
That group of guys does not even cover the club's prime pitching asset, injured and recovering ace Jose Fernandez. The Defector is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and should arrive by midseason, and if that is the case, the Fish will have a relatively difficult question regarding who will be left out of the rotation between five likely capable starting candidates.
The pitching depth extends beyond the team's Major Leaguers and their best prospect. Beyond Brad Hand, who made the vast majority of back-end starts for Miami last year, the club has Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, Adam Conley, Anthony DeSclafani, and Domingo German among others who could be worthwhile pitchers within the next two years. If any of the above guys falter or get too expensive, the Fish are likely to be able to turn to one of these youngsters as a replacement. That kind of depth is a tremendous strength and asset to have.
The returning Jose Fernandez deserves his own category, because a transcendent, cheap starter does not come by so easily. Tommy John surgery is largely successful, but who knows how well he will be after the surgery. But if he is anything close to the dominant monster he was starting to be in the first seven starts of last season, then the Marlins have four more years of elite ace-of-aces pitching at a relatively cheap cost, especially following a season-long injury like the one he suffered. The only disappointing thing is that Miami did not manage his service clock intelligently. Other than that, Marlins fans are hoping for many more years to come of Fernandez's dominance over baseball.