On Saturday night, the Miami Marlins lost to the NL East winning Washington Nationals and officially were knocked out of the playoffs mathematically. This capped off a 2014 season that will almost surely end with another under-.500 club. The team has not reached the break-even mark since 2009, and the wait over the last few years has been rough. The 2010 squad held promise but failed to deliver. The 2011 team was marred with injuries to its two stars. The 2012 team, complete with signings of free agent additions, failed to deliver and was quickly dismantled. And the 2013 season was a completely lost year made better only by Jose Fernandez's spectacular year.
It seems that since 2009, it has been all downhill for the Fish. And that is what makes the 2014 season such an abject success, even though the team will still likely end up with a losing record. Miami has not been a winning team in some time, but the Marlins flashed positive signs for the first time in a while. After three years straight of either poor play or disappointment, the Fish finally showed signs of life and a future.
That future begins not with the injured Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton, who appear at this point to be givens while they are on the field. It instead comes from their young players who are cost-controlled and ready to contribute in major ways going forward. Christian Yelich headlines that group as a player who is putting up a four- to five-win season in 2014 in a quiet fashion by being above average at pretty much everything. Yelich looks more and more like a quiet star, the Marlins' own Ben Zobrist with numbers that look weaker than the sum of its parts.
Marcell Ozuna is adding a three-win campaign to Yelich's efforts. Ozuna's excellent center field defense and power bat have brought Miami production in center field for the first time since the Cody Ross years. The power is a welcome addition for a team that hit one of the lowest home run totals of the last two decades in 2013. Ozuna capably mans the deep center field area in Marlins Park and complements what could be the league's best defensive outfield.
The addition of those two players has made Miami a team to reckon with in the future. Having five-plus win players like Stanton and Fernandez is rare, but in baseball, star players contribute less to their franchise than in other team sports. The Marlins could get 10 to 12 wins out of those two guys alone, but it would still need to find another 30 wins to split between the remaining players on the roster to reach the playoffs. That is where guys like Yelich and Ozuna, along with the efforts of the Marlins' healthy starting rotation, are critical. Average or better players are a valuable commodity, especially when it comes under heavy cost control like in Miami. The Marlins just needed to find the talent to surround their stars, and so far it likely has at least four average or better contributors expected to play significant roles next season.
The other two guys are in the rotation, and there is a possibility for more. There is a good chance Henderson Alvarez can produce two wins again, and Jarred Cosart appears good for that much as well given his excellent work thus far in Miami. If you believe in the fielding-independent numbers like I do, Nathan Eovaldi is in for a comeback season in terms of ERA, and Andrew Heaney has been dominant all year in the minors. The Marlins have an off chance of fielding a rotation full of league-average starters behind Fernandez, who is slated to return in the second half of next year.
With six player who could be average or better, the Marlins have up to 15 more wins wrapped up in six more spots. Suddenly, we are only 10 to 15 wins away from a playoff spot, and that might only take a couple of improvements in the ineffective infield to get the team to contention status. The development of the Marlins' various players in 2014 is the club's ultimate success this year, and it is the reason fans should be optimistic. The Marlins may not finish above .500 this year, but their success without Fernandez and Stanton for stretches of time portends a better outcome and improvement in 2015.