Yesterday, we discussed where the projections had the Miami Marlins, and within that discussion there was some thought about where the Fish have the most problems on their roster. The most critical areas of need for Miami appeared to be both at first base and in their starting rotation, areas where the Fish were distinctly lacking. Knowing full well that the Marlins would not replace talent in other positions right now, and knowing that Miami wants to play competitively in 2016 despite the odds against it, we could look to the free agent and trade markets to see what the team could do to improve in those areas.
The only obvious free agent upgrade over incumbent Justin Bour is Chris Davis, and he wants a very large, very unlikely contract for his services. As a result, the Marlins will have to shop in the bargain bin for assistance in that department.
Miami should not replace Bour at first base at this point. Terrible baserunning aside, there is no reason Miami should give up on Bour so quickly after a nice 23-homer season. However, they should recognize the limitations he has. He is not projected to be a good hitter for a second straight year, and the Marlins should not expect that from him. They should also recognize that he is unlikely to be the first baseman of the future, but he may be a useful piece under team control for the next few years. His development is not critical, but the Marlins want to maximize his value to the team while he is the starter.
One easy way to do this is to do what many smart, low-payroll teams like the Oakland A's and Tampa Bay Rays have done in the past: platoon him. Bour is already cheap, but the Marlins are paying for his performance against both lefties and righties. He has fared a lot better versus righties, as is expected for a tall, slow-swinging slugger at first base. The Marlins could maximize his play by minimizing his plate appearances against lefties and subsequently add a bench piece who could play on the relative cheap and take the lefty plate appearance for Bour. Such a combination makes both players better and would add up to more wins on the cheap.
There are two right-handed options at first base who have reasonable projections for next season and could play first base for the Marlins. The more expensive option is former Baltimore Orioles swingman Steve Pearce. Pearce broke out for a five-win year two years ago but regressed badly in 2015, hitting just .218/.289/.422 (.308 wOBA). That sudden drop in performance has sunk his market and made him a more affordable platoon option. Even including his more nondescript seasons before the breakout campaign, he has hit lefties to the tune of a .262/.343/.481 mark (.356 wOBA) with 24 homers in just under 600 plate appearances. The Marlins could sure use even more power added to their lineup given their light-hitting roster. Pearce is also a capable corner outfielder who would serve as a better primary backup than Ichiro Suzuki and could step in case of injury to Giancarlo Stanton or Christian Yelich for an extended period of time.
The cheaper option would be someone like Chris Carter. The former Houston Astros slugger hits plenty of homers; he owns 109 bombs in just about 2000 plate appearances, including 37 two years ago in a league-average campaign for the Astros. He fell out of favor thanks to a decrease in his batting line last year, and he has obvious known limitations, particularly strikeouts. But he also owns a career batting line 11 percent better than league average, and he has not been a horrific first baseman for most of his career. As a platoon mate, his split is not large towards lefties, though he hits them better. He could be a cheap platoon partner for less than $5 million a season.
The Marlins have options for starting pitching in free agency, but they are dwindling. Scott Kazmir is still available as a reasonable true upgrade to their roster, but more than a few starters have already been snatched off of the market. The Marlins could still pay up a second round pick if they wanted someone like Ian Kennedy or Yovani Gallardo, but that remains a more questionable move than going after a guy like Kazmir who would not cost them a pick.
In addition, the team could still look to a number of upside-only plays for cheap prices and add at the very least depth to their rotation in case of injury. The back of the rotation looks poor, and the prospects on the roster are not capable of filling in long term unless they show some growth in the minors. Guys like Brandon Morrow or Brandon Beachy might be worth a cheap gamble for the team just to have added choices.
The Marlins also could still strike out for a bigger name like Japanese import Kenta Maeda, who would be a good addition for the Marlins if they were willing to pay the appropriate (relatively cheaper) costs. Maeda could further engender the Marlins to a growing Japanese fan base, which could add revenue to the bottom line. This would come in addition to him being a fantastic player who has dominated at the highest levels of Japanese play.
Starting pitching could provide a one-win upgrade plus depth to the roster. The addition of a platoon first baseman could add another one win or more to the team when you consider the improvement of Bour's performance when not facing lefties as often. This could push Miami up to 82 or 83 wins, but at that point the Fish would be banking on things bouncing their way. It would still not be enough to get them close in 2016, but these moves could still help future seasons as well.