The Miami Marlins are heading into the 2015 season with high expectations. Owner Jeffrey Loria is looking for a new start after two tumultuous seasons since the 2012 move to Marlins Park, and the surprisingly successful 2014 campaign was the impetus for a big move for 2015. As such, the Fish made a series of changes this past offseason in order to form a foundation for success in the years to come. But did they succeed in accomplishing this task?
Offseason Coming / Going
Key Additions: Dee Gordon, second base; Dan Haren, starting pitcher; Mat Latos, starting pitcher; Michael Morse, first base; Martin Prado, third base; Aaron Crow, reliever; David Phelps, starting pitcher
Key Subtractions: Andrew Heaney, starting pitcher; Nathan Eovaldi, starting pitcher; Anthony DeSclafani, starting pitcher; Garrett Jones, first base; Casey McGehee, third base; Brian Flynn, starting pitcher; Enrique Hernandez, infielder; Chris Hatcher, reliever; Austin Barnes; infeilder; Domingo German, starting pitcher
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The Marlins made a series of trades out of its already-depleted farm system in order to attain talent that would bolster its Major League chances. The Fish made one free agent signing and three trades that sent a number of key players away and acquired pieces that filled holes on the roster. The most controversial move on the roster was the trade of Andrew Heaney and a number of other prospect names to the Los Angeles Dodgers for second baseman Dee Gordon and starter Dan Haren. Gordon's acquisition was rightfully questioned, as his ceiling appears to be low and the Marlins bought high on a player with half a good year under his belt. At the same time, it seems pretty clear that even with Gordon's limited skillset, he is an upgrade over the team's middle infield options.
The Fish added two more infielders to their crew around Adeiny Hechavarria. The team picked up Michael Morse in an offseason signing in a reasonable two-year, $16 million deal. The hope is that Morse can do what Garrett Jones failed to while providing better defense now that he isn't playing the outfield any longer. The team also dealt the disappointing (but undervalued) Nathan Eovaldi and picked up two years of Martin Prado, who will take over at third base for the incumbent Casey McGehee. The Fish rightly figured McGehee would fail to repeat his decent play from 2014 and sought an upgrade, but was the cost of the young, undervalued Eovaldi too high?
The rotation was also in Miami's sights, as the Fish added Haren and Mat Latos to the fray in trades. Haren initially appeared to be hesitant to come to Miami, but after attending Spring Training, he appears fully committed to playing out the season in the Fish's rotation. Latos is recovering from his first injury-racked season in 2014 and has lost a lot of velocity on his fastball, but he remained decently effective in 100 innings last year and the Marlins are looking for a bounceback after offseason stem cell therapy to his throwing elbow.
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Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
First Base: Michael Morse
Second Base: Dee Gordon
Third Base: Martin Prado
Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria
Left Field: Christian Yelich
Center Field: Marcell Ozuna
Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton
Burning Question: Will Giancarlo Stanton be healthy in 2015? Stanton was in line for his first fully healthy season in 2014 before an errant Mike Fiers fastball nailed him in the face and kept him out for the remainder of September. Stanton was also the presumptive MVP favorite at that point, having put up his best season of his career last year. His .298/.395/.555 (.403 wOBA) batting line was a whopping 59 percent better than league average last season and was the best line of his career. His legs were healthy for the first time in two years, and his defensive numbers reflected that.
Stanton just received the largest contract in American sports history, a 13-year, $325 million pact that would pay him through age 37 if he decides to keep it. The Marlins will need him in each and every game to make that contract and this season a success.
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1. Jose Fernandez
2. Henderson Alvarez
3. Mat Latos
4. Jarred Cosart
5. Dan Haren
Burning Question: What will Jose Fernandez look like when he returns? The 22 year-old fireballing righty is already throwing lightly in Spring Training and is revving up for a likely June or July return to the rotation. The Fish bolstered the five-man group with the additions of Haren and Latos, and the tentative plan is for Henderson Alvarez and Latos to hold the top-of-the-rotation for until Fernandez returns. But a torn UCL and Tommy John surgery is no guarantee for success, and Fernandez always has a chance to hurt himself again or lose effectiveness after surgery. Not everyone is a great story post-Tommy John, and the Fish need all the wins they can get from their ace and lone rotation star.
Closer: Steve Cishek
Setup: Mike Dunn
Setup: A.J. Ramos
Setup: Carter Capps
7th Inning: Bryan Morris
7th Inning: Aaron Crow
LOOGY: Andrew McKirahan
Swing: Tom Koehler, David Phelps, Brad Hand
The Marlins have lots of options in the bullpen, but none of them are all that impressive. Steve Cishek heads into his third straight season as the undisputed closer of the roster, and his backup cast in the eighth inning includes the hard-throwing Carter Capps, improving lefty veteran Mike Dunn, and the erratic A.J. Ramos. Bryan Morris impressed last season in limited time and earned a role again this year, while Aaron Crow will look to bounce back to his 2012 level of performance after two straight bad years in Kansas City. The three swing men will be competing for a final rotation spot in Spring Training, with the incumbent Koehler holding a clear edge, but that player will be replaced on the roster once Fernandez returns from injury. Of the three, Hand is without options, while Phelps is being paid arbitration salary.
1. Tyler Kolek, RHP: Last year's first-round draft pick, second overall, earned the Marlins' highest bonus payout in team history. He also owns the scariest-sounding fastball in the prospect game, as the big Texan righty can hit triple digits on the regular as a starter. Kolek hangs around at high velocities, but he also wavered at the end of a long year last season and did not play well in Rookie ball before suffering an injury. He is extremely raw and years away from making an impact in the bigs. ETA: 2018
2. J.T. Realmuto, C: Realmuto recaptured the big prospect sheen he lost in his 2012 and 2013 seasons by beating up Double-A pitchers in his repeat campaign. He hit .299/.369/.461 (.374 wOBA) for the Jacksonville Suns and got some time in the majors. He could use work in Triple-A to prove that his reemergence is real, but a solid hitting catcher who plays a good, athletic backstop is a future asset on any team. ETA: Late 2015 / Early 2016
3. Justin Nicolino, LHP: Nicolino was the pitcher of the year in the organization last season, putting up an impressive 2.85 ERA in 170 1/3 innings in Double-A. He also posted a meager 11.8 percent strikeout rate at that level, one of the lowest in professional baseball. Pitchers with that kind of whiff rate do not usually succeed in the bigs, but Nicolino's control is envious. ETA: 2016
4. Jose Urena, RHP: Urena was Nicolino's partner in crime last year, and he pitched almost as well as his lefty counterpart did, and did so with better strikeout numbers. Both guys are about equal in status, both will run the Triple-A rotation in 2015 with the expectation of starting in the bigs in 2016. ETA: 2016
5. Brian Anderson, IF: Third-round pick from last season's draft out of the University of Arkansas. Anderson raked between Low- and High-A and surpassed Avery Romero as the team's most interesting infield prospect. Anderson currently looks like the team's future third baseman, but another nice year at the plate would be good. ETA: 2016
The Marlins don't have a lot of division-winning support in 2015, with the juggernaut Washington Nationals looking bound to win the NL East. However, with the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies taking a step back this year, the Fish are primed for a second-place run. Most predictions have Miami lingering around 81 wins this season, but if the Fish catch a few breaks, it is not unreasonable to put them at 85 or 86 victories and within sniffing distance of the second Wild Card. The Marlins put in a lot of offseason effort to improve their dearth of talent in the infield, and while the deals they made may have been questionable, the club did upgrade at three positions.
The big question is whether those upgrades were good enough to push a 77-win team that will lose half a season of their best pitcher into the playoff race. As of right now, it does not appear to be the case, as Miami will likely finish with 83 wins in 2015. But breakout years from its young cast of outfielders in Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna could be the catalyst to bump that mark up a few wins to compete for a long-needed playoff spot. Things could still heat up and stay exciting in September and October for your 2015 Miami Marlins.