The Miami Marlins have played better in the early part of September, posting an 11-7 record thus far this month. The club has firmly established itself as the third-placed team in a horrific, no-good, ugly NL East division this year, despite the fact that the team sold at the trade deadline and dealt some short-term pieces they acquired in the offseason.
This finale performance for Miami in the next few weeks could determine whether this team sticks around for 2016 as well. According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, Miami's 2016 roster could be shaped by wins and losses at the end of 2015.
The idea that a sample of 12 to 16 games could realistically change the outcome of this team and the roster for an entire year next year seems patently absurd. It is obvious that the Marlins failed in 2015 for a variety of reasons. The pitching staff struggled after its depth was sapped, and the Fish are going to need solutions in that department. The Marlins were unable to stay healthy on the position player side either, and big injuries to Giancarlo Stanton, as well as struggles by Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich among others, really sank what should have been a solid position player group. However, how does the performance of the last few weeks change that outlook?
Owner Jeffrey Loria supposedly might consider breaking up this group if the team really drops into the cellar. The question is what parts of the roster are even available for "breaking up." Stanton was signed long-term and has a no-trade clause. Yelich is a building block piece and is signed for ultra-cheap for the long haul. Jose Fernandez will not be traded lest the team risk a public relations nightmare at this time. Dee Gordon has been the best player on the roster (non-Stanton division) all year and is a favorite of the front office. The favorite aspect also goes to Adeiny Hechavarria. Without those players to trade, the Marlins have very few remaining enticing options to deal for a roster breakdown.
The alternative is that the team pulls a mini-2012 and deals everyone but Stanton and Fernandez and goes for minor league depth after they destroyed said depth last year. This option would involve losing younger players who could still be contributors like Yelich. That seems counterintuitive to a winning team.
Truthfully, the Marlins just need to stick to a long-term plan rather than change ideas an processes on the fly as often as they do. As Charlie Wilmoth points out, the roster is not equipped to trade up for assets, but it may benefit from stability and a veteran signing or two.
While actually contending is a long shot, some acquisitions of veterans might actually make sense, even if they only might lead to a .500-type season. The Marlins have two franchise talents, Stanton and Fernandez, under control for the long term, and they can reasonably expect better health from both next season. They can also hope for more from talented young outfielders Yelich and Marcell Ozuna (assuming Ozuna returns). Barring a trade, Gordon will be back after a strong season, along with some capable role players, including Prado, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher J.T. Realmuto, and relievers A.J. Ramos andCarter Capps. In fact, there are hints of competence or upside at every position on the diamond (although a bit of additional bench depth would help them).
The club has no minor league depth, so it can no longer entertain dealing for Major League talent without losing other big leaguers. But a signing, along with improved health, may get them closer to .500 than this current team seems to be. Remember, this roster, as broken down as it was for most of the regular season. Through Saturday's games, the Marlins were 64-85, but they had the run differential of a 68-win team and, based on their offensive and defensive stats alone (not counting sequencing luck), the club should have been at 70 wins by this point. They really have played like a true-talent .470 win percentage team. It is not difficult to imagine that, with a healthy Stanton and Fernandez, this team could approach .500 once again next season.
Improving on this roster will be difficult to do without spending money, but the alternative of breaking down the roster may not be a great choice given what the team has. Miami has to choose where to go from here, but it cannot let short-term results determine long-term plans. Well, it actually needs to determine a long-term plan for it to even do that, right?