The Miami Marlins have made certain moves this offseason to double down on the team's current core, thinking that this roster is only a small step away from contention. Given that the Marlins are about a .500 team as of right now, I guess they are not terribly far away in that assumption, though one could question how much upside can happen on the roster at this point. Nevertheless, the Fish made one of those steps by signing free agent starter Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year deal worth $80 million, and they assured another member of their core in signing Dee Gordon to a five-year contract worth $50 million.
Yesterday, president of baseball operations Michael Hill was on the Hot Stove show with MLB Network's Harold Reynolds and Matt Vasgergian, There, he answered some questions about the Marlins' offseason moves, and they offered some insight to the front office's thought process.
On Dee Gordon's acquisition and contract extension:
We just looked at our ballpark and our existing personnel at the time, and we really wanted to inject that speed component to our roster. And that table-setter, someone to get on base in front of [Christian Yelich] and [Giancarlo Stanton]. And Dee was always the target for us. We tried for a number of years to try and get him, and it hadn't worked out. It was pretty exciting when we were able to do so, because we really felt like he was the table-setter that we really needed.
It's an interesting take on Gordon considering where he was coming from. Hill uses the word "table-setter" twice and talks about speed, but specifically also mentions getting on base. To that point in Gordon's career, he owned a .314 on-base percentage. Among the 286 players who logged at least 1000 plate appearances since 2011, Gordon's OBP was tied for 200th, along with guys like Casey McGehee, Ryan Roberts, Manny Machado, and Peter Bourjos. Even in Gordon's best season, in which he led the majors in batting average, his .359 OBP was tied for 33rd in baseball, tied with Machado, DJ LeMahieu, and Ben Zobrist.
A lot of other things had to go right for Gordon to have the amazing season that he did, but let's not kid ourselves in saying Gordon is some on-base "table-setter." The Marlins acquired Gordon in large part because he was fast and his 2014 season reminded them of Juan Pierre, the speedy leadoff man who helped them win a World Series in 2003. No one would confuse Gordon with someone who got on base at an efficient clip, but it goes to show you what the level of analytic capability the Marlins have.
On the bullpen and its strength:
I would say that as we sit right now, we're very pleased with our bullpen. We saw last year the emergence of Carter Capps and how dominating that he can be on the back end of the bullpen. A.J. Ramos assumed the closer role and did a great job for us. We had a number of our young players, Kyle Barranclough and Brian Ellington, who touched the big leagues, who showed that they could be effective relievers. As we sit right now, we're very pleased. There's still a number of free agents out there, so the offseason is never over until you get to Spring Training, so if there is an opportunity to add another layer of depth, we'll do so, but as of right now, we're very pleased.
This seems appropriate. There was some speculation earlier in the offseason that the Marlins wanted to jump in on the trend of building a dominant bullpen and tried to acquire Aroldis Chapman. Nevertheless, quietly last season Miami's pen did well in terms of its peripherals, and in Ramos and Capps, they have two potentially strong options in the pen. Capps in particular could repeat the sort of dominance he displayed last season, and if so, he could provide huge value in a setup or closer role. Ramos is being paid like a closer in arbitration, but if he can maintain the control he showed in the first half of the year, the team could garner two or three wins from both guys in total.
The rest of the pen has some question marks, but as Ken Rosenthal and Michael Hill mentioned in the question and answer, Miami has young players of interest. Barranclough and Ellington will probably get chances, as should Nick Wittigren, who is all but done developing in the minors. Along with veterans like Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris, the team has a decent chance to have a respectable bullpen.
On the fences:
Left center field to right center field, where it was a complete bomb to get it out of the park, we're bringing the fences in a little bit. The expectation is that it will create a more exciting brand of baseball for us. I don't think it will change the triples you see from Dee Gordon or the home runs you'll see from Giancarlo Stanton, but all in all we just think it will create a more exciting product for the fans of south Florida.
Clearly you can see the motivation behind this move to bring the fences in. Miami is worried about attracting more fans to the park, given that the Fish are once again posting consistently poor attendance records after the one-year spike from the new stadium opening. The bigwigs up at the top think Miami needs more...something? Home runs? Runs? The team actually owns an average run-scoring park factor over the lifetime of the stadium. While it is a homer-suppressing park, you wonder whether including home runs on either side of the docket or boosting offense overall is really going to affect attendance and gate numbers. After all, Miami pitchers suffer from this move just as much as opposing pitchers, and it is odd to decide to make this wholly unnecessary change and sign a potentially homer-prone pitcher to a big-market deal.
The insight provided here shows that the Marlins are doing some things often for the wrong motivations. Acquiring a fast player to "get on base" when he never did that well before. Moving fences in to "create an exciting product" rather than improving the team to do the same. These are all odd motivations from a consistently strange front office.