The Miami Marlins head into the 2016 campaign full of optimism despite many signs pointing against them. The team is dependent on two star players who figure to provide roughly a quarter of the team's total expected wins above replacement, both of whom have major health questions heading into the season. The team's young core has developed in some areas (Christian Yelich, Adeiny Hechavarria) and faltered in others (Marcell Ozuna). It is expecting a lot in terms of a repeat campaign from Dee Gordon's All-Star turn in 2015. At the same time, Miami has an opportunity, and it has made at least some moves towards that opportunity. With a few bounces of good fortune, the team could find itself in the competing realm of National League teams.
Key Additions / Departures
Here's what you missed if you were asleep on the Marlins since October.
Key Additions: SP Wei-Yin Chen (free agent signing), 1B/3B Chris Johnson (free agent signing), P Edwin Jackson (free agent signing)
Key Departures: SP Henderson Alvarez (non-tendered)
The Marlins were mostly quiet during the offseason in terms of new players, but they did make one major move. The signing of starter Wei-Yin Chen was a decent move at market rate that got Miami what they most needed: a capable starting pitcher without significant talent and durability questions. Every one of the Marlins' starters either had major questions about how good they were or whether they could stay healthy all season; Chen has stayed healthy in three of his four seasons and consistently been an above average pitcher in each of those years. The signings of Johnson and Jackson were veteran additions at little cost for players upon whom the Marlins will likely not depend much.
The one major loss on the roster, ironically, was a starting pitcher on whom Miami leaned significantly until last season. Henderson Alvarez missed essentially the entire 2015 season with shoulder issues that required surgery, and Miami figured it would not be worth the money to pay to see if Alvarez could have a healthy recovery in enough time to earn a rotation spot.
Other Transactions: Dee Gordon signed a five-year contract with Miami, locking him onto the team until 2020 with a team option for 2021, keeping him in the core of the franchise for the relatively cheap cost of $50 million total.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto (preview)
First Base: Justin Bour (preview)
Second Base: Dee Gordon (preview)
Third Base: Martin Prado (preview)
Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria (preview)
Left Field: Christian Yelich (preview)
Center Field: Marcell Ozuna (preview)
Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton (preview)
The Marlins' prospects are ranked among the worst in baseball, with the entire system rated as the second-to-worst in the league ahead of only the Los Angeles Angels. The club has been gutted by bad trades, and it has not helped that the team's highest selection in recent years, prep righty Tyler Kolek, has run into major problems in his development. Before the 2016 season, he was the highest-rated prospect on the team, but he might miss significant time with a potential elbow injury.
The Marlins' consensus prospect rankings show that the team is weak on elite, proven talent or high-minors guys guaranteed to be contributors. The team only landed Kolek among guys in top-100 lists, and the team's most recent first-round selection, first baseman Josh Naylor, was a questionable choice to start.
Consensus Prospect Rankings:
The Marlins are looking at a season that will likely land them in a lightly-populated middle tier in between the National League elite competitors and the league's bottom of the barrel. The team is not as bad as those rebuilding squads; Miami actually has elite Major League talent ready and able to contribute, though injuries to those players may leave them closer to that level. At the same time, the club lacks depth all across its positions and its pitching staff, which separates it from the best teams in the league who are five deep in good pitchers or eight deep in decent starters and have positional versatility.
Where does that leave Miami? In our projection, Miami figures to have about 20 Wins Above Replacement from their position players and 14 WAR from their pitchers. If you consider that a replacement level team would be expected to win 48 games, this adds up to 82 wins for the Marlins by the end of 2016, which is fitting for the expectation of them being in that middle tier. Can Miami muster the good luck to get a few more victories in their pocket to compete for a playoff spot? Would Jeffrey Loria and company be content with 82 wins? How about you, are you happy with a .500 season for Miami in 2016? Let us know!