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Miami Marlins sunk by injury woes

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The Miami Marlins were thin to begin with entering the 2016 season, and injuries to numerous contributors ultimately sunk them in their playoff hopes.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins were swept by the Cleveland Indians over the weekend, and with that the team dropped below the .500 mark for the first time since, surprisingly, April 28 of this year. That is a very long time that the Fish held onto a winning record, especially since they just came off a struggle of a season in 2015. At its best, the team was 11 games over .500 at one point and at a virtual tie for the chance to win the second Wild Card spot in the National League. Since the start of this month, however, the Fish have played poorly and lost both enough games and players to sink their chances to win that playoff spot. The team currently stands at just a 3.6 percent chance to make the playoffs via the Wild Card.

The biggest contributor to the team’s terrible August record and subsequent drop in the standings can be seen in the month’s numerous injury updates.

7/6/16

Miami Marlins placed 1B Justin Bour on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 3, 2016. Right ankle sprain.

7/24/16

Miami Marlins placed LHP Wei-Yin Chen on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 21, 2016. Left elbow sprain.

8/9/16

Miami Marlins placed RHP A.J. Ramos on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to August 6, 2016. Fractured third finger on his right hand.

8/14/16

Miami Marlins placed RF Giancarlo Stanton on the 15-day disabled list. Left groin strain.

8/14/16

Miami Marlins placed LHP Adam Conley on the 15-day disabled list. Left third-finger tendonitis.

8/23/16

Miami Marlins transferred 1B Justin Bour from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list. Right ankle sprain.

8/23/16

Miami Marlins placed 2B Derek Dietrich on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to August 19, 2016. Right knee contusion.

8/31/16

Miami Marlins placed RHP David Phelps on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to August 27, 2016. Left oblique strain.

That list does not even include the Marlins losing Colin Rea after just three innings after acquiring him for rotation help from the San Diego Padres and immediately trading him back to the Padres for prospect Luis Castillo. The Fish lost three rotation starting pitchers, their star outfielder, their starting first baseman, their closer, and their infield depth piece all within 1.5 months in a season. Many of these guys essentially were ruled out for the season, as Giancarlo Stanton was initially considered out for the year after his groin strain and Justin Bour was transferred to the 60-day disabled list, likely ending his year with the team. Wei-Yin Chen may not make it back until late September as well.

This would be a distinct problem for most teams, but many clubs have the depth, either on the bench or in the minors, to handle multiple injuries for at least a short time period. Few teams is going to survive losing guys like Stanton, Bour, Chen, and company for all of the second half, but clubs like the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals have all had different methods to keep themselves afloat from injuries.

The Dodgers, for example, lost a lot of their rotation for much of the season. Numerous pitchers have missed time with injury, such that only two guys have really pitched the entire year on their staff. Most notably, the club lost Clayton Kershaw in the middle of the year and he has yet to return to the mound, though he is scheduled to return this Friday. Despite this, however, the Dodgers have remained afloat despite the losses. This is because, thanks to their extremely deep coffers, they were able to afford a large number of starting pitchers for their rotation this year. Combined with the occasional appearance of top prospects like Julio Urias, the Dodgers have the fourth-best rotation still in all of baseball despite half of their production (Kershaw) being currently missing in action for half the season.

The St. Louis Cardinals have built a farm depth that is enviable. While the Dodgers had some of the highest-upside names at the top of lists, the Cardinals still had the 15th-ranked system in baseball according to Minor League Ball, and when things occurred, they were always able to bring someone up to help. In addition, they built up their bench through their depth as well. Of the 14 players with at least 100 plate appearances on their roster, only five were acquired from another organization and not homegrown.

The Marlins do not have the infinite resources of the Dodgers, and they have never committed to staying within the confines of their organization in any of their rebuilds of the past. However, the team never built up depth behind its strong crew of starting players, and it already had a known weakness in the rotation heading into the season. The starting lineup represented a good set of guys, but the bench was barren, and the team’s faltering minor league system was known to not be able to produce any replacements. Instead of having replacements upon whom the team could lean, it opted for veteran names like Ichiro Suzuki, Jeff Mathis, and Chris Johnson, guys with severe limitations. Before the season, I discussed the idea of spending a small amount of money on a versatile option like Steven Pearce who could cover multiple positions. The Marlins already traded for such a player in Martin Prado, and having more versatility and a true bench / platoon player who could cover at first or the corner outfields would have been ideal. Instead, the Marlins saved the eventual $4 million it cost to acquire Pearce and got Johnson, who has not helped significantly in the team’s injury crisis.

It would not have been as relevant if Miami had a farm system, but the team has traded a lot of depth in recent years to build its current starting lineup. Two years ago, the Marlins boasted good pitching depth, but it whittled much of it away for short-term gains that unfortunately did not work out. The team has rarely leaned upon college position players but even those were dealt early in their minor league careers. This combined with promotions in recent years has left the Fish completely without position-player prospects in the upper minors; the best position-player prospects the club has are all in Low-A Greensboro or below now. This should continue going forward, as the Marlins dealt 2015 first-round pick Josh Naylor, a decent prospect and the club’s only top-100 player this year, for immediate present-term help in their playoff race.

No team could realistically prepare for this many injuries, but the Marlins never had any hope of working through this thanks to their complete lack of depth in the minors or the bigs. This club was left at serious risk in case of injury, and unfortunately that is exactly what happened to derail the club’s first real chance at the playoffs in some time. It is an unfortunate situation that has left the team likely on the outside looking in for yet another season.