The bold predictions game is actually a lot like baseball itself: the goal is to finish with a few hits, because it’s not possible to nail them all when defying conventional wisdom. Keep that in mind when evaluating these off-the-wall scenarios for the 2018 Miami Marlins.
The club’s combination of talent, inexperience and depth—or lack there of—won’t be enough for a postseason berth. Even if the Fish make it interesting midway through the summer, ownership would be reluctant to spend on the reinforcements needed to sustain such a run.
However, that still leaves plenty of blanks to fill in. Here’s where I attempt to address them (and yes, the comments section is wide open for you to publish yours).
Christian Yelich doesn’t get traded
At least not yet.
We know he’s unhappy, but so was Stanton after the talent purge of 2012. He ultimately stuck around for another five years.
That’s the same amount of team control that the Marlins have remaining over Yelich. That’s a long time. Bleak as things seem at the moment, any franchise could turn itself into a contender by 2022.
Three years isn’t quite as long, which is partly why catcher J.T. Realmuto is more of a slam-dunk trade chip. There appears to be a robust market for his services right now, positioning the Fish to extract a great haul of prospects in return.
MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports that the Marlins have set a sky-high asking price for both of them in an effort to force a “huge overpay” from a desperate suitor. Perhaps they’ll compromise soon on Realmuto to cash in on his immense value, but there’s no urgency whatsoever to move Yelich in 2018.
Team home run leader Garrett Cooper
This is assuming approximately 29 dingers for Cooooooooop. That doesn’t mean he’ll be effective doing it. Last season was rife with players who posted hollow homer totals, like Matt Davidson (26 HR, -0.9 fWAR) and Rougned Odor (30 HR, -1.0 fWAR).
Cooper went yard 17 times in 75 games for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Although typically a first baseman, he spent a few hundred innings at the corner outfield spots in 2015 and 2016. That’s his most likely path to playing time as a Marlin.
Yelich and Justin Bour should be his toughest challengers, and both will probably have better all-around seasons. But Yelich is held back by his own reluctance to drive balls in the air (MLB’s second-highest ground ball rate among qualifiers since debuting in 2013, per FanGraphs). Meanwhile, Bour is—by default—one of the established offensive threats in the lineup, and shouldn’t see many good pitches to hit. A productive start to the campaign would further boost his trade appeal to teams that find themselves needing an upgrade at first base.
Multiple NL All-Star selections
Every team is required to have at least one, so they’re already halfway there!
Yelich should be the obvious candidate. He’s been among the National League’s most valuable outfielders during the past four seasons. The honor is already long overdue.
Aside from him, don’t sleep on left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. The Marlins will need somebody to start games while their exciting new pitching prospects complete their development in the minors. Assuming his elbow looks fine in spring training, he should work every fifth game and relatively deep into those games, rather than turned them over to a thinned-out bullpen. Chen has generally performed his best to begin the season, anyway (3.80 ERA, .735 OPS allowed in first half; 4.03 ERA, .758 OPS allowed in second half).
Speaking of the ‘pen, perhaps Kyle Barraclough or Drew Steckenrider settles into the closer’s role. You’ll often see anonymous relievers sneak onto the All-Star team based solely on their presence in the ninth inning and gaudy save total.
One of the oldest rosters in franchise history
This isn’t saying much. The 2017 season featured the first Marlins squad ever whose weighted batters’ average age—as calculated by Baseball-Reference—ranked significant higher than the typical NL roster (28.3 years old). The pitchers’ average age (28.7) was also an anomaly for a franchise that historically relies on young, controllable talent.
The Fish will return to that tradition once their next core incubates in the farm system for a little while longer.
The bridge to them, however, figures to use cheap outcasts as the main ingredient. This offseason’s minor league signings include Jacob Turner (age 27 in 2018), Bryan Holaday (30) and J.B. Shuck (31). There will be more, older additions to this group as Opening Day approaches, all of whom will get a realistic shot to crack the active roster.
Zero months with a winning record
The Marlins have fielded some lousy teams over the past decade, but you’d have to go all the way back to 2007 to find one that was consistently mediocre. Every iteration of the Fish since then—even the 100-loss slog through the 2013 season—won the majority of their games during at least one of the regular season months.
The 2018 schedule keeps them on the road for significant portions of April, May and June (13 or fewer home games each month). Once that balances out in July (16 of 25 at Marlins Park), the front office expects to be trading away useful veterans ahead of the non-waiver deadline, so they won’t be able to take advantage.
Overall, Baseball Savant estimates that this club has the sixth-most-grueling travel schedule, in terms of total mileage.
Home attendance barely changes from 2017
Many Marlins fans vow to stay away the ballpark as a middle finger to how Derek Jeter has been conducting business. That being said, those are generally the same folks who were already “protesting” against Jeffrey Loria in recent years.
Home attendance dropped to 1,583,014 guests last season, its lowest total since Marlins Park opened. The prediction here is that the venue still draws at least 1.5 million for this non-competitive team.
Embarrassing as it is to accept, gameday turnout has always been heavily driven by opposing fans. Vacationers and South Floridians transplanted from different regions of the country buy tickets to root against the Marlins. Representatives from 17 other fanbases will have the opportunity to watch their team play in Miami in 2018.
One significant change from last year is the interleague matchups. Instead of AL West clubs, they’ll be hosting the Yankees and Blue Jays. Their supporters historically represent in huge numbers.
New ownership will appreciate that as they attempt to buck the recent trend and make a profit from the franchise in Year 1.