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Nostalgia acts that could be a fit on the 2018 Miami Marlins, Part I

The Fish Family is clamoring for some re2pect for franchise history. Here’s an easy way to throw some flakes into that tank.

Philadelphia Phillies v Florida Marlins Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

In the wake of the news late last year (weird to say) that the Marlins had re-acquired Jacob Turner (signed to a minor league contract), it got me thinking about the power of nostalgia acts.

No, not for Turner himself. He was reasonably effective in 20 starts for the Marlins in the lost 2013 season, with a 3.74 ERA/4.43 FIP, but then fell off a cliff in 2014 and has since bounced around, playing swingman for the Washington Nationals last season. Still only 26, he’s a good buy-low candidate to stock the still pitching-deficient farm system with in hopes that he might provide some value as a starter or in the pen.

No offense to Turner who I’m sure is a fine individual, but in terms of nostalgia acts, it conjures up a mental image of those classic souvenir t-shirts.

I came to Marlins Park for the memories, and all I got was this lousy Jacob Turner t-shirt.

The new ownership group, for better or worse, has jettisoned a fair number of Marlins’ notables from it’s ranks, people long associated with Marlins’ history: Jeff Conine, Jack Mckeon, Preston Wilson, Rich Waltz, to name a few (not to mention the unpopular trades that have occurred beyond these dismissals).

Put simply, Derek Jeter, Bruce Sherman, Michael Jordan and whomever else is associated in this Marlins conglomerate needs to show the fan base that they care about the history, such as it may be, of the franchise they purchased.

The best way to do that, at this point, would be to put on a big show celebrating the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Florida Miami Marlins. Because let’s face it, it’s best not to be outdone by the Colorado Rockies in anything. Ever.

The second best way is to find players, via free agency or the trade market, who not only fit your short-term vision of the team by providing value, but who can also provide some residual good will with a spoonful of nostalgia.

With that in mind, here is the first of two pieces on players I think would make sense for the 2018 Miami Marlins and (perhaps more importantly given the present mindfulness regarding financials) could probably be had at a relatively inexpensive cost. I’ve divided these players up into two groups: Low nostalgia (aka the Jacob Turners of the world) and high nostalgia (aka the Marlins magically trade for Miguel Cabrera). First up, the low nostalgia group:

Cameron Maybin

Initial Marlins Organizational Tenure: 2007-2010

Florida Marlins vs Los Angeles Dodgers
Lookin’ sharp.

Maybin was one of six players brought in via trade from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for two of the most iconic players in Marlins’ franchise history, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera.

Alongside Andrew Miller, Maybin was a prized piece in that deal, having been the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft and already with some major league experience under his belt at the age of 20.

The Marlins decided to season Maybin a little longer and started him off in 2008 in AA. He dazzled in an eight-game late September cup of coffee, hitting .500/.543/.563 in 36 plate appearances and sparking the hopes of many a Fish fan that the next great Marlin had arrived. Things didn’t go quite as swimmingly for Maybin in the following two seasons, though; in 521 plate appearances Maybin managed a .240/.308/.379 line with an 82 wRC+, to go along with lengthy stints in AAA in each season. Loria had enough after 2010, when he had Maybin shipped off to the San Diego Padres for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb.

From a nostalgic standpoint, you can see why Maybin ended up in the low group; he just wasn’t that good when he was here, and continues to serve as a reminder of the failed returns garnered by the Loria ownership group in exchange for superstar caliber players.

Since leaving the Marlins, however, Maybin has developed into a respectable outfield option, a solid speed threat on the bases (not quite Dee Gordon level, but good in his own right; his 33 stolen bases last year led the American League). This version of Cameron Maybin strikes out less and walks more then the Cameron Maybin of yesteryear. In short, he’s a useful ballplayer who might be of value to the 2018 Marlins, who are down three of the four outfielders they regularly used last season.

Of course, despite ending last season with the World Series champion Houston Astros as a fourth outfielder, Maybin would be looking for a starting gig, and even with the outfield departures here there might not be enough space for him. Is Christian Yelich being traded? How ready does the club think Magneuris Sierra is? What combination of Garrett Cooper/Derek Dietrich/Martin Prado will be forced to slot into one of the corner outfield spots? Do the Marlins want to leave space for a Braxton Lee type down the line? All of those questions need to be answered in some way shape or form before a Maybin signing could take place (or, conversely, a Maybin signing would simultaneously answer all of those questions).

Maybin will turn 31 during the 2018 season and still has plenty of good baseball left in him. He is probably bound for a fringe contender on a multi-year deal, but it’s not entirely out of the question, depending upon how some other Marlins-related dominos fall, that Maybin could once again find himself a Fish. I’m a sucker for redemption stories, so I think it would be cool to see Maybin come to Miami and play well, but all things considered, I’d rate the probability of him doing so as fairly unlikely.

Jason Grilli

Initial Marlins Organization Tenure: 1999-2003

Florida Marlins v Cleveland Indians - Spring Training
Proof! This was actually a thing.

Jason Grilli was the fourth overall pick in the 1997(!) draft by the San Francisco Giants. The Florida Marlins acquired Grilli and pitcher Nate Bump in exchange for Marlins icon Livan Hernandez (are you seeing a theme here?).

Grilli made his major league debut with the Marlins on May 11th, 2000, pitching six and two thirds inning in a spot start and picking up a win for the Fish.

He would appear in six games (five starts) the following season for the Marlins, going 2-2 with a 6.08 ERA/6.16 FIP, but the dreaded Tommy John reared it’s ugly elbow and Grilli was forced to miss all of the 2002 season. He returned in 2003 to pitch for the Marlins-then AAA affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes, but was claimed in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago White Sox shortly thereafter.

Grilli has since played for ten other organizations, most recently with the Texas Rangers, where he supplied one of my favorite highlights of the 2017 season:

Grilli made a nice career for himself as a late-inning reliever, even holding down the closer role for a few years between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves. Last season was not pretty for the veteran, however; he put up a 6.30 ERA/6.08 FIP, and at 41 years old, he’s clearly nearing the end of his ball-playing days.

I suppose the question for the purposes of our exercise, then, is if Grilli has anything left in the tank? Hard to say, but he continues to have good velocity on his fastball (averaging 93 mph last season), so if he can effectively harness his secondary pitches he might be an asset in the back of some team’s bullpen. Room in the pen, of course, is yet to be determined. Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa could still be there to start 2018, or they could not. Kyle Barraclough could be racking up saves for the Fish in 2018, or he could be late-leverage for the Chicago Cubs. Jeter and company might decide that they’d rather see if they can make an internal option work (and I’d wager that bet, given their earlier decision to part with Dustin McGowan).

If Grilli is determined to continue playing, though, he might be interested in signing a show-me, invitation to spring training type deal with the team he first broke through with, bringing things full circle in a career that began 20 years ago in a Marlins uniform.

Adrian Gonzalez

Initial Marlins Organizational Tenure: 2000-2003

Adrian González poses for the camera at Marlins Media Day
Ah, youthful exuberance.
Getty Images

A month after Jason Grilli made his professional debut, the Marlins drafted Adrian Gonzalez as the first overall pick in the 2000 draft. Gonzalez was the first infielder picked number one overall since Alex Rodriguez in 1993, the Fish being utterly entranced by his combination of power and on base skills.

The romance would wither after a wrist injury in 2003, so the Marlins decided to trade him to the Texas Rangers for Ugueth Urbina, whom you might recall as being somewhat important for a certain championship team. The Rangers, meanwhile, never got much out Gonzalez’s limited playing time in ‘04 and ‘05, so he was traded again, this time to the San Diego Padres.

It was with the Friars that Gonzalez would blossom into a perennial All-Star, beginning a run where he would ultimately put up 10 straight seasons of at least 2.9 fWAR (and often, far more) a year between the aforementioned Padres, the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That all came to an abrupt end in 2017. Back issues put him on the shelf for much of the season, and in the interim, the eventual NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger stole his job. Courtesy of an oddball, salary-driven deal between the Dodgers and Braves that subsequently saw him being released, Gonzalez now finds himself a free agent for the first time since 2011.

For Gonzalez to make sense for the Marlins, of course, several things need to happen. Justin Bour needs to be traded; Garrett Cooper would then have to presumably stay in right field where he’s currently projected to start. Finally, the Marlins would actually have to believe that Gonzalez is capable of holding down the position as a starter over the course of a full season.

For what it’s worth, I do think Gonzalez has something left in the tank (provided his back can hold up). He’d probably be better off at this stage signing with an American League team so he can be plugged in as a DH, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, if, say, Bour were gone, for the Fish to offer him a minor league deal.

Jason Vargas

Initial Marlins Organizational Tenure: 2004-2006

Florida Marlins v Washington Nationals
Jason Vargas has some pretty great pitch faces.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/MLB Photos via Getty Images

At this point you’re probably saying to yourself “I thought this was supposed to be about nostalgia,” but remember, I did say that this is the low nostalgia group.

Vargas appeared in 30 games between the 2005 and 2006 Marlins, making eighteen largely nondescript starts. As with most members of this list, his best work came after he left the Fish, putting up some quality middle-of-the-rotation numbers for the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Kansas City Royals, the latter of which he won a title with.

He missed much of 2015/16 due to TJ surgery, but bounced back last season to provide the Royals with a 4.16 ERA/4.67 FIP and 179.2 innings pitched, good for 1.6 fWAR.

Closing in on his age 35 season, Vargas is a free agent and would probably reward the Marlins with a solid performance on a modest one-year deal, which they can then parlay into prospects come the deadline. Jason Vargas isn’t the sexiest signing, but he’s the signing you’re least likely to regret.

Ichiro Suzuki

Initial Marlins Organizational Tenure: 2015-2017

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
Photo by Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins via Getty Images

Ok, Thomas, now you’re really stretching it. How can we be nostalgic about a player who was just on the team two months ago?

Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Ichiro would hate to be described like this probably, but he is a walking nostalgia act and will be as long as he is able to keep playing. I’m not going to cycle through some of his career highlights like I did with the others; if you aren’t familiar with them, you’re probably not a baseball fan.

After the season ended, I penned a piece stating my opinion that Ichiro would probably be coming back to the Marlins. Even with the moves that have gone down, I still think this is true. Ichiro is going to test the market, and in the end he’ll find that the best offer he’s going to get is the same role he had here, albeit at the veteran minimum.

Of course, ownership has yet to display that they care about anything other than the bottom line just yet, so re-signing Ichiro would be counter to virtually everything they’ve signaled so far. But the players still here would love it, the fans would love it, and he is not really blocking anyone at the moment. You want to placate Yelich and Realmuto? Throw them a bone. For those concerned about blocking the youth movement with that roster spot, talk to me in a year when Brian Miller and Braxton Lee are busting down the doors, or when the front office has tired of watching whichever ill-suited player they choose from the present roster to patrol the corners.

For now, you can give me back Ichiro. It’s the easiest feel-good win this ownership group can ask for.

Next up: The high nostalgia group.