“The best outfield in the game. Derek Jeter took the best outfield in the game, and traded it away.”
It was the easiest way to encapsulate the Marlins’ offseason woes. When it was announced that a group led by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter were to take over the Marlins, fans believed the days of “firesales” and “rebuilds,” terms oft cited by the Fish Faithful, were soon to be behind them. But then, Derek Jeter took the best outfield in the game, and traded them away for “just prospects.” You didn’t have to be Bill James, or tally up the 16.2 fWAR to express your outrage. It came out of the mouths of frustrated fans in Little Havana just as easy as it did the game’s highest executives: “I can’t believe the Marlins traded the best outfield in the game.”
I’ve heard it from my friends all year long. I show up at the local watering hole in my J.T. Realmuto shirsey, and my friends ask me: “What is your team doing? ” I tell them we had to do it, and here is why:
We weren’t good. 2017 marked our eighth consecutive losing season. We were not just two pitchers away. We went 8-11 against two division rivals, both neck deep in rebuilds.
And even if we were two pitchers away, where were the Marlins going to get the money? You can keep your reservations about Mike Hill, but the truth: not even the likes of Brian Cashman or Dave Dombrowski would have had the clout to move the logjams that - to this day - encumber the Marlins’ payroll.
Of the approximate $95 million or so in 2018 payroll obligations for the Marlins, about $45 earmarked for players who will open season on the DL (Prado, Chen) or no longer with the club (Volquez) https://t.co/oUc2URR3Nb— clarkspencer (@clarkspencer) March 14, 2018
So with the team in the pre-tank tank, and an immovable $45 million, where do you start cutting? From the top. And so the best outfield in the game was dismantled.
But from the smoldering ashes rises the phoenix, and entering the season, two fruits of those trades - two upstart and ripened prospects - may very well make the Opening Day roster. With a little help from some old friends, while it’s unlikely that the Marlins outfield will reclaim their spot at the top, they may very well surprise the Fish Faithful. Let’s see what we got.
The Marlins’ new hometown hero, Lewis Brinson graduated from Coral Springs High School before he was selected by the Texas Rangers in 2012. Since then, Brinson has peppered prospect reports as one of the game’s brightest young stars. In 2016, he was shipped to Milwaukee in the Jonathan Lucroy blockbuster. There, he played in parts of two more seasons in Triple-A, before he received his first call-up at the end of 2017. It wasn’t pretty; in 55 plate appearances, Brinson slashed .106/.236/.277 before Keon Broxton retook the mantle in Milwaukee, and Brinson returned to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He played for about one more week before he was shelved with a hamstring injury.
Brinson came home to South Florida with a slough of other prospects, as Christian Yelich was relieved of his “irretrievably broken” relationship with the Marlins. Now, the 6’3” 195-pound stallion is slated to be the Opening Day centerfielder for his childhood team.
Lewis Brinson Offensive Projections
Lewis Brinson PECOTA Projections
|2018 PECOTA||15% LF/10% CF/55% RF||.252||.313||.444||.262||22||14||15.6||1.5|
Projections are all over the board for Brinson, and with good reason; while the ceiling is the sky for Brinson, the floor is extremely uncertain. He’s got the tools to be a bona fide major leaguer, but unlike his ilk of prospects, he hasn’t exactly excelled at every step along the way. As aforementioned, he struggled mightily in his short time with the Brewers. Before that, he hit the taters out of the ball at Triple-A. Before that, in 2016, he only slashed .237/.280/.431 at Double-A. Before that, he crushed at Double-A and High-A in Texas’ organization. Conspiracy theorists believe that after an uncharacteristic third trade, something may be in the water; something that Texas and Milwaukee may have known about and dumped on an unwitting Marlins team.
But this year, in as many Spring Training games, (and in an even more limited amount of TV broadcasts), Brinson has looked really good, slashing .353/.389/.588 in 36 plate appearances. Of his twelve hits, five have been doubles. He hasn’t stolen any bases, but the Marlins may just be exercising caution. He looks butter smooth in the outfield, and he appears to have excellent instincts.
So the question is really whether he can put it all together this season. He’s going to have his first real shot in the bigs; a clean slate to work on. He’s going to bat in a prime spot in the order. He’s going to have his hometown community behind him. He’s going to be looked at to step up and become a primary producer for the team. So far, he hasn’t backed down; but two hours south of Jupiter, the lights are brighter, the stakes are higher, and the fans are hungrier for winning baseball. Everyone knows that Brinson has the big league makeup, but if he can figure out how to use his tools to find success in the Bigs, look for Brinson’s projections to become his floor. Quickly.
Magneuris Sierra Offensive Projections
Magneuris Sierra PECOTA Projections
|2018 PECOTA (RF)||25% RF/5% CF||.242||.279||.339||.214||3||6||-4.8||-0.3|
Magneuris Sierra found his way to Miami, along with Sandy Alcantara, in the trade of Marcell Ozuna. A funny thing happens when prospects like Sierra and Alcantara go from a frontline MLB market to a smaller market like Miami. In St. Louis, Sierra was a speedy, defensive whiz in the outfield, with easy potential to bat leadoff. In St. Louis, Alcantara is an easy 3-4 spot pitcher.
But when Sierra and Alcantara get traded to Miami, the experts won’t let you forget that Sierra’s 19 hits at the Major League level were all singles. And suddenly, Alcantara is an unwieldy, long-reliever.
Make no mistake however; when Sierra was called up straight from Double-A in 2017, Cardinals fans were rife with excitement to have Sierra’s speed in the lineup. Although he yielded a smaller sample size than normal, according to Baseball Savant, Sierra’s sprint speed of 29.9 mph was third best in the league, behind only Byron Buxton and Billy Hamilton. In his 22-game foray into the MLB, Sierra got on-base at a clip of .359.
Sure, he never hit for extra bases. And sure, he only stole two bases out of his 23 times on base. But these misgivings shouldn’t inhibit your expectations. Like Brinson, Sierra has the tools to excel as one of the game’s premier lead-off hitters.
However, Sierra’s spot on the Opening Day roster is less certain than that of Brinson. Sierra is putting together a decent spring; in 15 games, he is slashing a modest .250/.300/.321. The good news though is that he is capable of hitting doubles; he has two this month!
The bad news is that Sierra recently pulled up lame trying to beat out a grounder to the pitcher. CBS Sports reported that Sierra would be out for, as Don Mattingly put it, “a few days” trying to nurse his sore hammy. Accounting for the totality of the circumstances, it’s not likely that Sierra will make the Opening Day roster. Even without the injury, Sierra has never seen a pitch in Triple-A. Thus, with the additions of more seasoned big leaguers, such as the next player, expect to see Sierra later than March 29th. But do expect to see him; he will be in the Marlins lineup some time this season.
Slaughter the fatted calf, the prodigal son hath returned. No, I’m not talking about Miguel Cabrera; I’m clearly talking about Cameron Maybin. After coming up with the Tigers, Maybin got his first real shot in the bigs with the Marlins, where he contributed 2.4 fWAR over 3 seasons. After that, Maybin spent four years in San Diego - where he had a career 4.3 fWAR year - a year in Atlanta, and a year in Detroit. He split 2017 with the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros, with whom he received a World Series ring.
The Marlins signed the newly minted free agent on February 21st. With so many questions surrounding the team’s extremely young core, the Fish were expected to make a splash in free agency for a veteran outfielder. Passing on older/potentially more expensive options like Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera, the Marlins called Maybin home. Now, Maybin will more or less “compete” for a spot in the outfield, whether that be in center, or on the corners.
Cameron Maybin Offensive Statistics
Cameron Maybin PECOTA Projections
|2018 PECOTA||70% CF||.249||.323||.362||.247||8||23||9.4||1|
Cameron Maybin was good as recently as 2016, when he got on base at a clip of .383 and attained essentially a career-high wRC+ of 119 for the Tigers. This breakout, 2.0 fWAR year stands out in a crowd of other 1 fWAR years. While 2017 was considerably less impressive, it remains that Maybin is still just 30 years-old. As a bigger fish in a now smaller pond, if he’s given the Skipper’s Trust, he may break out with 2 fWAR again.
That contention is more wishful thinking and reliance on hokey baseball magic than anything though. The projections seem like a more realistic look at what to expect from Maybin; that is, ordinary average and OBP, and somewhere between .5 and 1 WAR.
The biggest thing to look out for with Maybin is his defense, and where in the outfield he ends up. A huge catalyst of his career-year in 2011 with San Diego was his defense in centerfield, in which he was worth 10.4 more runs than the average centerfielder. That was in Petco Park as well, a notoriously expansive outfield. Since then, Maybin’s defense has declined considerably. In 2015 and 2016, Maybin dipped well into the red in terms of UZR and DRS, such that he split time between centerfield and the corners in 2017. While he played average defense all around, this year, Maybin will be returning to a challengingly large outfield in Miami. Thus, the Marlins will have a decision to make; whether to let Maybin take the con in centerfield, or to let Brinson grow into the role, while Maybin plays left/right. The latter is probably the smartest play.
Expectations aren’t for Maybin to hoist this team up by the bootstraps and bring them to the playoffs; it’s to make sure that rookies like Brinson, Sierra, and the next player don’t get burned out in their first years. Speed never goes into a slump, and although Maybin’s made it apparent that defense does, he still has almost ten years in the game, and he offers experience from which the younger outfielders can learn. Consider it a win if Maybin can turn in a year worth more than 1 WAR this year.
From the top rope, like a Randy Orton out of nowhere, Braxton Lee jumps into the mix to earn a starting outfield spot with the Marlins.
Braxton Lee Offensive Projections
|2017 (AA)||127||.309||.395||.384||.354 w/ MIA, .366 w/ TB||125 w/ MIA, 132 w/ TB||3||20||N/A|
Braxton Lee PECOTA Projecitons
|2018 PECOTA||5% RF, 10% PH||.245||.311||.336||.229||2||3||-1.2||0|
Lee was drafted in the 12th round by the Rays in 2014, where he spent the rest of the year at Low-A. He hit well in 2015 at High-A, struggled mightily at Double-A in 2016, and then raked in Double-A last year, splitting the season between the Montgomery Biscuits and the Marlins’ own Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
Now, the fleet-footed, light-swinging lefty finds himself on the active roster, with a real chance to make the team for Opening Day. Projections on Lee are extremely conservative, and probably rightfully so. Although he has speed to be reckoned with, in terms of power hitting, Lee brings close to nothing to the table; he has a career SLG of just .322. With the addition of Cameron Maybin, it’s hard to see the 24-year-old Lee pencilling easily into a starting role. Instead, Lee figures to be the perfect fourth outfielder/bench piece, like a 20-years junior Ichiro.
Although he would probably benefit from seeing constant at-bats in Triple-A for the first half of the year, it wouldn’t be unheard of to see Lee in the near future. The Marlins seem peculiarly warm on him. If the Marlins do decide to take him out of the gate, look for Lee to pinch-hit and pinch-run for the most part. No expectations for Lee, just enjoy watching him fly.
Last, but certainly not least, is the fan-favorite, muscle-bound Swiss army knife, Derek Dietrich. People have been clamoring for Dietrich to get his due as a starter for the past two or so years. And while Dietrich has accrued full-season game totals over his past two years, he has never maintained a starting role at one position; he has played first base, second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. This year, Derek Dietrich will finally have first dibs at a starting spot. However, it will be somewhere in the outfield, where he may be the least comfortable.
Derek Dietrich Offensive Statistics
Derek Dietrich PECOTA Projections
|2018 PECOTA||55% LF||.248||.333||.427||.267||16||1||15.1||1.4|
Although he was an average hitter last year, Dietrich accrued plus-100 wRC+’s in the three years prior. As a result of his versatility, Dietrich has often found his way into steady at-bat streams, filling in for multiple people in a season. Some very safe projections believe that Dietrich will record average numbers this year. Fangraphs comes to a consensus that Dietrich will only figure to be worth half of a win. PECOTA is more optimistic, predicting another career-high home run total, and an average OBP. While these projections seem to be on-target, Dietrich can easily outkick them, if he is given a starter’s workload. We’ve seen that as recently as 2016.
The question with Dietrich isn’t offense; Dietrich has proven he is consistent, if not anything else. The question is going to be defense. Although Dietrich has played outfield in the past, he is predominantly an infielder, with his best position being first base. UZR and DRS seem to disagree on what Dietrich’s true position is. While DRS has him pegged for -4 in left field, they have Dietrich costing the team 19 runs at second base. On the other hand, UZR favors Dietrich at second; while he costs about 10 runs at second per 150 games, he costs 21.7 in the outfield. Dietrich’s UZR is buoyed by a -22.5 UZR/150 in 2015, when he accrued more than 350 innings in left field. Although he has improved since then, he has done so in very limited innings. This year, he may cross that 350 inning threshold again, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts.
But Dietrich isn’t going to be in the lineup for his defense; if the Marlins were concerned about that, they could just as easily substitute Dietrich for Magneuris Sierra or Braxton Lee. They are relying on Dietrich for his bat. In a lineup riddled with question marks - from the juniority of players like Brinson and Cooper, to the uncertainties associated with players like Justin Bour and Cameron Maybin - Dietrich can be relied on as a consistent bat to supplement the middle of the order. Dietrich has undoubtedly been working hard to develop his skillset to suit the outfield. If he can play replacement level defense and put together a strong season at the plate, he will cement himself as a keystone player in the organization.
After these players, look for guys like Scott Van Slyke and Garrett Cooper to slide into corner spots for some added pop in the lineup. The team has already said that Cooper, who was discussed in the first basemen preview, will get time in the outfield. Van Slyke - who burst onto the scene with the Fish when he hit two home runs in the first game of Spring - will compete for a fringe roster spot. With considerable depth at first base and the outfield, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Van Slyke start the year in New Orleans, and then come up in a pinch.