Ed. note: This was originally written 3/7 and was updated 3/20. - TB
The 2018 Miami Marlins will have a different look and feel to those of past Marlins squads. Gone is the prolific power of Giancarlo Stanton, the cat-like agility of Marcell Ozuna, the crisp short-stroke of Christian Yelich, the flashy speed of Dee Gordon.
In their place, a collection of new faces coupled with a handful of vets will try and set the tone for Derek Jeter’s new vision for the Marlins franchise, that of a consistently competitive team, day in and day out. Many outlets predict that the Marlins will struggle to meet that vision in 2018, but the players here today will lay the ground work for the culmination of that dream...some may even be here while at the zenith of it’s fulfillment.
With the mantra of daily competitiveness being instilled top to bottom organizationally, the expectations for this inaugural group to set the standard will be high. That being said, while the team’s brass won’t say it, the final record of the 2018 Miami Marlins is almost irrelevant. What everyone who is a keen observer of this franchise will be looking for is young players stepping forward and becoming key contributors that can be counted on in 2019 and beyond.
The aforementioned trades effectively created depth that was notably absent in prior years. A minor league system typically ranked near the bottom is suddenly considered closer to middle of the pack. That new talent includes guys like Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto (via the Yelich trade), Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers (via the Stanton trade), Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano (via the Ozuna trade) and Nick Neidert, Christopher Torres and Robert Dugger (via the Gordon trade).
Brinson and Alcantara (optioned today, but certain to be back) are the most likely to make an immediate impact, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention a couple of key rookies who were already on hand, third baseman Brian Anderson, lefty Dillon Peters, and the undrafted but decidedly interesting Trevor Richards. A final trio of rookies likely to be counted on in the not-so-distant future are outfielder Braxton Lee, righty-reliever Merandy Gonzalez and starting pitcher Pablo Lopez.
Despite the shedding of premium offensive players, the remaining offensive core is not bereft of talent. Anchored by powerful first baseman Justin Bour and budding star catcher J.T. Realmuto, and surrounded by respectable pieces like second baseman Starlin Castro, third baseman Martin Prado and left fielder Derek Dietrich, the offense should be competent on most days, if lacking in the long ball department. Miguel Rojas and J.T. Riddle will ultimately battle it out for playing time at the shortstop position, while Cameron Maybin provides a reliable veteran to fall back upon should some of the rookie outfielders falter.
Defensively, it’s hard to see the group matching up to the 2017 iteration when you traded three former gold glovers, but the outfield will, on any given day, feature the speed required to track down errant fly balls in at least two of three possible positions. Castro is a definite downgrade from Gordon at second, but the other infield spots remain solid.
As of this writing, the exact composition of the starting rotation has yet to be determined, so it’s hard to say just what we can expect from the group. Dan Straily and Jose Urena will almost certainly occupy the top two spots, with the former providing consistent if unspectacular innings and the latter being relied upon to outperform his projections for a second straight season. Beyond that, we might see old familiar face Jacob Turner providing some gritty veteran-ness in the middle of the rotation and young flamethrower Alcantara eventually taking up the four spot. The five spot will undoubtedly be some monstrous revolving jumble of Adam Conley/Jarlin Garcia/Caleb Smith/Wei-Yin Chen/Odrisamer Despaigne/Justin Nicolino.
Of that group, those who fail to appear frequently in the rotation will feature as long men in a surprisingly capable bullpen (on paper...if you’re a baseball fan of any serious nature, you should know by now that pens are collectively fickle beasts). Last year’s pen, lauded in the pre-season as super, would indeed become special: they would ultimately end up tallying the second-highest total innings for a bullpen in the history of the game. Accomplishing that ignominious feat was due in no small part to the death of Jose Fernandez and the subsequently weak depth exposed when Chen and Edinson Volquez went down with injury while Conley and Tom Koehler struggled mightily, taxing the pen to exhaustion.
The larger crop of free agent hopefuls this season should help ameliorate that issue, though the group is preparing for the season with the expectation that they’re going to be asked to pitch a lot. Accompanying the smorgasbord of fifth starter hopefuls will be the likes of Chris O’Grady, Elisier Hernandez, and Junichi Tazawa plugging up the middle innings, while the later innings are likely to be handled by the trio of Drew Steckenrider, Kyle Barraclough and sage sidewinder Brad Ziegler, who will act as the team’s closer-du-jour to start the season. Nick Wittgren and Brian Ellington should provide steady reinforcement upon their respective return from injuries.
Of course, in regard to the present day, we can talk about who is here now all we want but in the midst of a rebuilding period there is a very real likelihood that Miami will continue to see old familiar faces replaced with new ones. In 2021, the Marlins front office envisions a packed house night after night watching a highly competitive, fun young team battle for a National League East title. The payroll, undoubtedly bolstered by a sparkling new TV deal, will supposedly be in place to support said young team with reliable veteran assistance.
In the lead-up to that, however, Marlins fans can expect the payroll to shrink as the team continues to shed itself of undesirable contracts. It may be a long three to four years as we’re just at the start of this thing, so if you’re a Fish fan, you just have to hope that it ends up being well worth the wait.