Garrett Cooper was a pleasant surprise for Marlins fans in 2019. Entering the year as somewhat of an unknown after only previously seeing limited time at the majors, the 28-year-old enjoyed a strong first half while primarily playing first base and covering right field at times, hitting eight homers and driving in 31 runs over 51 appearances. A difficult August brought his overall numbers back to earth, but he still slashed .281/.344/.446 with 15 home runs and 16 doubles for the season, providing 1.4 WAR, which was third-highest for a Marlins hitter. Cooper excelled in the field, too, posting a .994 fielding percentage overall with two defensive runs saved at first base.
Despite being an older player and never being a highly-rated prospect, he showed some great potential by hitting for both average and power. More could be on the horizon considering his keen eye at the plate and powerful 6-6, 230-pound frame. Although Cooper probably isn’t on track to become a perennial All-Star or MVP candidate—he may be squeezed off the team by superior young talent once the Marlins are ready to contend again—he is one of the best offensive options available to the team right now and should already be selecting his walk-up song as part of the Opening Day lineup at Marlins Park.
Despite all of this, the Marlins are being linked with free agent first basemen as they look to drastically improve upon a 57-105 season, with every option currently on the table. José Abreu may no longer be available after accepting the qualifying offer he received from the White Sox, but names like Justin Smoak and Todd Frazier are still being thrown around.
Signing those sort of players for a veteran leadership/reserve role? Fine. However, the Marlins should be feeling that they have first base covered for the foreseeable future with Garrett Cooper.
Granted, Cooper is a decent right fielder and would fill a need on the roster if played there consistently, but he is also injury prone—he spent almost all of 2018 on the shelf with wrist issues and then sat out a few chunks of 2019 with calf and knee injuries. While some of those ailments have been down to bad luck, Cooper would benefit in the long-run from putting less stress on his body at first base. Considering his form at the plate this past season, the more he is able to stay on the field, the better off the Marlins will be in their quest for better offensive output and more victories in 2020.
With presumably a limited budget for free agent spending, Miami should focus their efforts on signing the likes of Nicholas Castellanos or Yasiel Puig, two exciting offensive players who would fill a real need heading into next season: outfield depth. Garrett Cooper has proven that he is a reliable and productive option at first base, and Miami should put him there full-time if they want to maximize his value.