World Series titles are won in October, but the foundations for them are built on the decisions made during the offseasons prior. Each MLB team enters the offseason with a plan and method on how to one day hoist that World Series trophy over their heads while “We are the champions...” plays in the background.
The next Marlins championship parade is unlikely to happen this year or the following year, but the completed moves from this offseason most assuredly moved them in the right direction.
Entering Year 2 of a “building” process, the Fish cut bait with several veteran holdovers from the old regime. Moving forward, there are no more disgruntled players demanding trades, or fans getting anxious about when the moves will finally conclude.
Now all that is left is work. Working to develop, grow, and mature into a sustainable team that can make Miami proud of its baseball team once again.
Let’s take one last comprehensive look at the 2018-2019 offseason and evaluate how well the Marlins front office performed.
1. The Marlins sign Víctor Víctor Mesa and Víctor Mesa Jr.
On October 22, 2018, the Marlins organization accomplished something that was unprecedented in the club’s history: they went after the consensus #1 international free agent, and they got him.
Víctor Víctor Mesa is a Cuban center fielder who draws comparisons to the Nationals’ Victor Robles, Cubs’ Albert Almora, and other big-league talent that should get Marlins fans excited. Aside from his heritage—being Cuban helps in South Florida—his ceiling as a Gold Glove CF and everyday bat is tantalizing.
A significant change in baseball operations strategy, I discussed the impact of this move, as well as other Marlins questions in the following interview. (Make sure to give it a listen!)
Was an absolute pleasure being interviewed by @FerbRojas_— Danny (@all_right_Miami) February 12, 2019
If you’re interested in learning about me (maybe just want to know what I sound like?), FanFest, the Marlins, and the future of the Fish...click below and listen!
Genuinely loved doing this!https://t.co/G48eT8oJKO
With that being said, it would be a disservice to gloss over the preceding moves that made it possible to compile enough bonus pool money to sign both Mesa and his younger brother, Victor Mesa Jr.
From October 6 to October 16, the Marlins traded Ryan Lillie, Adonis Giron, Brayan De Paula, and Kyle Barraclough. The three separate deals added $2.25 million in IFA flexibility, enough to outbid the Baltimore Orioles and sign both of the Cuban brothers. The $6.25 million total investment in them yielded a player who is widely considered a Top 100 prospect, with an enticing ceiling. Overall, the Mesa signings are a
good great chapter of the Marlins offseason.
However, one caveat must be stated here. If the Marlins had capitalized on Barraclough’s high value during the 2018 season, then they could have already had a Top 100 prospect in the fold. During last summer’s MLB trade deadline, there were rumors that Barraclough could be traded for a high prospect return. The Marlins decided to refrain, and instead flipped him later, as previously mentioned.
Could the Marlins have traded ‘Claw at the deadline, and still have acquired enough IFA money this offseason for the Mesa brothers? Possibly. But we are not grading hypotheticals; we are grading outcomes. When you sign the consensus #1 international free agent, you deserve praise.
2. Marlins acquire RHP Riley Ferrell in the Rule 5 Draft
There is no better time to add cost effective talent to your organization than in the international market (see above) and at the Winter Meetings Rule 5 Draft. By the time the Marlins brass arrived to Las Vegas, they had already accomplished the former by signing Victor Victor Mesa. By the time they left Las Vegas, they had accomplished the latter.
In a preview of the Rule 5 Draft, I stated that I was “shocked” Riley Ferrell was left unprotected by the Astros organization. I followed that by writing that I would be “astonished” if he went un-drafted.
To both my surprise and glee, the Marlins must have felt the same way, as they took Ferrell with the 4th pick of the draft. If this was the good news, then the even better news was that none of Miami’s unprotected talent (e.g. McKenzie Mills, Christopher Torres, etc.) were selected. Meaning that the Marlins time in the Rule 5 draft was swell. An often overlooked aspect of the offseason, yet an important one, went Miami’s way.
There are two philosophies when building a team from the ashes. One: let the young prospects play, and give them as much time as they need to figure it out. Two: bring in a few veteran players with good clubhouse presence, that may excel the growing and developmental process, all while possibly developing into trade deadline pieces that can return value.
Although the Marlins did not fully embrace the second mindset—three signings is not much by many standards—it does seem that a hybrid method was the selected path. In the signing of the above mentioned players, the Marlins filled holes on their roster with high-character athletes that seem passionate about leading as well as still offer some on-field value.
Similar to the “what could have been” scenario of a Kyle Barraclough trade, the strongest counter to these signings being “A grade” is with the players they were either rumored to be in discussion with, or failed to speak with.
An example of this is with INF D.J. LeMahieu, now a Yankee, which was a rumored target of the Marlins. Additionally, players such as Marwin Gonzalez or Gio Gonzalez may have presented stronger on-field ability. Nevertheless, when you see that video of Curtis Granderson speaking to the Captain’s Camp roster, or hear Sergio Romo discussing why he chose Miami over other teams, one quickly realizes that this is about more than just on-field business.
Two moves that—to be honest—cannot be weighed as heavily as other transactions in this article, but most certainly fit the mold of a rebuilding team; claiming INF/OF Herrera and RHP Fernandez from their respective organizations are the savvy moves that good organizations make. Both of these players carry the same thought process in their signings—from a baseball operations perspective—of high reward versus minimal risk.
In Herrera, the Marlins acquired a former Top 100 prospect who has battled with chronic wrist ailments, but still has a ceiling worth taking a flier on. On the mound, any time you can add a RHP that sits at 100MPH and is considered a future potential dominant reliever, via Baseball America, then it is hard to get angry about the move. The following grade should not be weighed as heavily as the other’s on this page, but this is an easy A.
Moves that made you scratch your head and ask “why?”
The following summary is not a representation of disapproval for newly acquired Jordan Milbrath, he has talent and upside in his own right, but instead represents the reality that this move is outright bewildering.
During the Realmuto trade saga, the Marlins made a baffling move of designating for assignment Nick Wittgren. At first, this was puzzling, but then the light bulb turned on, and many—including myself—speculated that this must mean Wittgren was part of a Realmuto trade.
Wrong! It remains possible that he originally was a part of talks, but the ultimate result was that Wittgren was traded to the Indians, for a pitching prospect that is only two months younger than the ex-Marlins veteran. Allow me to re-iterate, Milbrath has upside, and we will likely see him pitch at Marlin Park this upcoming year, but Wittgren had more value attached to him than this return.
Additionally, if he performed at expected value this season, then it is hard to fathom that the Marlins would not have yielded a larger return at this year’s deadline.
6. Derek Dietrich elected free agency
While many were still recovering from their Thanksgiving week, the Marlins and Derek Dietrich decided to go their separate ways. Dietrich eventually latched on with the Cincinnati Reds, where one would imagine that his bat comes to life, if given enough opportunities throughout the season.
The Marlins rationale in this decision is rather linear, the organization has an initiative of placing value on defense and versatility, two things that Dietrich and his staggering minus-69 Defensive Runs Saved (i.e. zero is average) throughout his career did not fulfill.
At the end of the day, the Marlins felt that his upside in his at-bats was not worth the massive leakage of runs on the diamond. Dietrich will forever be a fan favorite, but his time with the Marlins came to a rather sudden end.
7. Spring Training non-roster invites
The following players were added to the Marlins Spring Training roster, on non-guaranteed deals: Harold Ramírez, Pedro Alvarez, Gabriel Guerrero, Deven Marrero, Dixon Machado, Hector Noesi, Yadiel Rivera, Curtis Granderson*
The presented list has a good balance of veteran pieces with upside (e.g. Marrero, Noesi, and Alvarez), as well as once highly touted prospects that are looking for second
third chances (e.g. Ramirez, Guerrero, Machado). This is precisely what a non-roster designation group should look like in Spring Training.
For the purposes of balance, I will touch on one from each sub-group. As for a vet that may stick around, look no further than Miami’s own Deven Marrero. The glove-first infielder was once a top prospect in the Red Sox farm system. He has 7 Defensive Runs Saved throughout his career (combine him and Dietrich and you have the perfect utility player), and has local ties to the area. The key here is that his versatility makes him valuable to the organization.
As for a young player to look for during Spring Training, that distinction is entirely placed on Harold Ramírez. Ramirez may be the best non-roster signing of the offseason, and with good reason. The former Baseball America Top 100 prospect from Colombia has consistently put up solid numbers in MiLB, and decided to light up the Venezuelan Winter League during this offseason with a .381/.459/.556 slash.
His success is not limited to the Winter Leagues, as he posted a .320/.365/.471, with 11 HR, and 70 runs batted it in 2018 AA level with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Look for the 24 year old—who was once rated as a higher prospect than Vladimir Guerrero Jr.—to fight for a spot with the Marlins this spring.
Oh! That’s right, we still have one more move...
Thank you for everything, J.T. pic.twitter.com/d3nq763Wyo— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) February 7, 2019
The Realmuto sweepstakes almost took the entire offseason to resolve, but at a time where it looked like the Marlins may not get fair market value, the Phillies jumped into the race and saved the deal. In Realmuto, the Phillies received the best catcher in baseball, and a now-proven commodity at the plate, and as a back stop. But make no mistake, they paid heavily to add the catcher to their roster.
The Marlins received a consensus top RHP prospect who often yields comparisons to the likes of Pedro Martinez, Luis Severino, and Johnny Cueto. Although relatively short in stature, 6’0’’ according to Major League Baseball, scouts believe that his durability is the only variable left in the young righties’ profile. If he remains healthy, most scouts peg him as a sure thing to be leading the Marlins rotation down the road.
In Aflaro, the Marlins immediately filled the void that was created with Realmuto’s departure. The difference in performance from the catching position will be noticeable, but Alfaro is no slouch at the position. He put up the 9th best WAR for catchers, and his exit velocity is amongst the best in the league, not just at the catching position.
Marlins C Jorge Alfaro owns the hardest average Exit Velocity of any catcher in the game. He also hit the 14th hardest ball in 2018— Danny (@all_right_Miami) February 10, 2019
Players (not just C) that trail Alfaro in average exit velo:
The 21 year-old lefty, Will Stewart, should not be considered a throw-in. The Marlins reportedly viewed Stewart as the 2nd best pitching prospect in the Phillies farm system, and they may not be alone in that assessment. Scouts view Stewart as a future league average starter, whose mechanics eerily mirror Chris Sale, typically leading to great deception from the left side of the mound.
Overall Offseason Grade: B+
The eventual grade for this offseason will come once players develop, the next core grows together, and down the line when it becomes clear whether the Marlins deals led to success. In three years, if the Marlins are closer to a World Series than they have been since 2003, these offseason reviews all suddenly become “A Grade” deals.
On the other hand, if they are still not above #77Wins and no closer to competing than before these moves were made, the deals will be seen as failures. Nonetheless, this mentality relies too heavily on hindsight and playing of the results.
At the moment, I feel comfortable saying the face value of this offseason is in the B+ range, with wiggle room to still be determined by how they use the international slot money, and how Spring Training unfolds.
The Marlins offseason was filled with organization-changing moves; what grade do you assign?— Danny (@all_right_Miami) February 23, 2019
•Victor V Mesa signing?
•Realmuto for Sixto/Alfaro/Stewart
•+ Romo, Granderson, Walker
•Wittgren trade to CLE
•Rule 5 Draft: Riley Ferrell
•Claiming Herrera and Fernandez
Let me know how you would grade the Marlins offseason in the comments!