It was an awkward 2018-19 offseason for the Miami Marlins. While attempting to make the best of an inevitable J.T. Realmuto trade, they sought high-character veterans to round out their major league roster, hoping to give fans something to look forward to heading into another non-competitive season. At the same time, the Fish were determined to create as much financial flexibility as possible.
The early returns of their activity have been mixed.
Approximately one-third of the way through the regular season, it’s time for a progress report. I won’t cover everybody added to the Marlins organization for 2019—let’s focus on free agent signings (those who got major league deals or have had their minor league deals selected), waiver claims and trades/releases involving incoming or outgoing 40-man roster players.
- INF Neil Walker (.296/.371/.444, 124 wRC+ in 159 PA) is the best hitter on the Marlins! That’s not saying much on this roster, but represents a big rebound from his 2018 form. After praising Walker’s versatility in spring training, the Marlins have limited him exclusively to first base, where his defense rates as below average. Still, his production is a good value for the $2 million signing.
- C Jorge Alfaro (.252/.314/.413, 99 wRC+ in 156 PA) has been basically as advertised: good raw power and speed, terrible plate discipline, questionable receiving and blocking skills, and strong fan appeal. Overall, fine. The soon-to-be 26-year-old will remain under club control for what figure to be his prime years.
- At Fish Stripes, we began hyping up OF Harold Ramírez over the winter. He’s justifying it: .381/.435/.524, 163 wRC+ in 46 PA. The break-glass-in-case-of-emergency center fielder will shift to a corner spot once Lewis Brinson and/or Monte Harrison come up to Miami. Great find for the Fish on a minor league deal.
- INF/OF Jon Berti (.237/.324/.373, 93 wRC+ in 68 PA) was a surprisingly adequate fill-in for underperforming position players. He provided blazing speed and defensive versatility on a no-risk minor league deal. Unfortunately, a left oblique strain suffered earlier this month derailed him. It’s difficult to see his fit on the Marlins moving forward with several high-profile call-ups on the horizon. Maybe Berti will re-emerge in September when rosters expand.
- RHP Sergio Romo (4.26 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 22.9 K% in 19.0 IP) has performed quite well in save situations, converting all 10 opportunities thus far. Adding a positive veteran presence to the clubhouse played a role in Miami’s $2.5 million commitment—Romo has brought that consistently since spring training. The 36-year-old figures to attract widespread interest at the trade deadline...but a very minimal return. The Marlins might be better off retaining him for the intangibles.
- RHP Austin Brice (2.29 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 19.6 K% in 19.2 IP) is in the midst of a career year. A dramatic increase in his curveball usage seems to be playing a role in that. Let’s see the Marlins use Brice in more high-leverage situations before getting overly excited, though.
- OF Curtis Granderson (.187/.284/.381, 79 wRC+ in 155 PA) has started in the leadoff spot for 32 of the first 51 Marlins games. He’s been a midseason trade chip the previous two years; that looks like a relative long shot in 2019 now that he’s limited to the corner outfield spots defensively. In the meantime, Granderson is one of the vocal veterans keeping the peace in the clubhouse despite the Marlins’ discouraging production on the field.
- The prospect-for-prospect trade that netted the Marlins RHP Nick Anderson (5.40 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 41.2 K% in 21.2 IP) might not be quite as clever as initially hoped. After a sensational April, opponents have stopped chasing Anderson’s curveball outside the strike zone. As a result, he’s issuing way too many walks, and often getting burned by them. We’ll see how he adjusts...
- It’s not really working out with OF/INF Rosell Herrera (.198/.274/.256, 47 wRC+ in 95 PA). He was worth a shot on a waiver claim to serve as an upgrade over Yadiel Rivera. Turns out, Herrera is only a marginal upgrade, similarly overmatched at the plate, the best Marlins defensive center fielder by default on a roster that doesn’t have any alternatives for the time being. Seriously doubt he has a future with the organization.
- The most important thing for RHP Sixto Sánchez (4.05 ERA, 2.84 ERA, 18.1 K% in 26.2 IP) is regaining the elite stuff he had in the Phillies organization. By all accounts, that’s been the case this season, touching 100 miles per hour on his fastball multiple times while throwing both his slider and changeup for strikes.
Don’t count on seeing Sixto in the majors in 2019, but an important intermediate goal for him would be setting a new career high in innings pitched (95.0 IP in 2017).
- Anybody else noticing what RHP Tyler Stevens is doing? He owns a 1.46 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 27.2 K% in 24.2 IP at High-A/Double-A. Two years removed from being drafted by the Angels, Stevens had a month-long scoreless streak recently snapped.
- The 27-year-old RHP Jordan Milbrath (4.50 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 25.5 K% in 22.0 IP) is more likely than Stevens to see major league action this season. No matter how you spin it, he was an underwhelming return from the Nick Wittgren trade. At least Milbrath is throwing strikes consistently after struggling to do so from 2016-2018. Almost time to find out whether or not it translates to the majors.
- RHP Will Stewart (6.86 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 18.1 K% in 39.1 IP) owns the worst earned run average among all healthy Marlins starting pitching prospects. He’s been the victim of some poor defense at High-A Jupiter, but is not doing himself any favors with a reported drop in fastball velocity, leaving him easier to square up. He figures to remain with the Hammerheads throughout 2019. Still only 21 years old.
- The Marlins may have cut a 2019 All-Star. INF/OF Derek Dietrich (.237/.353/.640, 151 wRC+ in 136 PA) isn’t even starting every day for the Reds, but he’s been the ultimate platoon player, annihilating right-handed pitching. They are using him primarily at second base. Although non-tendering Dietrich was the financially shrewd move, the Marlins ought to be scrutinized for not pursuing him on an incentive-laden minor league deal after that considering the numerous offensive concerns they left unaddressed.
- Trading RHP Nick Wittgren prior to spring training was a totally unforced error. After a very brief residency with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, the right-hander has performed like an elite reliever in the American League (1.45 ERA, 1.71 FIP, 30.9 K% in 18.2 IP). If the underachieving Indians decide to flip him this summer, they’re poised to receive a substantial prospect haul. The Marlins have nobody to fault but themselves.
- Same old C J.T. Realmuto, pretty much (.271/.325/.464, 106 wRC+ in 200 PA). His offensive impact is comparable to his career averages, while his work behind the plate has been outstanding, both as a pitch framer and deterrent to base-stealers. Realmuto’s 2.0 fWAR is tops among all MLB catchers.
JT Realmuto one hopped the throw perfectly. I seriously can’t stop watching this! pic.twitter.com/uYPwMpDa0W— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) May 2, 2019
As the Phillies continue to lead the NL East, the trade is shaping up to be a win-win.
- 3B Brian Schales leads the entire Twins farm system with a 172 wRC+ since arriving in the Nick Anderson trade. Caveats apply, however. Schales is doing it while repeating the Double-A Southern League, and he isn’t producing at all lately—the 23-year-old has been on the injured list for more than a month. An unsustainable .407 BABIP suggests Schales’ numbers are being distorted by good luck over a small sample size.
- It’s contagious: RHP Kyle Barraclough (4.87 ERA, 5.09 FIP, 24.5 K% in 20.1 IP) is underperforming just like every other Nationals reliever. He took the L for them against his former team on Memorial Day.
Pretty big contrast from 2018, when Barraclough was practically unhittable for the Marlins through the first few months of the season. The $1 million of international bonus pool money acquired via that trade went toward signing the Mesa brothers.
- Since being squeezed off the 40-man roster, RHP Merandy Gonzalez passed through the Giants’ hands and has been relieving for Cardinals affiliates during the regular season (5.40 ERA, 6.56 FIP, 17.3 K% in 21.2 IP). It’s doubtful that he makes a major league impact for them in 2019 barring numerous pitching injuries. Still only 23 years old, his inability to generate swinging strikes in this new, limited role is a red flag.
- Perhaps RHP Dan Straily thought he suffered the ultimate indignity when he was cut by the National League’s worst team at the end of spring training. But the veteran right-hander arguably hit rock bottom on Thursday, when the historically bad Baltimore Orioles removed him from their starting rotation due to ineffectiveness. He owned a 9.09 ERA, 8.85 FIP and 10.5% strikeout rate in 34 2⁄3 innings at the time of the decision.
- The top pitching prospect in the depleted Marlins farm system at one point, LHP Dillon Peters was traded for Tyler Stevens in November. Maybe he’ll get a crack at the Angels rotation eventually, but his brief call-up in April from Triple-A Salt Lake only involved low-leverage relief work (3.00 ERA, 7.77 FIP, 26.7 K% in 3.0 IP). Peters turns 27 later this summer.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and updated entering May 28 unless otherwise noted