The 2019 Major League Baseball season is reaching its conclusion. September will put the finishing touches on year two of the Marlins rebuild. To some fans, this represents a merciful end to a difficult campaign of ups and many downs; to others, the season has gone per expectations of a rebuild, as they excitedly anticipate the next phase of what the future holds. Undoubtedly, there are those in the middle who anticipated what the season would look like, yet still feel the agony of experiencing it.
The improved farm system, young pitching staff and rebranding have been bright spots. However, the dreadful on-field play that we’ve endured for the majority of the year cannot be tolerated in 2020. This we know to be true.
So what must the Marlins do this offseason in order to avoid this being the case?
1. Build on a Strength
The Marlins starting rotation has been the primary strength for the 2019 team—Pablo López, Caleb Smith, Sandy “All-Star” Alcantara, and others instill immediate reason for hope at the big league level. They are also the primary reason that the Marlins are not currently the worst team in baseball. This offseason is about further developing MLB-ready arms, while also anticipating that the likes of Sixto Sánchez, Trevor Rogers, Nick Neidert, and other top-shelf pitching prospects will be knocking on the door shortly.
That being said, they shouldn’t feel completely comfortable leaning 100% on internal options. Add some veteran leadership to this staff. For the right duration (think one- and two-year deals), an addition of a Tier 2 veteran SP could help on-field consistency, while also protecting your young arms from massive workloads.
The Marlins will not—and should not—be spending on blue-chip pitching free agents, but a combination of reclamation and undervalued pitchers may accelerate the rebuild nicely.
*If non-tendered by Brewers
**If club option declined by Braves
2. Address Bullpen without Breaking the Bank
There was a time when seemingly every franchise was attempting to build a “super ‘pen,” including the Marlins. With few exceptions, however, teams have been burned by spending heavily on a volatile unit like that. Savvy teams lean on their baseball ops departments to find effective bullpen help for scraps (recall how Nick Anderson was acquired last offseason).
It’s a fine line between efficient and negligent, and the Marlins must be the former after subjecting their fans to arguably the league’s worst bullpen.
How? First, by doing a
much better job of assessing what their in-house arms are good at, and utilizing them accordingly. Common sense, I know, but consider the case of Ryne Stanek. Newsflash: Stanek did not take a plane ride from Tampa to Miami and suddenly forget how to pitch; the only thing that changed was his specific role on the pitching staff. Once a dominant opener for the Rays, he has been almost exclusively used to close games, tasked by the Marlins with filling the shoes of recently dealt Sergio Romo, rather than catering to his own strengths.
The returns are not pretty. This is an example of the Marlins potentially failing to assess fit, and it’s something that needs to change.
Internal options exist in Stanek, Ureña, Garcia, Brice, Keller, Kinley, Guerrero, as well as prospect arms that can make their way to the ‘pen. No need to break the bank on big names, just better understand how to use the talent you already have.
3. Sign a Bat/Leader
Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson were the primary veteran signings for the Marlins this past season. Collectively, they have yielded a -0.9 fWAR. For those unfamiliar with wins above replacement (WAR), it is a stat that attempts to summarize a player’s total contribution to their team. WAR states how Player X compares to your typical replacement level player. When you apply this to the additions of Granderson and Walker, you quickly realize that the Marlins would have been better—statistically speaking—if they had just stood pat and not signed them.
If there were data to assess leadership impact, this duo would lead the team. With that being said, for year 3 of this rebuild, the Marlins will need to sign veteran hitters that do more than just lead.
While it remains unlikely, and unwise, that the Marlins spend heavily (Anthony Rendon) prior to 2021, that does not eliminate them from exploring some other options. Mirroring my desire to sign Yankees D.J. LeMaheiu and Rays Avisail Garcia last offseason, I believe there are options—ranging in salary—to improve the big league club.
4. Extend Brian Anderson
Earlier this month I wrote an entire article on this single topic. Despite a season-ending injury, nothing changes in my outlook. Extend Brian Anderson, show him and the fanbase an excellent move of good faith, and lock up one of the better players of this upcoming core.
5. Address the Managerial Position Early
Don Mattingly is one of the best hitters in the history of the game, but his great playing career has failed to translate to managing, as he has had an up-and-down managerial career (LAD and MIA). While many respect the name, there is also a fair share of the fanbase clamoring for change. Change likely arrives this offseason with his contract expiring and no momentum coming off what’s destined to be an 100-loss season.
A rebuilding team requires an identity, especially in what some consider to be a meaningful stepping stone of a 2020 campaign. Whatever the front office identifies as traits they want to target, attack without mercy and acquire your man. Be decisive and don’t settle for anything less than your No. 1 choice.
Targets: Eddie Rodriguez, Carlos Beltrán, Trey Hillman, Mark DeRosa, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jorge Posada, Joe Espada, Raul Ibanez, and Keith Johnson; Marlins-connected names such as Fredi González, Juan Pierre, Mike Lowell, and Joe Girardi