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Sizing up the Marlins’ Strategy to Keep Pace in a Strengthening NL East

Photo by Jose Morales/Unsplash

Are the Fish already fried four months before the 2020 MLB season begins?

Yes, that’s an overly pessimistic question. Still, the concerns of realistic Marlins fans this offseason are justified for two reasons—the ballclub has been subpar in recent memory and the division is getting tougher.

Miami is a tender four months removed from rounding out 2019 as the bottom feeder of the NL East. The club’s 57-105 record was the second-worst in the majors behind Detroit. It was also the record with the most losses in franchise history.

The organization knows something must be done. With Spring Training right around the corner, the solution leveraged by Derek Jeter and friends appears to be a combination of line-up experimentation, farm system reliance, and budget-minded acquisitions.

Swimming with Divisional Sharks

The NL East is shaping up as what could be baseball’s most competitive division this coming season. Washington is coming off a World Series win. Division-winning Atlanta retains a talented core. New York and Philadelphia appear with new managers and aggressive acquisitions.

Expect frequent shifts in the standings and surprising outcomes in many series. Those following day-to-day and taking advantage of the latest promotions from an exclusive roster of experts will be checking the division schedule daily before placing their stakes.

Ballin’ on a Budget

The Marlins aren’t spending on talent like their divisional peers. If Jeter and the front office have a concerted effort planned to rebuild this franchise with tenured, proven players, we have yet to see it. After years of shedding star players—Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, J.T. Realmuto, and now Starlin Castro—the Fish are left with one of baseball’s lowest payroll.

Don Mattingly’s squad currently carries $35.25 million of guaranteed contracts. By contrast, the Opening Day payrolls in 2017 and 2018 were $111.88 million and $98.64 million, respectively.

It’s an uphill battle in a division where the Nationals will pay dueling aces Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer a combined $70.9 million this year.

Of course, the seasonal performance of big league clubs often defies “get what you pay for” logic. But if there was ever a textbook case for Moneyball mojo, it’s the 2020 Marlins.

Photo by neONBRAND/Unsplash

Banking on the Farm System

If one word sums up Miami’s upside ahead of the season it’s potential. There will be no shortage of opportunities for new faces to breakout.

Mattingly turned to 50 different players, including 19 rookies, last season. We’re likely to see a similar approach this year as the Marlins search for the right mix to stay afloat.

Fortunately, Miami has a deep well. The minor league system is ranked fourth-best in the majors and boasts two top-50 prospects in JJ Bleday (OF) and Sixto Sanchez (P). Jesus Sanchez (OF), Jazz Chisholm (SS), Isan Diaz (2B), and Monte Harrison (OF) factor into the top 100.

Shoring Up with Veterans

The Fish will welcome several veterans acquired this offseason, both for the experience and the mentoring they can provide young players.

30-year-old Corey Dickerson (OF) arrives on a 2-year, $17.5 million deal. The 2017 All-Star batted .304 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs in 78 games last season with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Former Dodger Yimi García (P) was added with the first free agent signing of the offseason. The 29-year-old reliever provides much-needed bullpen help. He also brings big market, winning experience to Marlins Park.

Then there’s Matt Kemp (OF), twice a former Dodger and once hailed as the best player in baseball. The Fish signed the 35-year-old to a minor league deal on December 18th. While the three-time All-Star has produced diminishing returns since turning 30, he could benefit from the new lease on life.

Cincinnati surprisingly parted ways with Kemp in May after he landed on the 10-day injured list with a broken rib. The Mets then gave him a minor league trial that lasted just eight games.

A productive spring in Jupiter should nab Kemp a spot on the big league roster.