With the start of Spring Training baseball a little more than a month away, the free agent market’s biggest names - Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu, George Springer, and former friend J.T. Realmuto - are still yet without homes for 2021.
The recent trade by the New York Mets to acquire star shortstop Francisco Lindor and veteran hurler Carlos Carrasco puts them side-by-side with Atlanta for on-paper supremacy in the National League East.
With the Marlins entering year four of the Jeter-Sherman-era and coming off an encouraging 2020 season that saw Don Mattingly take home Manager of the Year honors in the National League, 2021 looks to be another year of defining this club’s core for when it finds itself competitive again.
Uncertainty looms at second base with prospect Isan Diaz not providing any means of encouragement thus far, so team-Swiss army knife Jon Berti may be the safer bet for the time being. Berti finished 2020 with a team-leading .388 on-base percentage while appearing in games at second, short, third, center, and right field.
Early offseason action saw the team tender contracts to Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper, answering the question, for now, of who the team plays at first base, but top prospect Lewin Díaz could be knocking on the door come season’s end.
The biggest question, should the team look to pose a threat in the division is the status of the outfield.
Per MLB.com’s depth chart, the team projects to have Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Lewis Brinson as the primary starters in the outfield. Other options the team has include Harold Ramirez, Magneuris Sierra, and Monte Harrison.
Dickerson, entering the final year of a 2-year deal he signed prior to the 2020 season, hit .258 with 7 home runs in 52 games. All intensive purposes point to him and Miami parting ways following the conclusion of the 2021 season. Ramirez could enter the 2021 season in a platoon with Dickerson, as he’s only a year removed from a promising 119 game showing that saw him hit 11 home runs.
Marte, entering his age 32-season, had $12.5 million option was picked up for 2021, finished last season with a 107 OPS+, hitting .311 with Arizona prior to being acquired by Miami on August 31st. He’ll see the bulk of playing time in center field merely based on financials, but with the sheer strength of the division, could become a trade piece come the deadline, opening the position for a platoon of Monte Harrison or Magneuris Sierra.
Though Brinson should get first dibs on the starting right field job, Miami could look to optimize its offensive production by playing the aforementioned Garrett Cooper in right. In his career, Cooper has logged 248 innings at the position, grading out as average per defensive runs saved. The former New York Yankee finished 2020 with a 130 OPS+, slugging .500 in 34 games.
As far as the odd man out is concerned, Brinson reads as the most viable candidate. Since the start of the 2017 season, the one in which Brinson first debuted, his -3.2 rWAR is tied with Colorado’s Ian Desmond for the second worst mark in baseball, trailing only Baltimore’s Chris Davis’ -6.3, respectively.
OPS+, a metric where 100 is league average and ballparks factor into the outcome, help gauge a player’s offensive production with respect to their peers. Brinson’s OPS+ of 48 ranks 324 of 324 qualified hitters with at least 800 plate appearance since the start of 2017.
And while the former first round pick showed promise in the minor leagues, a total slash line of .182/.249/.304 at the big league level should be enough to make this an easy decision should he struggle at the outset of the 2021 season.