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Marlins On The Precipice: How a few moves could position Miami to win the division

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 Miami Marlins finished 4th in the NL East, with the 6th-worst record in the baseball. How could they possibly be close to winning the division? Let’s start with some positive developments from the 2021 season.

Miami had multiple young starting pitchers elevate their performances and which should gives them hope going forward to build around them. The first young pitcher I want to highlight is former first round pick, Trevor Rogers.

Trevor had a phenomenal season, finishing second in the NL rookie of the year award voting. He pitched to a 2.64 ERA, with a 2.55 FIP (Fielding Independent Rate), racking up 4.2 WAR on the season in 133 innings pitched.

Sandy Alcantara also had a fantastic season in 2021. Alcantara finished with a 3.19 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and also finished with 4.2 WAR on 205 innings pitched.

Pablo Lopez finished with a 3.07 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 2.5 WAR on 102 innings pitched.

While Miami’s 2021 season didn’t go as hoped, the team still took some major steps in the right direction moving forward. With multiple young starting pitchers already having success in the big leagues, with several more top prospects behind them, Miami is well on its way to competing in 2022 going forward. Miami is projected to have a payroll of approximately 56 million in 2022, while their Chief Executive Officer, Derek Jeter, has said publicly they would be looking to spend some money this offseason (reported by ESPN). For the purpose of the article I have selected a payroll mark of 120 million dollars for the 2022 Miami team, plotting them around middle of the pack in most years. Now we get to the moves.

The first move I think Miami needs to make to push for the division is a trade. Their offensive production is not catching up to the pitching development, and it’s time to upgrade their lineup by dealing some of their young starting pitching depth. The Marlins should look to trade one of: Max Meyer, Sixto Sanchez, and Edward Cabrera, along with JJ Bleday, and another young player like Isan Diaz, for Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics.

Olson has been one of the best 1st baseman in the game for multiple years now. He has incredible raw power that has been unleashed in games over the past couple full seasons. Excluding 2020, Olson has hit 24, 29, 36, and 39 home runs in his years in the MLB. That impressive power, coupled with his patience at the plate (13.1 BB%), is part of why he is so valuable at the plate with a wRC+ of 146 (46% above average). These numbers show why Miami needs to execute a trade of this sort and bring him to town. Not only would he provide fantastic offense at the dish, but his defense at 1st is also spectacular, saving the 3rd most runs at the position with 6. All of these traits combined are why Olson accumulated 5 WAR in 2021 and has become one of the better 1st baseman in baseball for several years. Olson is projected for a 12 million dollar salary in 2022, which if we add to the 56 million before, brings us to 68 million (not exact, as departing players would take some money off, but we’ll forget about that for now).

The next move I think the Marlins should make to improve their team and help their young pitching, is signing Nicholas Castellanos. While Castellanos is very bad when it comes to OF defense (second worst DRS among those qualified in RF), his offensive production more than makes up for it. In 2021, Castellanos finished with 4.2 WAR, with 140 wRC+ with an average walk rate. While Nick’s all-around game isn’t as solid as Olson’s, he still brings some power to the lineup (34 home runs), and is willing to take walks when they give them to him. The Marlins would have to open up the checkbook and sign Nick as a free agent, with his projected salary being around 20 million a year (mlbtraderumors.com). Miami is in position to afford a move like this, and I believe they should sign him to a 5 year deal worth 100 million. This signing would cost Miami a draft pick in compensation as Castellanos declined the Red’s qualifying offer. The combination of Olson + Castellanos would give Miami a 1-2 left-right punch in the middle of the lineup, without completely breaking the bank. The move would bump the Marlins up to 88 million dollars for the 2022 season.

The final move for the Marlins this offseason would be in my opinion the most exciting: Javier Baez. Javy, as he is known throughout the game, is one of the most exciting players in the game. His electric play style and baseball IQ would give Marlins fans excitement at the ballpark, and his defense and hitting would also bring improvement to the team. Javy has already won 1 gold glove at SS, and has been a finalist for MVP in 2018. Javy had a wRC+ of 116 in 2021, racking up 3.2 WAR on the season. The issue Javy has had since his 2018 season has been his strikeout %, which has increased from 25.9% to the mid 30s for most of 2021. Signing Baez would definitely be the highest risk/reward signing for the Marlins, but he would also add significant power to this lineup, and would instantly be a fan favorite bringing excitement to the ballpark, while still having value even if his strikeout numbers don’t go down to his 2018 levels. Javy is projected to get 5 years at 20 million a year (mlbtraderumors.com), bringing his contract to 5 years, 100 million. If Miami were to sign Baez, it would take their 2022 payroll to 108 million dollars, leaving them under the 120 million mark we set in the beginning (which was arbitrary).

The 2022 lineup could potentially be:

1. Brian Anderson, 3B

2. Nicholas Castellanos, RF

3. Matt Olson, 1B

4. Javier Baez, SS

5. Jesus Aguilar, DH (If DH is brought to NL)

6. Jesus Sanchez, LF

7. Jorge Alfaro, C

8. Jazz Chisholm, 2B

9. Lewis Brinson, CF

With the potential Starting Pitching:

Trevor Rogers

Sandy Alcantara

Pablo Lopez

Sixto Sanchez

Max Meyer

Zach Thompson

Meyer and Sanchez could be changed with Edward Cabrera, depending on who would be moved in a potential trade for Olson.

These potential moves would give Miami 3 above-average players to inject into their lineup, helping their young pitching as they would have run support behind them. Miami could further bolster their 2022 team by trading some of their young position player depth from the OF, (Monte Harrison, Lewis Brinson, Garrett Cooper) to acquire some bullpen help to close out games. While I don’t think the moves mentioned would lead Miami to a World Series, I do think it would take the first step towards the division, and October, with more moves coming afterwards to fill the missing pieces in the years following.

Sources: Baseball-Reference, (https://www.baseball-reference.com) FanGraphs, (https://www.fangraphs.com)