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Marlins must continue adding to outfield this offseason

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Enjoy the Brinson/De La Cruz/Sánchez trio down the stretch, but don’t pencil them in as starters for 2022.

Miami Marlins center fielder Lewis Brinson (25), center fielder Magneuris Sierra (34) and right fielder Bryan De La Cruz (77) celebrate after defeating the Chicago Cubs at loanDepot park Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jesús Sánchez has returned from the injured list. During his one-month hiatus, the Marlins traded away a pair of valuable veteran outfielders in Starling Marte and Adam Duvall, but softening the blow of those departures, Lewis Brinson and Bryan De La Cruz have done a remarkable job filling their shoes.

Entering play on Tuesday, Brinson, De La Cruz and Sánchez have been solid to above-average hitters in 2021 (121 wRC+, 111 wRC+ and 96 wRC+, respectively) and effective with their gloves, too. They’re each affordable for 2022 and controllable for multiple years beyond that.

Barring injury/illness, these will be the three most-used Marlins outfielders down the stretch, and that should be enjoyable to watch. But regardless of what they achieve through season’s end, the club cannot realistically expect to contend in 2022 with them atop the depth chart.

These are the 43 regular season games remaining for the Marlins:

  • Aug 17-18 vs. Braves (2 G)
  • Aug 19-22 at Reds (4 G)
  • Aug 24-26 vs. Nationals (3 G)
  • Aug 27-29 vs. Reds (3 G)
  • Aug 31-Sept 2 at Mets (4 G)
  • Sept 3-5 vs. Phillies (3 G)
  • Sept 7-9 vs. Mets (3 G)
  • Sept 10-12 at Braves (3 G)
  • Sept 13-15 at Nationals (3 G)
  • Sept 17-19 vs. Pirates (3 G)
  • Sept 20-22 vs. Nationals (3 G)
  • Sept 24-26 at Rays (3 G)
  • Sept 28-30 at Mets (3 G)
  • Oct 1-3 vs. Phillies (3 G)

There are 12 combined games against the Nats and Bucs, both members of the Magnificently Bad Seven, the phrase coined by ESPN’s Jeff Passan to describe MLB teams who have blatantly crippled their rosters to lose games (and improve 2022 draft position). Marlins player performance in those matchups must be taken with a grain of salt. Will the NL East race be decided during the final weekend? Possibly. However, odds are that there is enough separation between the Phillies, Mets and Braves to declare a winner before that, removing the stakes from some or all of Miami’s last series.

It’s a small sample size to begin with, and approximately one-third of it is comprised of meaningless games. Then account for the inevitability that Magneuris Sierra and Jorge Alfaro will receive sporadic playing time, we’ll have even fewer opportunities to see the dynamic outfield trio.

Taking it on a case-by-case basis, Brinson from 2018-2019 was arguably the worst regularly used outfielder in the majors. He has applied tangible changes over the last two seasons that, in my opinion, make his career stats misleading (he’s improving!). Even so, it’s unreasonable to label him as anything more than an average-ish everyday player. He continues to make poor swing decisions that limit his opportunities to get on base.

Fish Stripes original GIF

De La Cruz demonstrated his defensive aptitude immediately upon debuting for the Fish on July 30. He rates positively across the board according to Defensive Runs Saved, Outs Above Average and Ultimate Zone Rating. The 24-year-old has good pitch recognition, producing a similar weighted on-base average against fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed stuff, per Baseball Savant. He’s also benefiting from an unsustainable .421 batting average on balls in play.

We simply don’t have enough time to reach a verdict on De La Cruz’s legitimacy in 2021. He’ll still have three minor league options entering next year, so I would hesitate to project him as an Opening Day starter, much less a franchise cornerstone player.

Of these outfielders, Sánchez is the safest bet to begin 2022 with a prominent role on the Marlins. He will be out of options, but unlike Brinson, he won’t be arbitration eligible yet, seemingly removing any motivation that the front office would have to trade him. The Fish are devoid of established left-handed hitting—Jazz Chisholm Jr. is their brightest hope in the infield, and Sánchez can possibly offer the same upside at his position. His early-career batted ball quality shows a lot of promise.


I believe that the Marlins erred in their handling of the vets. According to the Miami Herald’s reporting, they declined to offer Marte anything close to market value in contract extension negotiations. They saved faced by flipping him for the highly regarded Jesús Luzardo, but then in sending Duvall to the Braves, left themselves without any trustworthy outfielders.

In addition to Brinson, De La Cruz and Sánchez, there are more intriguing outfielders in the Marlins’ pipeline, including JJ Bleday, Kameron Misner, Peyton Burdick, Griffin Conine and Víctor Mesa Jr. However, teams with serious aspirations to contend do not lean entirely on potential over track record.

Marte will be available on the free agent market this offseason. Duvall (mutual option for 2022) could be as well. Most likely, though, the Marlins have other outfield targets in mind that they can use their organizational pitching depth to acquire via trade. I’ll be curious to find out who those individuals are, because their internal options can’t be trusted to carry them back to October.

Poll

How many of Lewis Brinson, Bryan De La Cruz and Jesús Sánchez be Opening Day starters for the 2022 Marlins? (assuming the universal DH)

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    All 3
    (7 votes)
  • 47%
    2 of them
    (24 votes)
  • 35%
    1 of them
    (18 votes)
  • 3%
    none of them
    (2 votes)
51 votes total Vote Now