Before the player movement phase of the MLB offseason got underway, the Marlins completed several savvy transactions by hiring Oz Ocampo as assistant general manager, naming Skip Schumaker as manager and retaining Mel Stottlemyre Jr. as pitching coach on Schumaker’s staff. It’s admittedly difficult to quantify their impact, but the club added “new voices” in positions where change was needed while keeping around the one man whose voice has loudly resonated with many of their talented arms. Those moves shouldn’t be ignored.
Now, the real fun begins. At least for one more winter, the Marlins’ main objective should be constructing a major league roster that wins more games than they did the prior year.
A portion of that improvement will need to come from within, extracting more production out of players who underachieved in 2022 or missed time due to injuries (or those who underachieved because they tried playing through injuries). However, the Marlins do not currently have sufficient talent or complementary pieces to contend for the postseason. If motivated to chase that upside, they have to get as much outside help as possible without depleting their farm system or long-term financial flexibility.
Before getting to specific moves, these are the parameters that I feel any “successful” Marlins offseason would need to follow:
- Raise Payroll—Throughout the last three decades, Marlins owners have routinely declined to spend commensurate with their revenue. Bruce Sherman is upholding this tradition. Marlins payroll has barely budged since he took over despite the benefits of a re-negotiated local television deal, selling ballpark naming rights and hosting the upcoming World Baseball Classic in Miami. Jersey patch sponsorships are arriving soon, too. Sherman, Schumaker and Kim Ng insist that they’re aiming to be a perennial playoff team. They will fail under the current conditions. How can you regularly rank 25th or lower out of the 30 MLB teams in player spending and expect to be top-12 in regular season performance? Final 2022 Marlins payroll was a tick above $80 million. For Sherman to demonstrate that he’s a competent steward of this franchise, let’s bump that up to approximately $95 million entering 2023.
- Acquire a Center Fielder—It was apparent at this time a year ago that the Marlins did not have a viable center field option in house. Throughout 2022, they experimented at the position with several different young guys who had been developed as corner outfielders; except for brief hot streaks by Jesús Sánchez in April and Bryan De La Cruz in September, the results were awful, both offensively and defensively (combined -1.1 Wins Above Average, per Baseball-Reference). So yeah, it’s still apparent!
- Balance the Lineup—The Marlins were far and away MLB’s least effective team in 2022 at scoring against left-handed pitching. As a group, their weight runs created plus was 29% below league average in those matchups. That’s on the heels of being among the worst in 2021. Their offseason activity cannot be complete without bringing in hitters who have a recent history of mashing lefties.
- Keep Sandy Alcantara and Eury Pérez—These are the only untouchables. At this juncture of their respective careers, the Marlins must hold onto them. Find out how close Alcantara can come to replicating his Cy Young season and what Pérez’s transition to the majors looks like. Be open to dealing anybody else.
2022-23 Marlins Offseason Moves—Successful Edition
- Sign free agent José Abreu to a two-year, $32 million deal
- Sign free agent Sean Manaea to a one-year, $10 million deal
- Sign free agent Zack Britton to a one-year, $3 million deal (performance bonuses for total appearances and games finished, maxing out at $9 million)
- Sign free agent Steve Cishek to a one-year, minor league deal ($1.75 million salary if in majors)
- Sign Jesús Luzardo to a four-year, $30 million contract extension with a club option for 2027
- Trade Trevor Rogers, Bryan De La Cruz and Kahlil Watson to the Pirates for Bryan Reynolds
- Trade Pablo López, Dylan Floro and Jon Berti to the Twins for Jorge Polanco and Brooks Lee
- Trade Garrett Cooper and Jake Eder to the Dodgers for Brusdar Graterol and Brandon Neeck
- Trade Miguel Rojas, Daniel Castano and Marcus Johnson to the Reds for Tejay Antone
- Trade Jerar Encarnación to the Mariners for Justus Sheffield
- Select Troy Johnston, Zach King and Josh Simpson to the 40-man roster
- Non-tender Jeff Brigham and Elieser Hernandez
Free agent contract figures based closely on median values from Jon Becker’s 2022-23 MLB Matrices
This would be the resulting Marlins 40-man roster:
Pitchers (21): Sandy Alcantara, Tejay Antone, Anthony Bender, Richard Bleier, Huascar Brazoban, Zack Britton, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Brusdar Graterol, Zach King, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Max Meyer, Andrew Nardi, Nick Neidert, Tommy Nance, Steven Okert, Sixto Sánchez, Tanner Scott, Justus Sheffield, Josh Simpson
Position Players (19): José Abreu, Brian Anderson, JJ Bleday, Peyton Burdick, Jazz Chisholm Jr., José Devers, Lewin Díaz, Nick Fortes, Avisaíl García, Jordan Groshans, Payton Henry, Troy Johnston, Charles Leblanc, Jorge Polanco, Bryan Reynolds, Jesús Sánchez, Jorge Soler, Jacob Stallings, Joey Wendle
Entering Opening Day, once Bender and Meyer (and possibly others) are placed on the 60-day injured list, that makes room for Cishek and allows for this projected 26-man active roster:
- Sandy Alcantara, Tejay Antone, Richard Bleier, Zack Britton, Edward Cabrera, Steve Cishek, Braxton Garrett, Brusdar Graterol, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Tommy Nance, Steven Okert, Tanner Scott
- José Abreu, Brian Anderson, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Lewin Díaz, Nick Fortes, Avisaíl García, Charles Leblanc, Jorge Polanco, Bryan Reynolds, Jesús Sánchez, Jorge Soler, Jacob Stallings, Joey Wendle
What would make this “successful”
José Abreu, the 2020 American League MVP, has been on the short list of best hitters in baseball over the last decade, especially against lefties. Why would he even be affordable for a thrifty organization like the Marlins? Because of his age—turning 36 in January—and the lack of power he showed at the end of his White Sox tenure (career-low 15 HR and .446 SLG in 2022). There is the risk of Abreu gradually fading into a run-of-the-mill placeholder first baseman, but there’s also a strong statistical resemblance between he and Nelson Cruz, which gives me optimism that he’ll age gracefully. To accommodate other moves, this contract would ideally be backloaded ($13M in 2023 and $19M in 2024).
As Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic brought to my attention, Sean Manaea’s changeup was largely responsible for his steep drop-off in effectiveness from 2021 to 2022. From year to year, that pitch went drop 10 runs better than league average to 11 runs below league average. Mel Stottlemyre Jr.’s track record with Marlins pitchers suggests that he can help Manaea troubleshoot this particular issue and go back onto the market in search of a much more lucrative contract.
Zack Britton and Steve Cishek consistently post lower earned run averages than their peripheral stats would suggest. The idea of having them in the same bullpen would be overwhelmingly exciting...if we were entering the year 2017. Fast-forwarding to 2023, there is evidence that both may be in decline, but that’s what makes it possible to sign them for modest commitments.
I have done a full 180 on Luzardo over the past year. He can be a playoff-caliber starter. As a Scott Boras client, I don’t foresee him considering a Sandy Alcantara-style extension that buys out three free agent years, but the deal described above would allow the Marlins to grab a little extra club control. I used Aaron Ashby’s Brewers extension as a loose comp.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi describes Bryan Reynolds as “unlikely to be dealt this offseason.” Respectfully, I disagree. The Pirates’ asking price will be steep yet attainable for the Marlins. Even if his 2022 defensive struggles in center prove to be more than an outlier, Reynolds has the offensive prowess to compensate for it.
As dynamic as Bryan De La Cruz was at the plate to close out last season, remember that his struggles necessitated a demotion to the minors prior to that. This is a sell-high opportunity.
The encouraging 2022 second-half performances by Luzardo, Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett have pushed me to the point of feeling comfortable about trading Pablo López. Although there’s a solid argument that the Marlins should’ve moved him months ago, waiting until after the season has allowed for more creative deal frameworks. Dylan Floro is only a year away from free agency. Jon Berti had more stolen bases last season (41) than the entire Twins roster (38)—he should hold significant value to a team that did a lousy job running the bases.
With the market price for shortstops so exorbitant, now’s the time to find out whether Jazz Chisholm Jr. can handle the position. The Marlins could plausibly use Jorge Polanco there—he was an All-Star at short in 2019—but I lean toward giving the more challenging defensive assignment to the younger player. Either way, there’s your double play combination for the near future. Miami had the opportunity to simply draft Brooks Lee for themselves in July. He’s worth the trouble of acquiring this way.
Brusdar Graterol has posted a strangely pedestrian strikeout rate during his major league career despite boasting elite fastball velocity, but he’s been trending up in that department. His ability to prevent homers makes him mostly immune to meltdown appearances. The Venezuelan right-hander is four seasons away from free agency. The Dodgers sought Cooper and Eder in previous trade talks with the Marlins, according to Craig Mish of SportsGrid.
Antone was emerging as a potentially elite reliever in 2021 prior to blowing out his elbow, flaunting a pair of unhittable breaking balls. Miguel Rojas has said all the right things in the past about transitioning to a lesser utility role if the Marlins ever wanted to go with a different starting shortstop, but that will be easier said than done coming off a terrific defensive season. He could use a change of scenery after eight valuable seasons with the Fish.
Justus Sheffield has already been traded twice before. Swapping Jerar Encarnación for him is recognizing that in 2023, the Marlins would be prioritizing rotation depth over corner outfield depth in the aftermath of the aforementioned moves. Both have one minor league option remaining. If all goes swimmingly for Miami’s main starters, Sheffield could be a bullpen contributor.
When the dust settles on this hypothetical offseason, the Marlins would still have intriguing talent lurking in Triple-A Jacksonville. Eury Pérez is on the cusp of debuting. Jordan Groshans, Peyton Burdick and JJ Bleday...don’t give up on those guys or assume that they will be “blocked” all year long. Healthy campaigns from new additions Abreu, Manaea, Reynolds and Polanco and bounce-back candidates Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler should be enough to propel the Marlins to a winning record, but there is hope even if part of that plan goes awry.
How many games would the Marlins win in 2023 if they made these offseason moves?
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