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Make-or-Break Year: Garrett Cooper

Cooper has missed significant time on the injured list during each of his first four Marlins seasons.

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Garrett Cooper has proved he can be a pretty good, productive hitter for the Marlins when he’s healthy. He debuted for the Fish in 2018 and owns a 119 wRC+ since then, the second-best mark among all their players with at least 400 plate appearances (behind only J.T. Realmuto).

But Cooper’s lack of availability has been the problem here. He has never come close to playing a full season as a Marlin, including last year when he appeared in only 71 games due to an elbow injury.

Every year, you can identify different Marlins players who are in a “make-or-break” situation for various reasons. For 2022, that man is Garrett Cooper. His future with the team is in serious doubt unless he shows that he can bolster their lineup all season long.

Several of Cooper’s previous injuries—particularly his 2021 one—were the result of fielding plays. MLB’s anticipated move to the universal designated hitter should take away some of that risk for him. The Marlins have solid alternatives at first base with Jesús Aguilar and Lewin Díaz, and Cooper hurts the team defensively when sent out to right field (lifetime -6 defensive runs saved at that position over 584 innings). If the league and MLB Players’ Association agree on bringing back the NL DH, Cooper can focus on doing what he does best: swinging a big stick.

Garrett Cooper #26 of the Miami Marlins bats against the Philadelphia Phillies during Game One of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Marlins would love to have a healthy Cooper because his upside as a hitter is terrific. In his last 212 regular season games, he owns a productive .282/.357/.461 slash line with 30 homers, 103 runs batted in, 102 runs scored, 74 walks, and a .818 OPS. Those numbers combined for 3.2 offensive WAR (calculated by Baseball-Reference). From 2019-2021—despite limited playing time—he ranks tied for second place in homers, fourth in hits (202), third in doubles (34), fourth in RBI’s, fourth in runs, and also fourth in walks on the Marlins.

Cooper is one of the rare players who hits much better at LoanDepot Park (career 142 wRC+) than he does on the road (96 wRC+). When he gets his barrel on the ball, no stadium can contain it. In every season since 2019, he’s had home runs travel over 440 feet.

The Marlins’ competitive window is opening now, but this is not a roster filled with established stars. Their greatest strength is their depth and they need a high level of production and consistency from people like Cooper.

Even under normal circumstances, the Marlins expected Cooper to be recovered from Tommy John surgery in time for the start of spring training. With the lockout threatening to push back the schedule for organized team activities, he should definitely be 100% ready.

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