Felipe A. Zwanzger – September 24, 2018
The 2018 season kicked off what seems to be the newest version of a Miami Marlins rebuild. Increased optimism can be attributed to the new regime in town, but things will not be pretty in Miami for the very next 2-3 years at the earliest. In what seems to be a small victory for the team, they will likely avoid 100 losses and finish with the 3rd or 4th overall pick in the 2019 draft. With that being said, here are the biggest takeaways from the 2018 season and how they position the Marlins for the coming offseason.
Young Starting Rotation Shows Promise
While Jose Urena has taken a positive trend forward this year by lowering his walk rate and increasing his strikeout rate, the same cannot be said be said for Dan Straily, who has experienced an up and down year battling with injuries. Neither pitcher figures to generate much trade value given the surplus of pitching in this years free agent market, so expect the Marlins to hold on and grant them with the first two spots in the rotation for next year.
Jose Urena 30 GS – 168 IP 4.07 ERA (4.15 FIP) 47 BB 128 SO
Dan Straily 23 GS – 122 IP 4.12 ERA (5.11 FIP) 52 BB 99 SO
However, the Marlins young starting pitchers have shown promise and given the Marlins a reason to remain optimistic heading into 2019. Pablo Lopez and Trevor Richards absolutely dominated minor league pitching this year and have held their own at the major league level. Before his season ending shoulder injury, Caleb Smith was proving to be a great find from the minor league brass from their offseason trade with the Yankees. Sandy Alcantara has looked sharp at times, but its becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the serious control issues he has displayed, and may look better suited for a bullpen role in the future.
Trevor Richards 24 GS – 120 IP 4.66 ERA (4.10 FIP) 51 BB 122 SO
Pablo Lopez 10 GS – 58 IP 4.14 ERA (4.48 FIP) 18 BB 46 SO
Caleb Smith 16 GS – 77 IP 4.19 ERA (3.96 FIP) 33 BB 88 SO
The X-factor in the rotation becomes Wei-Yin Chen, who is still under contract for two more years. His overall season stats may not look inspiring to the naked eye, but his road/home splits paint a different picture.
Home: 13 GS – 78 IP 1.62 ERA 22 BB 74 SO
Road: 12 GS – 51 IP 9.29 ERA 22 BB 36 SO
The almost 8 point difference can be as much of a concern as it can be a cause for optimism. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an offseason trade in a salary dump (he is still owed $32 million over two years), but it seems that the Marlins may want to bet on his 2018 home stats and allow him to build more trade value during early next season.
In essence, without the presence of a bonafide ace, this rotation as it is currently assembled, can be a league average rotation with room for improvement with its younger pitchers. Given the surplus of starting pitching in the major leagues and minor league level, the Marlins will likely not be active in the free agent market for starting pitchers, although an affordable option, such as a Trevor Cahill, could make sense for the young team.
The offense is BAD. In-house options won’t address the underlying issue, for now.
The good: JT Realmuto is an All-Star catcher and arguably the best offensive catcher in the game of baseball. JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas have continued their development and both have hit 10 HR’s, which paired with their near elite defense, has them at 2 WAR for the season. Brian Anderson’s solid rookie season, 158 hits deep while providing above average defense at third and right field are overshadowed by Ronald Acuna’s and Juan Soto’s monster debuts. Starlin Castro proved he has plenty left in the tank by posting a .733 OPS with 12 HR’s, good for a 3.4 WAR (his highest since his 2012 All-Star season with the Cubs).
The bad: The outfield. Lewis Brinson has been treading the dreaded Mendoza line most of the year, although a .258 batting average in the second half combined with increased exit velocities give hope for better days ahead. Derek Dietrich provided the club plenty of pop with his 16 HR’s this year, but his below average defense in left field and first base hurt his overall value to the team.
The offense is riddled (no pun intended) with .700 OPS hitters; the lineup lacks a power/impact bat. Miami also needs to find a table setter at the top of the order, an opportunity that Magneuris Sierra has seemingly laid to waste with his poor performance this season (.212 OBP). While top prospect Monte Harrison is looming in the minors, he may still need more seasoning leaving room for a free agent signing, perhaps a Jon Jay or Melky Cabrera.
There’s no sugar coating it, this lineup needs at least one external reinforcement. There’s also uncertainty surrounding JT Realmuto’s future with the team, putting next years offense in serious jeopardy. With no immediate solutions by the way of prospects, expect at least one free agent signing from the Marlins this offseason.
The bullpen. In June, as Kyle Barraclough claimed his NL reliever of the month award, the Marlins relief corps ranked in the top 15 in the league in most every major category. Oh how times change. Kyle Barraclough’s ERA is over 5.00 in the second half. His slider, which had hitters off balance throughout the first half, flattened out and generated a paltry 10% swinging strike rate, down from his career average of 18%. Many believed he would be dealt to a contender by the trade deadline, but the Marlins decided to hold on, and his value has drastically dropped since then. With the volatility of bullpen arms, it remains to be seen whether Barraclough will return to his pre All-Star game form.
While Barraclough struggled, Adam Conley reinvented himself as a valuable bullpen piece after a dismal 2017 season pitching in the starting rotation. Save for two bad outings against the Braves and Red Sox in which he allowed 8 ER, his ERA for the season would have been in the low 3’s which a strikeout rate hovering around 9.0 per 9 innings. Although he couldn’t replicate the absurd strikeout rate from 2018, Drew Steckenrider continue to be a valuable bullpen arm for the Marlins and should see his fair share of save opportunities moving forward.
Nonetheless, this relief corps needs help as well. They wore down as the season progressed (expected from young relievers), and a free agent veteran signing or two wouldn’t hurt. Jesse Chavez could make sense for the team given his versatility and ability to pitch in short and long relief. A reunion with AJ Ramos, who is coming off an injury, should also be in play as he could be seeking a short term deal to help rebuild his value for the 2019-2020 free agent market.
The bullpen was good in the first half, and not so good in the second half. While this is expected from a young relief corps, a few savvy, veteran free agent signings would go a long way in shoring up the relief corps while serving as mentors for the young guys. Strong starts to their seasons could also turn these veterans into trade chips which always become a hot commodity at the trading deadline.
The Final Overview
2019 figures to be yet another long year in Miami. Prospects Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger, acquired in separate deals with the Mariners, should make their Major League debuts by next summer with Monte Harrison not far behind. Expect the team to be active in the free agent market but with more cost effective options rather than “big splashes”. Lewis Brinson should be given every opportunity to remain the starting center fielder, but another poor first half could have the Marlins moving on from their prize of the Christian Yelich trade.
Nonetheless, another step forward from the starting rotation and things might not be as ugly as they seem on paper for the 2019 Miami Marlins. The impending free agency of Martin Prado and Starlin Castro should free up about $25 million by the end of next season, if they are not traded prior to that. This rebuilding process will be long and the 2019 draft should be the main priority of the Marlins as they continue to rebuild and retool their improving, yet depleted farm system. Expect Miami to also be active with international signings as another means of replenish their barren farm system.