Projected Division Finish
1. Washington Nationals
2. Miami Marlins
3. New York Mets
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Finish: 77-85 (Fourth in NL East)
Projected Batting Order
2B Dee Gordon
LF Christian Yelich
RF Giancarlo Stanton
1B Mike Morse
CF Marcell Ozuna
3B Martin Prado
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Henderson Alvarez
RHP Mat Latos
RHP Tom Koehler
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Jose Fernandez
CLOSER Steve Cishek
The Marlins have decided the time has come to turn the corner. They gave Giancarlo Stanton the biggest contract in baseball ($325 million) that locks him up for over 13 years. (Although it is back loaded and there is an opt out clause in the middle.) The tradeoff was the Marlins had to show they were committed to winning. So they made some trades and free agent signings and hope to be a far more competitive team this season. The question is, do you trust them? They have done this before in 2012 when they were opening up their new stadium. They went all in in that offseason then gave up on the plan halfway through the year. Why is this year different? Some don’t think it is and believe that at the first sign of weakness, the Marlins will abort their plan to contend. In 2012, they wanted a lot of new fans and ticket sales for their first year in a new ballpark. But since it was already paid for (by tax payers), there was no incentive to keep spending money. They’ve committed a ton of cash to Stanton, which keeps them on the hook for 13 years (or perhaps only 6). I think that may be enough to keep them committed to winning (and therefore spending) for a longer term. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they still shock everyone and pull the plug early because Jeffrey Loria and his front office lack scruples and are undeserving of trust or fan support.
Last year’s Marlins offense was pretty weak after Giancarlo Stanton. Even with Stanton, they only ranked 12th out of 15 NL team with 122 HR. That being said, they were 5th in team batting AVG (253) and added 15 Wins from 2013 to 2014. Still, they want to improve overall on offense with Stanton constantly being pitched around and seeing themselves ranked near the bottom of the league in R and 13th in SB. So they added some new names to help this offense be more competitive this year.
This offense is built around Giancarlo Stanton. He’s an elite power hitter who has proven he can handle being pitched around, can hit for average, play good defense and steal some bags. He is a complete ball player. He’s not an elite hitter in terms of average (career 268), but a lot of that has to do with the fact that he gets so much special attention, has no protection in the lineup and plays in a tough home ballpark. But he excels in the power department. Last year he hit 288 with 37 HR, 105 RBI, 89 R and 13 SB. And all that was only in 145 games as his season was cut short after he took a fastball to the face in a late season game against the Brewers. The hope is, he will have better protection in the lineup this year and have more pitches to hit. But he’s gotten off to a slow start this season. My initial projections for him were 275 with 35 HR, 115 RBI, 100 R and 12 SB. But based on the start he and his team have had, that seems unlikely. There still isn’t a lot of incentive to pitch to him. He’ll have to continue to makes adjustments and learn to lay off the high fastball, which he has struggled to do so far. I know he’s got the talent. Let’s see if he can make the adjustments necessary to succeed.
He is joined in the outfield by the talented Christian Yelich. He hit 284 in 144 games (he wasn’t a rookie since he appeared in 62 games the year before) hitting 284 with 9 HR, 54 RBI, 94 R and 21 SB. He also sported an impressive 362 OBP far beyond his years. But he, like many of his teammates, got off to a bad start and has missed some games with injury. If he heats back up, he’ll hit second, but right now is hitting in the bottom of the lineup. My initial projections were 270 with 10 HR, 60 RBI, 80 R and 25 SB. But he’ll really have to pick it up to reach those plateaus.
The third member of this talented outfield is Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna was the primary protection for Stanton last year. And he didn’t do a bad job with 23 HR and
85 RBI to go with a 265 AVG. He’s not the same caliber hitter of Yelich or Stanton with a more limited contact history and a higher strikeout rate. He is valued for his power and I think he could reach 30 HR this year, if only hit 250. I’ll say he gets to 28 HR with another 85 RBI.
I mentioned Dee Gordon being added by Miami to be their new second baseman and leadoff man. He had a breakout season last year with the Dodgers and has gotten off to an incredible start this year. He never quite caught on in LA for years, but moved to second base last year and had his best season yet. He hit 289 with 64 SB and 92 R. The hope is that he can continue to do that in Miami. A lot of people think he’s a flash in the pan because of his low OBP and weak second half. I can honestly say I was a little skeptical and therefore put my projections on the lower end of the spectrum. My thought was 270 with an OBP around 315, 50 SB and 85 R. But as the NL’s leading hitter at this point, he may soar far beyond those projections.
Michael Morse and Martin Prado were both added to lock down first and third respectively. Morse was a member of the World Series winning Giants last year. He hit 279 in 131 games with 16 HR and 61 RBI. He was limited at the end of last year and I don’t think he’s the player he used to be. My projections for him were lower than others: 245, 15 HR and 65 RBI in 120 games. He’s gotten off to a slow start this year and is currently on the DL. Injury prone guys tend to stay injured and I think that hurts his bottom line.
Prado is a very good baseball player. He’s not the kind of guy to hit 320 or slug 20 HR or steal 20 bags. But he is a great ball player who plays above average defense at multiple positions, is a great clubhouse presence and gives in good ABs every time he’s at the plate. I think he’s good for 290 with 10 HR, 5 SB and 75+ RBI or R, depending on where he hits in the lineup. I thought he’d hit 6th, but he’s been hitting second as he’s one of the Marlins leading hitters right now.
The rest of the lineup includes shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and a catcher. The plan going into the season was to have Jarrod Saltalamacchia be the primary man behind the plate. But even with two thirds of his 3-year, $21 million contract remaining on the books, the Marlins decided that keeping Salty was a mistake. After another slow start, he was cut and replaced by Jeff Mathis and J.T. Realmuto. At short, Hechavarria had the best season of his young career in 2014. He hit 276 with 34 RBI and 53 R. I didn’t expect much from him this year, but he’s actually also off to a hot start. Since his defense is what matters, any offense he gives is a bonus. I had him down for 250 with maybe 10 SB and 50 R. He’s playing better than that now and may soar way past those projections.
That’s the offense. It’s not great, but it may be the second best in the division after the Nationals. It’s also not very deep. They do have a quality fourth outfielder in Ichiro Suzuki. Donovan Solano lost his starting job at second but can play the position defensively. And both Jeff Baker and Justin Bour are talented young hitters who can cover first base. They will need health and good fortune to be successful. They haven’t had that so far.
The defense should be okay. With Saltalamacchia gone, the defense behind the plate improves. Mathis is a good defensive catcher; Realmuto is young but getting better. Baker and Bour are both better than Morse at first, but neither is great. And while Dee Gordon has great range and is a better second baseman than shortstop, he’s not great at that position either. Hechavarria and Prado are above average to good at short and third and the defense in the outfield is phenomenal across the board. Yelich and Stanton are especially good in the corners and Ozuna has an excellent arm in left. Ichiro can handle either corner off the bench. This defense is good in the outfield and looks stronger on the left side than the right. It’s fine, but not very deep.
Many have extolled the Marlins pitching staff. None more so than the Marlins themselves. But while they have talent and youth, they haven’t grown into the top-flight staff that Miami thought they would. That being said, most other people looked at them and said they would be good…eventually. So, your opinion on this staff is likely tied to your geography. If you live in South Florida, you may be a little frustrated with the arms on the staff. If you don’t, you see that there is talent that is already solid and could be good very soon. Last year was not their time though. They ranked in the bottom half of the league in team ERA and second to last in hits allowed and Ks. They were third to last in WHIP. And they lost their ace to Tommy John surgery early in the year. To make up for that, the Marlins added some veteran arms to complement the young talent they already have.
Mat Latos was one of the new arms brought in in the offseason. Latos is an excellent, reliable pitcher with 5 straight seasons of a sub 3.50 ERA. But after having great success with the Padres and in his first two seasons in Cincinnati, he struggled with injury and was limited to 16 games last year. It was his first time not to reach 180 innings since his rookie shortened year in 2009. More troubling were the reports of friction between Latos and the Reds pitching staff, similar to reports that came out after he left San Diego. But I still love his stuff and thought he’d be good. I put him down for 15+ Wins moving from a terrible pitchers park to a good one. I also thought he’d turn in 200 IP, 190 Ks and an ERA between 3 and 3.10 moving to the NL East, where the offense is significantly weaker than in the central. But an early injury and struggles have him far off from those totals. He’ll have to have a heck of a second half to reach those plateaus. And he is currently not even on the active roster as he rehabs from knee inflammation.
Dan Haren was another veteran who was brought in as part of the Dee Gordon trade with the Dodgers. Being from southern California, Haren was unsure he wanted to move to Miami. But he decided to make the move and play for the Marlins early in spring training. He’s no longer the ace he used to be, but he’s still a savvy veteran with above average movement on his pitches and excellent location to make up for any losses in velocity. Moving to the NL East will help his totals. I saw him as a veteran 5th starter who would take more time off due to his age. So his counting stats would take a hit, but his ERA would be better. Taking all that into account, I had him as a 10-12 game winner with a sub 4 ERA. I also thought it was possible for him to reach 180 IP with 150+ Ks. However he’s off to a far better start than that. The risk is that he breaks down a bit later as he’s giving the Fish more innings than expected early on, but overall I think my predictions are attainable for him.
Latos and Haren were the veterans set to join a young returning staff. Of the remaining pitchers, Henderson Alvarez was set to be the ace with Jose Fernandez still recovering from Tommy John, until at least July or August. But Alvarez has had a terrible time staying healthy. To this point, he’s only made 4 starts and is currently serving his second stint on the DL. That’s extra frustrating for the Marlins because Alvarez was supposed to be such a big part of this team this year. Last season he went 12-7 in 30 starts with a sparkling 2.65 ERA. He also chipped in 187 IP and 3 complete game shutouts. However, injury aside, many people expected a bit of a regression for Alvarez. His 1.24 WHIP was very average and his 275 BAA was not at all good. So his struggles this year aren’t overly surprising, though the injury helps explain away part of it. Even so, I saw him as a guy with a 12 Win ceiling and an ERA closer to 4 than 3. He throws a lot of innings, but has very few Ks. That’s usually bad news. The injury throws off my projections, but I’m not surprised Alvarez is struggling this season.
Another returning arm is young Tom Koehler. Koehler had a solid season last year gong 10-10 with a 3.82 ERA. He also threw 191 IP and improved his numbers across the board from his 23-start season in 2013. He is young, but has good stuff and is showing improvement. That’s all you can ask for with young pitchers. He’s unlikely to ever be great, but he can be above average if he continues to hit his spots and limit damage. While Alvarez got all the headlines, I see these two as very comparable arms both capable of 10 Win seasons with ERAs under 4, but likely over 3.50. 200 IP would be a great year for either. I think Koehler is on track to reach those totals.
After those 4, the 5th spot is flexible. Eventually the Marlins hope Jose Fernandez can return and take over that spot. However, if the Marlins are out of it, I don’t see the point in rushing him back. He did go down early last year, but guys are never at their peak when they first return from Tommy John. Despite that, he is ahead of schedule on his rehab assignment and is shooting for coming back after the All Star break, instead of August. We’ll see.
Until then, the thought was David Phelps might hold down that spot. The hope was that he’d pitch well enough that he and Haren could take turns being the 5th starter, thereby resting the veteran but not making him a full time 5th starter. But with all the injuries, Phelps has been asked to do more. Thus far, the former Yankee has played very well. That’s not a surprise to me at all Moving to the NL always helps AL pitchers, especially in this case when you consider the offenses in the AL East (Toronto, Baltimore, Boston) compared to their NL East counterparts (Atlanta, New York Mets, Philadelphia). In addition, the new Yankee stadium is a terrible place to pitch, especially for a young pitcher. Also, the Yankees have proven to be terrible at developing young arms. So getting out of the Bronx and moving to Miami has a myriad of benefits for the young pitcher. I figured he’d make 25 starts and perhaps get to 10 Wins with an ERA between 3.75 and 4. Right now he’s playing a little better than that and has stepped up to more responsibilities.
The bullpen was supposed to be strong. Last year, they were second in the league with over 500 Ks as a group. But they also made the third most appearances. Thus far, it looks like all those innings are hurting them in 2015. Steve Cishek was supposed to be back for his 4th straight season closing, after taking over the job halfway through 2012. He was always very good in the role, though not flashy. He has a sidearm delivery of a mid 90s fastball and a hard breaking slider that really got in on lefties. He had a career high 39 Saves last year with a 3.17 ERA and 84 Ks in 65 IP. That’s solid, though the ERA was a bit high for a closer. But he has struggled badly this season and has spent time back at Triple A to work on things.
The bullpen also lost some strength when Brad Hand was moved to the starting rotation to help compensate for the injuries the Marlins have suffered in that area. The bullpen features some other power arms including Mike Dunn, Carter Capps, Bryan Morris and Vin Mazzaro. But some have struggled and others have been injured. So this bullpen has been a major factor in Miami’s struggles. At this early point in the season the Marlins already have 9 blown saves. Convert those, and this team is 6 games over 500. You convert half and you are much closer to 500. So what was once this team’s strength has become a very big weakness. The good news is that some of these bullpen arms (Rienzo, Capps) are coming back from injury. And after the starters get healthy, they should get some of those fill in arms back. The hope for Miami is that the bullpen gets better, but right now they are the main culprit for the rough start.
This team has gotten off to a bad start. No a terrible start. They already fired their manager and hired their general manager, who has no professional coaching experience, to take over the top step. Jeffrey Loria has a lower approval rating in Miami than Fidel Castro. And this fan base, understandably, has no trust in the Marlins front office. So that’s all the bad news.
The good news is that they have a lot of young players, including a young pitching staff. They have locked up one of the best power hitters in baseball and he is a part of what could be the best outfield in baseball in a few years. And they are playing in a division with only one truly good team.
I really liked this team for this season. This is a good group of ballplayers. I picked them to finish second in the division with 88 Wins. However, I didn’t see this team making the playoffs.
At this point in the season, not making the playoffs seems to be the only thing I got right. It’s not too late for Miami to turn things around, but they will have to have a heck of a run to get back into the playoff discussion.