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A roster shake-up helps, but doesn't make Fish contenders
Asked about his offseason priorities, new Miami Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill didn’t have trouble prioritizing. “Offense, offense, offense,” he said. Formerly the club’s general manager under long-time president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, Hill and his revamped front office went free-agent shopping. The mission: Improve the 13th team in the modern era to score 513 runs or fewer in a 162-game season. By complementing the club’s strength — a promising, young starting rotation — with more run support, the Marlins hope to achieve vastly better results in 2014. What ensued by Marlins’ standards was a spending spree. In no way did it resemble the reckless expenditures that preceded the organization’s opening of Marlins Park in 2012, when it committed $191 million to free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. All were traded after a disastrous campaign, leaving the Marlins with a prospect-rich farm system and at times an unwatchable major-league product. The Marlins, in their trudge back toward respectability, reverted to their cost-conscious spending blueprint. The additions of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a three-year deal, first baseman Garrett Jones for two years, and third baseman Casey McGehee and middle infielder Rafael Furcal on one-year commitments required a modest $32.85 million outlay. What’s to keep the Marlins from a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the National League East? Start with NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who arguably had the best age-20 season since Dwight Gooden in 1985. Three of the Marlins’ four other projected starters — Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez — all will be under age 25 when the regular season opens March 31. How much the club improves hinges on the progress of young position players. Outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna both had promising rookie campaigns in 2013. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is an athletic, gifted defender with a developing bat, and few in the game rival right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s raw power.
On a 170-inning limit in 2013, Fernandez will have the reins loosened in 2014. He should be on everybody’s preseason Cy Young watch list. Mature beyond his 21 years due in part to a harrowing escape from Cuba as a 15-year-old, Fernandez has to transition from a nothing-to-lose scenario to shouldering big time expectations. In Eovaldi, whom the Marlins acquired from the Dodgers for Hanley Ramirez, the team has another power arm looking for a breakthrough season. He has yet to total more than 22 starts in any of his three big-league campaigns. Like Eovaldi, Alvarez could not complete a full season in 2013. He showed just how dominant he could be in the regular-season finale, when he no-hit the Detroit Tigers. That was his 17th start of 2013 and 58th of his major-league career. Turner is a former Tigers’ first-round pick who opened last season in Triple-A after a horrid spring. He was fantastic during stretches after his promotion, but like the rest of his young counterparts, he needs experience and consistency. Tom Koehler, if he doesn’t open in the rotation, likely will pitch out of the bullpen.
In non-tendering Ryan Webb and opting not to re-sign free agent Chad Qualls, the Marlins lost 142.1 innings from last season’s relief corps. The team believes they have enough in-house options to cover it. Back to handle ninth-inning duties is Steve Cishek, who in 2014 can join Juan Carlos Oviedo and Robb Nen as the only closers in club history with back-to-back 30-save seasons. As a rookie in 2013, A.J. Ramos pitched in every conceivable bullpen role and racked up 80 innings. He should vie for the club’s primary right-handed setup role. Mike Dunn will handle late-inning lefty duties, pairing with fellow southpaw Dan Jennings. Two interesting right-handed arms are Brad Hand and long-time Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol. The Marlins acquired another promising, hard-throwing righthander in Carter Capps from the Mariners, who with a little more polish could be outstanding. Arquimedes Caminero features another power arm. He can fill Webb’s multi-purpose role of a year ago.
A rocket-armed shortstop, Furcal missed all of 2013 with the Cardinals after Tommy John surgery. The Marlins approached Furcal, 36, about starting at second, and the idea appealed to him. Conceivably, he could add a couple more years to his career on the right side of the bag. The Marlins believe Furcal paired with Hechavarria at short gives them iron-clad up-the-middle defense. Offensively, the switch-hitting Furcal is a seasoned top-of-the-order table-setter, allowing the club to move Yelich down into a run-producing spot. A glove-first shortstop, Hechavarria rivals Braves Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons in athleticism. Manager Mike Redmond sees a future No. 2 hitter in Hechavarria, but last season’s .227/.267/.298 slash line won’t keep him there consistently.
Although the Marlins weren’t averse to tapping into their pitching depth to acquire a third baseman via trade, they settled on McGehee, who re-discovered his swing during a championship-winning season in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He hopes to duplicate those results with the Marlins as he keeps the position warm for top position player prospect and 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran. Across the diamond at first is Jones, an ex-Pirates teammate of McGehee’s. When the Marlins signed the left-handed-hitting Jones, it became apparent that they had given up on the oft-injured Logan Morrison. Though Jones hasn’t shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching consistently, the Marlins at least initially don’t plan to platoon him.
The general consensus is that Stanton’s days in South Florida are numbered, but the Marlins hope to build around the power-hitting right fielder. With a better supporting cast, the idea is that he’ll see more pitches and become the 40-homer, 120-RBI force the club envisions. Homegrown prospects Yelich and Ozuna both had encouraging starts to their major-league careers in 2013. Yelich is the club’s best pure hitter, and Ozuna, before going down with a fractured hand, showed much-improved plate discipline. Should Ozuna falter, the Marlins have another well-regarded prospect at the ready in Jake Marisnick.
The Marlins thought they had a cornerstone piece in Rob Brantly, but he regressed both defensively and offensively. That prompted the Saltalamacchia signing. The concern is that spacious Marlins Park might negate Saltalamacchia’s power, but the Marlins like his ability to put balls in the gap. Though the Marlins love the way Jeff Mathis works with the young staff, he hits like a backup catcher and should be limited to 50-60 games.
The Marlins signed utility man Jeff Baker, who started games at left, right, first, second, third and DH for the Rangers last season. Not only does he give the club lineup flexibility, but he batted .279 and slugged .545 with a .905 OPS in 2013. He could be a nice right-handed complement to Jones at first. Greg Dobbs will reprise his role as the club’s primary left-handed pinch-hitting option. The Marlins swapped fourth outfielders with the Cubs, sacrificing Justin Ruggiano’s power for Brian Bogusevic’s contact. Donovan Solano is the primary candidate for the remaining backup infielder spot.
The Marlins dumped Beinfest and promoted Hill and Dan Jennings (no relation to the reliever) to the top two spots in baseball operations. The front office also brought in well-respected talent evaluators Craig Weissmann, Mike Berger and Jeff McAvoy. On the field, Redmond returns for his second season as manager.
Taking a wrecking ball to last year’s lineup was a start, but don’t look for the Marlins to contend just yet. With the possible exception of Saltalamacchia, the club’s moves are stopgaps. The hope is that an injection of somewhat flawed yet battle-tested veterans not only spurs a more dynamic offense, but also enhances the development of young, cornerstone players.
2B Rafael Furcal (S)
Three-time All-Star shortstop transitioning to second after missing ’13 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
LF Christian Yelich (L)
Marlins’ first-round pick in 2010 hit .288/.370/.396 in first 273 major-league plate appearances last season.
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
Increased walk rate from 9.2 percent in 2012 to 14.7, but isolated power plummeted from .318 to .231.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
Coming off career year with World Series champion Red Sox, hitting 40 doubles and knocking in 65.
1B Garrett Jones (L)
Over last two seasons has a combined .266 AVG vs. righties (783 at-bats), .168 (95 at-bats) off lefties.
CF Marcell Ozuna (R)
Promoted to fill in for an injured Stanton in right field, hit .331/.371/.472 over first 142 big-league at-bats.
3B Casey McGehee (R)
Offensive catalyst for Japan Series champion Rakuten, hitting .292-28-93 with 30 doubles in 144 games.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
11 of 42 RBIs came on three HR swings, including grand slams off Jeff Samardzija and Roy Halladay.
C Jeff Mathis (R)
Started 70 games and had multiple RBIs in five straight (June 26-July 3), tying Hanley Ramirez’s club record.
1B/3B Greg Dobbs (L)
Active major-league leader as a pinch-hitter with 95 hits (including 10 in 2013), 21 doubles and 75 RBIs.
OF Bryan Bogusevic (L)
.273 hitter in 143 at-bats with Cubs last season; acquired in trade for Justin Ruggiano.
INF Donovan Solano (R)
Supplanted as projected starter at second after Furcal signing; has played four different positions since 2012.
UT Jeff Baker (R)
Batted .314 with a 1.073 vs. lefties last season and just .204/,536 against righthanders.
RH Jose Fernandez
Garnered 26 of 30 first-place votes in winning National League Rookie of the Year Award at age 20.
RH Nathan Eovaldi
According to PITCHf/x, 96.1 mph average fastball would have led all qualifying starters in the majors.
RH Henderson Alvarez
Alvarez no-hit Tigers in regular-season finale, and allowed only five hits and no walks to first 24 batters faced in the spring.
RH Jacob Turner
Brutal spring led to start in minors, but returned and logged 3.74 ERA in 20 starts.
RH Tom Koehler
In five September starts went 2–1 with 3.14 ERA and held opponents to a .225/.307/.333 slash line.
RH Steve Cishek (Closer)
After a June 4 blown save in Philadelphia, converted 29 straight opportunities to set franchise mark.
RH A.J. Ramos
Totaled 80 innings and struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings as a rookie in 2013.
LH Mike Dunn
Fourth pitcher in franchise history to total 60 or more appearances in three or more consecutive seasons.
LH Dan Jennings
Logged a reverse split, holding right-handed hitters to a .221 average while lefties hit .282 against him.
RH Carter Capps
In first two seasons with Mariners (2012-13), average fastball velocity per PITCHf/x was 96.4 mph.
RH Arquimedes Caminero
Back on track after ascent through minors slowed in 2011 due to elbow issues.
RH Carlos Marmol
Trying to rediscover some semblance of control and resurrect his once-promising career.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Colin Moran, 3B
With the sixth overall pick, the Marlins selected third baseman Colin Moran out of North Carolina. Considered an advanced college bat, Moran began his pro career with Greensboro of the Low-A South Atlantic League. He hit .299/.354/.442 in 42 games (154 at-bats) with eight doubles, four homers and 23 RBIs. What already was a long season that included a trip to the College World Series with the Tar Heels concluded in the Arizona Fall League. A spent Moran went 20-for-87 (.230) with just three doubles, no homers and 10 RBIs. Moran likely will open 2014 at Double-A Jacksonville and could make his major-league debut by season’s end in preparation for a shot at the everyday third base job in 2015.
LHP Andrew Heaney (22)
Organization’s top prospect after stellar 2013 between High-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. Should make major-league debut in 2014.
OF Jake Marisnick (23)
Center fielder with great range made major-league debut in 2013. Bat developed nicely at Double-A (.294/.358/.502).
LHP Justin Nicolino (22)
Marlins’ second-best starting pitching prospect behind Heaney went combined 8–4, 3.11 for Jupiter and Jacksonville.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani (23)
The Marlins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year split 2013 between Jupiter and Jacksonville and went a combined 9–6 with 2.65 ERA, 23 walks and 115 K’s in 129 IP.
RHP Jose Urena (22)
At Jupiter in 2013, he went 10–7 with a 3.73 ERA and a 3.7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
2B Avery Romero (20)
Returned to the short season Class-A New York Penn League, where he hit .297/.357/.411 in 209 at-bats with Batavia.
Beyond the Box Score
Revolving door Since Miguel Cabrera manned third base for Marlins in 2007, the club has used five different primary third basemen — Jorge Cantu, Emilio Bonifacio, Greg Dobbs, Hanley Ramirez and Placido Polanco. Last season alone, five different players started at least one game at third. Casey McGehee in 2014 stands to become the ninth player since 2008 to start at least 20 games in a season at third for the Marlins, joining: Cantu, Wes Helms, Bonifacio, Dobbs, Chad Tracy, Ramirez, Polanco and Ed Lucas.
Love the gloves The Marlins couldn’t hit in 2013, but they caught the ball surprisingly well for a 100-loss team. The 69 teams that have lost 100 or more games since the advent of the 162-game schedule (1961 in the AL and 1962 in the NL) averaged 144 errors. The Marlins committed 88.
Running low If last season wasn’t rock bottom for the Miami offense, the Marlins are in trouble this season. They scored two runs or fewer in 46.9 percent of their 162 games and went 13–63 in those contests. The Marlins will try to avoid becoming the third team ever to play at least 162 games and score 513 runs or fewer in back-to-back seasons; they would join the 1963-64 Houston Colt .45s and the 1967-68 New York Mets.
Strange superlatives The Marlins in 2013 had the tallest player in major league history (6'11" Jon Rauch). In 2014 they’ll field the major-leaguer with the longest last name. Jarrod Saltalamacchia claimed that distinction when he made his debut in 2007. Long surnames don’t faze the Marlins’ equipment staff. Remember, Tim Spooneybarger and Todd Hollandsworth both were members of the 2003 team.
Power shortage Marlins Park in its two years of existence has seen many frustrated hitters jog back to their dugout. According to Baseball Info Solutions, the venue in 2012 had a home run index of 73, meaning the ballpark reduced the number of homers by 27 percent. That was the fourth-lowest in the majors. It got worse in 2013. Marlins Park had a major-league-low home run index of 64. Giancarlo Stanton accounted for 15 of his team’s 36 Marlins Park home runs. Unlike several other teams, the Marlins have not given any indication that they’re inclined to move in the fences.