Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
Miami Marlins PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 678
Runs Allowed: 831
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .252/.308/.389 (.246)
Total WARP: 11.3 (2.3 pitching, 9.0 non-pitching)
Zach Crizer: Well, there’s really only once place to start with the Marlins. This offseason, the newly installed Bruce Sherman-led ownership group, fronted by fairly famous baseball person and publishing magnate Derek Jeter, looked at their roster and finances and decided to hit the reset button in the same way authorities sometimes look at dense forests and decide the same. Namely, they burned the thing to the ground.
Whether trading away Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Dee Gordon was the prudent course of action is eminently debatable, but not particularly productive. At this point, we can only assess how well the controlled burn set them up for the future. So, how do you think they did with their flash rebuild?
Bryan Grosnick: First, I like your idea to separate the “why” from the “how” of this rebuild. I think most of us, as fans of baseball, are pretty grossed out by the Marlins’ burn it all down again fire sale and find it ill-conceived, but let’s get to the brass tacks of the transactions. I’ve said this a couple of times, both on the DFA Podcast and in Transaction Analysis, but I firmly believe that if you’re trading from a position of desperation, then you’re likely to lose the trade. No one wants to be in the position of having to take the best offer. I don’t think the Marlins got anything close to comparable value in either of the Stanton or Gordon deals–which is saying something, as I’m not the biggest Gordon booster in the world–but got a lot closer to good value for Ozuna and Yelich.
If I were building a team for the future, I’d be looking to acquire high-talent, high-impact prospects in return for any sort of deal where I move a current All-Star; in a perfect world, I’d be hoping for a guy with a 20 percent chance of being an All-Star coming back. Lewis Brinson fits that mold. Monte Harrison probably fits that mold. Magneuris Sierra maybe fits that mold. Sandy Alcantara maybe possibly but probably doesn’t fit that mold. So I’m actually perfectly fine with both of those moves. And heck, if the Marlins retained Stanton, I don’t think that would’ve changed the trajectory of the rebuild in the aggregate all that much.
The more I think about it, if the Marlins would’ve kept both of Gordon and Stanton but made the other two deals, I’d probably be murmuring things about how they made some tough but necessary moves to rebuild their farm system, and I’d start eyeing 2019 or 2020 as a potential contention window … provided they scrounge up some pitching on the free agent market. Am I out on an island here?
Crizer: Nope, I think that’s a reasonable take. It is, as you mentioned, just extremely difficult to separate one deal from the other, and one motivation from another, when it comes to their offseason. The Yelich deal, in particular, brought back a lot of talent that could form a nice young core. I’ll mention that Isan Diaz, a middle infielder with a good power bat, could also figure into their plans. Alas, any serious plans are much more distant since there weren’t nearly as many impact prospects reeled in by the other deals.
What we’re left with, then, is one of the more anonymous big-league teams in recent memory. Newcomers like Starlin Castro and Cameron Maybin bring some stability, but do any of these presently obscure faces stand out for you as a potential breakout player or building block? I am at least somewhat intrigued by third base prospect Brian Anderson, who appears to boast enough skill to earn a shot at developing some power in Miami.
Grosnick: Anderson could be all right, though I’m one of many who will hold concerns about his hitting ability until he actually starts producing regularly at the big-league level. There’s a good enough chance that he’ll be a consistent, viable starter at the hot corner, which is great because I don’t see anyone else emerging in that role even now that the Miami system is on its way back up.
For me, the breakout guy might be Drew Steckenrider, who all of a sudden looks like a potential end-of-game relief stopper. He was absolutely filthy last year in Triple-A and Miami, getting whiffs like nobody’s business off the strength of his fastball and his slider. He actually ended up with 54 punchouts in fewer than 35 innings, which would be even more impressive if he could even slightly increase his 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s exactly the kind of dude the Marlins could groom as a closer and then hang on to as part of the next good Marlins team trade for a pitching prospect who’s ceiling is 75 percent of Steckenrider’s.
Is there anything else specific that you’re looking for from the Marlins this season?
Crizer: If I’m the Marlins, and/or their fans, I’m sifting for gold. You want to use the games as a chance to assess talent. This is an opportunity to give Brinson a full run. See how he does with regular major league playing time, let him make adjustments and find ways to succeed, then see what shape that success might take.
And that applies to more than just Brinson. Sierra and Braxton Lee could see time in the outfield. Over in the rotation, Jose Urena, Dillon Peters, Jarlin Garcia, Adam Conley, and others can give evidence of what they could be moving forward. All the way down the line, they can start to separate pieces of the next good Marlins team from filler. It’s not the most exciting way to spend a summer, but it can be fruitful nonetheless, as we’ve saw with the Astros, and have more recently seen with the White Sox. Someone might end up being something more than we think. What they need, and what the Marlins are keen to provide (perhaps too keen, yes), is opportunity.
Of course, to answer your question more directly: You want to actually find something in all that sifting. You want to see the beginning of a plan. In these first steps, have you noticed any hints at an organizational philosophy? I thought it was at least interesting that their outfield acquisitions all have some speed element to their game, but has anything stood out to you?
Grosnick: Honestly? Nope.
They acquired two guys in Brinson and Sierra who can hoof it, but they’re also two guys who might be duplicative on a good team, so I think they might just be hedging their bets. I’m with you, the goal should be to give a broad cross-section of players some extended run and to find the next star (or even the next good role player) from their collection of misfit toys and young players. I don’t see enough of a theme in their pitching acquisitions to pull a common thread, and while all of their offensive acquisitions are toolsy, I think that’s just an artifact of prying loose top-tier positional talents. Most of them are pretty athletic!
At this stage, the Marlins are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, sure, but I don’t think they’re sure how to grind it into flour just yet, let alone decide what they’re baking with it. Wow. That metaphor really went for a walk. It’s kind of interesting because I think the Marlins have been something of a team without an identity for the past several years. You should build your team’s identity around your organizational strengths and the best players you have on the roster, instead of trying to shoehorn your team into some idea of what you think a good roster should look like. The problem is that with a new ownership group and seemingly little intellectual or ballplayer capital, it’s tough to set a new course until they luck into some sort of breakout. What would you do if you were Derek Jeter?
Crizer: Well, I invoke it all the time, but the Brewers’ rebuild could be a nice little model for a team that either doesn’t have or isn’t willing to expend all that many resources. I don’t mean the most recent “shock the world” stage of the Brewers’ rebuild. I mean the part where they went fishing for useful parts in every place imaginable. Turn fading-but-OK assets like Gerardo Parra and Jason Rogers into actual useful pieces like Zach Davies and Keon Broxton. Take the ultimate right-now assets, relievers like Tyler Thornburg and Francisco Rodriguez, and get Travis Shaw and Manny Pina. There will be clunkers—the Khris Davis trade hasn’t worked out—but with diligence and effort, it’s possible to turn every unnecessary short-term piece into a possible long-term piece, and that’s not even mentioning the big-ticket blockbusters.
This sort of foraging is not going to light the world on fire, but it can build a base of talent that adds a lot of flexibility to the operation as it expands. So for the Marlins, that could mean flipping every reliever of any value during the season, or striking when and if the iron is hot for Maybin or Castro. It means being the first team on the line when another club is dealing with a roster crunch or souring on a younger player or figuring out what to do with that fringy guy who is out of options. And, to boost the chances of succeeding with this, using some of that money they saved to blanket the minor leagues with scouting and video coverage so they have legitimate targets for any circumstance that may arise.
Does your way forward sound similar, or do you envision a different mode of operation for the Marlins? What they do next, how they handle this transition period and talent accumulation stage, is really, really important.
Grosnick: The thing for me is trust. I don’t disagree with anything you said and I really like using the Brewers as a model for a quick rebuild without bottoming out entirely. But as I wrote in my first Baseball Prospectus Annual four years ago, the Marlins were a different team than every other team in baseball because they fundamentally could not be trusted. They could not be trusted to do right by the taxpayers in their hometown, by the fans in the stands, or by the players they employed. Amazingly, despite turning over the ownership group, much of the front office, and almost all the players, they still can’t be trusted. They need to find a way to start rebuilding that trust.
If I were the Marlins, I’d do many of the things you said; when it comes to the players who emerge from the scrum, I start building some goodwill. I’m talking about fair-value extensions, not screwing with their playing time, and treating them in a way that tells them they are valued. If Brian Anderson has a two-month slump, don’t dump him in Triple-A to give Miguel Rojas extra run. If a vet is nearing some sort of playing-time incentive and playing well, give him every opportunity to reach it and celebrate when he does. And make it clear to the fans that when the next Stanton or Yelich comes around, they’ll not only give them the extension their talents demand, but they’ll also keep them in Miami and build around them, instead of tearing things down to make their owners richer. Do this through actions, not words, because words are cheap and so are the Marlins.
I’d also sign a veteran starting pitcher or two off the scrap heap when the pre-April roster crunches start happening. This rotation makes me really nervous, and could end up putting too much pressure on a few arms with no real business propping up the middle of a rotation. You always need more starting pitching. But yeah, from a player personnel standpoint, I’d follow the Brewers model. I’d probably focus on building around position players rather than pitchers, because look what happened to the Braves when they tried that.
Crizer: Hard to disagree there. It’s only the beginning for the new Marlins. Just have to hope the story takes some more upward turns than this franchise is accustomed to.