The Marlins infield received the biggest face lift this offseason. The new first baseman for Miami is Michael Morse. Morse is fresh off a World Series victory with San Francisco. That experience will be vital to helping propel the Marlins from up and comers to contenders. Morse was nagged by injuries towards the end of last season but came through when called upon in both the NLDS and NLCS. He will give Giancarlo Stanton some much needed protection in the lineup. Second base is another new face, former Dodger Dee Gordon. Gordon was traded in December after leading the Majors with 64 stolen bases and 12 triples. Gordon has speed to burn and last year got on base enough for that attribute to matter. There won't be a climate shock moving from California to Florida, so I think manager Mike Redmond is going to give Flash Gordon the green light as much as possible. Up the middle with Gordon is incumbent shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. The Cuban has flair at short and makes a lot of great plays. The attempts at showmanship sometimes lead to some pretty horrendous looking errors. Like Gordon, Hechavarria's bat came around more in 2014. His ten triples were second only to Gordon in the MLB. We'll see if that speed translates to more steals in 2015. The last new acquisition in the infield is third baseman Martin Prado. Prado was traded less than a half year after the Yankees got him from Arizona. Prado's return to the National League will be a welcome sign as an upgrade over Casey McGehee. His ability to play several outfield positions as well as third is a plus as well. The catching duties once again belong to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty didn't exactly excite Marlins' fans and management in the first year of a three year, $21 million deal. He may end up as trade fodder come deadline time though if top catching prospect J.T. Realmuto continues to wallop Minor League pitching.
When you think of the Marlins' outfield, you think of the $325 million dollar man: Giancarlo Stanton. Do not discount the rest of the young guns patrolling the Marlins Park grass with him. It isn't $325 mil, but Christian Yelich didn't get a bad payday himself this offseason at 7 years, $49.57 million. Yelich won a Gold Glove in his first full season in Miami and showed the ability to drive the ball (30 doubles) as well as steal bases (21 SB). Still just 23, if some of those doubles start clearing the fence, Yelich could be a perennial 20 HR/20 SB player. 20 home runs is easy work for center fielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna's first full season saw him hit 23 bombs and knock in 85. He was also able to hit .269 while striking out 164 times. If Ozuna cuts down on his whiffs, he'll be in line for more dough than Yelich was able to command. Both of them pale in comparison to the aforementioned Stanton. Only a baseball to the face from Milwaukee's Mike Fiers was able to derail Stanton, forcing him to sit out the majority of September. He still finished second in the MVP voting behind Clayton Kershaw. Now armed a stylized G facemask, Stanton will look to improve on all his career bests (home runs, RBI, doubles, stolen bases) for 162 games and take the Marlins past .500 for the first time since 2009. Ichiro provides cover at each outfield spot as he chases 3,000 hits in the Majors (he is 156 shy). The offense seems to be there for Miami. So why are they 21st on this list?
The pitching staff is going to be without their unquestioned ace, Jose Fernandez, for at least the first two months of 2015. Fernandez was yet another Tommy John casualty last year and the rest of the rotation missed him dearly. The staff never fully recovered from his loss and slowly slid towards the lower half of the division. Henderson Alvarez, one of the big pieces that came back in the Reyes fire sale of a few years back, filled in admirably for Fernandez as the team's #1 starter. He will resume that role this season as he will pitch Opening Day. Alvarez made his first All-Star team last year yet he still needs to show some consistency, especially being a pitcher who pitches to contact. The next three spots have come to Miami over the last year via trades. Jarred Cosart was probably the biggest piece that went to Miami in what I called a "trade for trade's sake" at last year's deadline with Houston. He shaved nearly two runs a game off his ERA in Marlins colors and acclimated to the NL very well. It will be interesting to see a larger sample size of Cosart against the weaker offenses in the NL East. Mat Latos was basically a salary dump by the Reds, who you'll be seeing here real soon. Latos is only 27 and posted very respectable numbers in the launching pad known as the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. He'll be playing for a long term deal in a more spacious Miami park as a #3 or #4 instead of being the #2 like he was with the Reds. Rounding out the rotation is Tom Koehler and Dan Haren. Koehler made the most starts (32) of anyone still on the roster from last year. Dan Haren is, well, Dan Haren. I didn't really say anything negative about this rotation so you must still be scratching your head as to why the Marlins are 21st in 30 Teams In Under 30 Days. This is yet another team that I think needs just that one more year to break baseball's glass ceiling. A half season of Fernandez won't be enough but another season of experience for Alvarez facing aces and Cosart taking on weaker NL lineups can only build their confidence for 2016. Barring catastrophe or unexpected Loria special, the Marlins won't be in the 20's next year.
They'll be even more dangerous if they improve a patchwork bullpen. The Marlins had some really good arms in 2014 but all roads once again led to sidewinding Steve Cishek. The right hander has been impressive in his tenure as Miami closer (73 saves, 158 strikeouts) but may find himself new surroundings if he keeps progressing. He received nearly seven million at arbitration last fall and another 30+ save season would most likely call for a 50% raise from that. That number would be way too rich for Miami's blood. If Cishek is dealt, Mike Dunn or AJ Ramos would more than likely get their cracks at save opportunities. The two combined to win 17 games in 2014, working as Cishek's primary set-up men. Another interesting candidate is Bryan Morris. Morris had a microscopic 0.66 ERA last year working in middle relief following his trade from Pittsburgh. I don't want to downplay these gentlemen's great years, but what would they be able to accomplish in a pennant race instead of compiling empty September stats? Time will tell.
In Minnesota, I once got heckled for wearing a Nick Punto shirt by a kid in a Mike Redmond shirt. Like that slob was probably one year away from jail, I believe the Marlins are one year away from being contenders. Let's just hope Jeffrey Loria lets this team get to that point and doesn't initiate yet another self destruct sequence to save a buck.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #24 (UP 3)
PREDICTED RECORD: 78-84
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Giancarlo Stanton (outfielder), Marcell Ozuna (outfielder)
Trevor Utley once knew all the words to the song "Miami" by Will Smith.
Image Credit: Marlins logo (sportslogos.net)