Springtime storylines: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The ever-pesky Florida Marlins.

The Big Question: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

We’ve come to expect a particular narrative from the Marlins over the past few seasons. While owner Jeffrey Loria doesn’t spend much on player payroll, we can usually count on the Marlins to be a pesky bunch that will hang around just long enough so that they look like contenders around the trade deadline. However, they ultimately fall short down the stretch.

That’s essentially what we saw from them again last season, as Edwin Rodriguez took over for Fredi Gonzalez in June and led the Marlins to a 46-46 record the rest of the way. The most positive development from an on-the-field perspective was that Mike Stanton flashed elite power potential as a 20-year-old and Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison emerged as potential regulars moving forward.

The Marlins engaged in contract talks with the arbitration-eligible Dan Uggla following the season, but ultimately swapped him to the Braves for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn after he rejected a four-year, $48 million extension. It was a disappointing return for the Fish, especially considering that they traded him to a division rival.

The hope is that Stanton can provide the thump in the middle of the order for the long haul – and while he certainly appears capable of doing just that — I have some concerns about their offense this season, especially if they give 21-year-old Matt Dominguez the opportunity to sink or swim at third base. After losing one of the most reliable power hitters in the game, the Marlins are now banking on productivity from a number of young and inexperienced players.

So what else is going on?

  • Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez already give the Marlins a pretty good chance to win, so if Javier Vazquez rebounds, the starting rotation could be a real strength. It’s fair to expect some improvement with the move back to the National League — and away from Yankee Stadium — but Vazquez is unlikely make a major impact unless he consistently throws in the low-90s again. Back end starter? Fine. But let’s not get carried away just yet.
  • The Marlins plan — at least at the moment — to use Chris Coghlan in center field. The decision is bad enough since advanced metrics haven’t been kind to him in left field, but Coghlan is also coming back from knee surgery and is currently dealing with shoulder soreness. The alternatives aren’t great (Emilio Bonifacio, DeWayne Wise, Scott Cousins), but Coghlan could be a real adventure out there. If Dominguez struggles or begins the year in the minors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coghlan get a look at second base or third eventually.
  • Marlins relievers led the National League in walks last season and finished ninth in ERA, so they made it a priority to revamp their bullpen during the winter. Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Brian Sanches and Burke Badenhop remain, but they added Dunn in the Uggla trade, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica in the Cameron Maybin deal and Randy Choate as a free agent. Bullpens can be pretty fickle from year-to-year, but they should be better, at least on paper.
  • Dominguez could open the year on the major league roster, but there’s not much more help on the way. Now that Sanchez, Stanton and Morrison have graduated from the minors, the Marlins have one of the weakest farm systems in the game. If they’re going to win, they’re going to have to do it with what they currently have.

So how are they gonna do?

While I expect them to play better than .500 ball this year, I just don’t see them finishing ahead of the Braves or Phillies. Sure, Hanley will be Hanley and there will likely be some progression from Morrison and Stanton, but I’m not crazy about their third base situation and I’m betting against a repeat from new catcher John Buck.

So yes, another third place finish it is. On the bright side, the Marlins have a pretty exciting cast of young players under team control for the opening of their new stadium next season.

Report: Orioles interested in Alex Cobb

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MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Orioles have interest in free agent right-hander Alex Cobb, who rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rays earlier this week. Cobb was most recently linked to the Cubs, who reportedly reached out to his agent during the GM Meetings and garnered mutual interest from the righty, but nothing appears to be set in stone yet.

Cobb, 30, completed his sixth season with the Rays in 2017. He went 12-10 in 29 starts and turned in a respectable 3.66 ERA, 6.4 SO/9 and career-best 2.2 BB/9 in 179 1/3 innings. Despite losing a couple of weeks to turf toe, he remained healthy for most of the year and showed no signs of the elbow issues that robbed him of the majority of his 2015-2016 campaigns.

It’s still fairly early for any deals to come to fruition, but Morosi notes that the Orioles seem to be focused on bulking up their rotation during the first few months of the offseason. It’ll take more than a healthy Alex Cobb to right that ship, however: Orioles’ starters earned a collective 5.70 ERA and 5.5 fWAR in 2017, good for worst and fourth-worst marks in the league, respectively. Behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (and perhaps Gabriel Ynoa/Miguel Castro), they still need three viable starters to compete in 2018. Whether or not they can afford to spring for a single starter with Cobb’s price tag (four years, $48 million, per MLB Trade Rumors) remains to be seen.