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2018 Preview: Miami Marlins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Miami Marlins.

The outfield trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich combined to hit 114 home runs and drive in 337 runs for the Marlins last season. The Marlins thanked them for their contributions by trading all three of them in separate trades to the Yankees, Cardinals, and Brewers, respectively. The club also sent second baseman Dee Gordon to the Marlins.

The word “fire sale” is strongly associated with the Marlins to this day despite new ownership – Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter — having taken over. The club opened the 2017 campaign with a payroll north of $115 million and ended the season around $155 million. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Marlins are poised to open the 2018 season below $90 million in obligations.

In the Stanton trade, the Marlins acquired prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers as well as Starlin Castro from the Yankees. MLB Pipeline rates Guzman as the No. 4 prospect in the Marlins’ system now, and Devers at No. 25. Ozuna brought back from the Cardinals Magneuris Sierra, Daniel Castano, Zac Gallen, and Sandy Alcantara. Alcantara is now No. 3 in the Marlins’ system followed by Sierra at No. 7, and Gallen at No. 14. From the Brewers, Yelich returned to the Marlins Lewis Brinson (No. 1), Monte Harrison (No. 2), Isan Diaz (No. 8), and Jordan Yamamoto (No. 23). Gordon brought to Miami from Seattle Nick Neidert (No. 10), Christopher Torres (No. 18), and Robert Dugger. The club also sent reliever A.J. Ramos to the Mets for Merandy Gonzalez (No. 16) and Ricardo Cespedes. While many thought the Marlins could’ve done better, especially in the Stanton trade, the farm system has been replenished in a big way.

Both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are projecting the Marlins to be the worst team in the National League, pegging the club at 64 and 66 wins, respectively. As we go through the roster position by position, it will be easy to see why the club isn’t likely to crack 70 wins.

Dan Straily will likely get the nod to start on Opening Day for the Marlins, leading a rotation that will also include Jose Urena and some combination of Adam Conley, Justin Nicolino, Dillon Peters, Jarlin Garcia, Chris O’Grady, and Odrisamer Despaigne. Straily is a perfectly fine starter, owning a 4.25 ERA across 633 1/3 innings in the majors, but he’s not the type of pitcher one often thinks about starting on Opening Day, especially when the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Max Scherzer also get those honors. It speaks to the quality of the Marlins’ rotation.

Urena’s spot in the rotation is pretty much guaranteed after he compiled a 3.82 ERA across 28 starts and six relief appearances last year, fanning 113 batters in 169 2/3 innings. His defense-independent stats don’t scream “upside” but he’s as close to solid as the Marlins are going to get right now without bringing in a free agent.

Garcia could find his way into the rotation. Though he posted a meager 4.73 ERA in 53 1/3 innings of relief last year, the Marlins like him as a starter. The lefty started during most of his minor league career. Conley, Nicolino, and Despaigne represent low-upside retreads, but the Marlins may simply value their ability to eat innings more than anything else.

With Ramos gone, Brad Ziegler will return to the closer’s role for the Fish. The sidewinding right-hander had been relatively consistent over his career until last season. He finished with a 4.79 ERA and a paltry 26/16 K/BB ratio in 47 innings. Ziegler, of course, lives and dies based on his ability to induce ground balls rather than missing bats. The Marlins are likely hoping Ziegler rebounds to have a great first half so he can be traded to a contender. In that event, or if he struggles, Kyle Barraclough or Drew Steckenrider would likely be promoted to the closer’s role.

Barraclough has been terrific for the Marlins in 163 innings of relief work over the last three seasons despite a rather high walk rate at 14.5 percent. He fans hitters often (31.7%) with a mid-90’s fastball and slider combination. Steckenrider made his big league debut last year, fanning 54 and walking 18 with a 2.34 ERA in 34 2/3 innings of relief, showcasing similar upside as Barraclough.

The bullpen will be rounded out by Junichi Tazawa, Nick Wittgren, and likely some of the aforementioned rotation candidates that didn’t make the cut.

J.T. Realmuto will handle things behind the plate. He ranked among the league’s best catchers last year, batting .278/.332/.451 with 17 home runs and 65 RBI in 532 plate appearances. Baseball Reference credited him with 3.6 Wins Above Replacement. Unsurprisingly, the Marlins have received plenty of trade interest in Realmuto throughout the offseason, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he were dealt by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Tomas Telis would get bumped up into a starting role if Realmuto is traded or gets injured followed by Bryan Holaday and Chad Wallach.

At first base, Justin Bour will return. Last year, he hit .289/.366/.536 with 25 home runs and 83 RBI in 429 PA. Assuming he can stay healthy and productive, he’ll get regular playing time all year. The Marlins may also be inclined to trade him if the right offer comes along.

Veteran Starlin Castro will handle things at second base after spending the last two years in the Bronx. A four-time All-Star, Castro hit .300 last season with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in 473 PA. His defense has always left something to be desired but he’s overall a serviceable player. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Marlins may be enticed to trade him by the end of July.

Shortstop J.T. Riddle is still on the mend after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder last summer. Miguel Rojas will handle the position until Riddle is ready to go. In his first season in the big leagues, Riddle cobbled together a disappointing .637 OPS across 247 PA. Rojas had a solid .736 OPS.

Martin Prado, poised to begin his 13th major league season at the age of 34, will be the club’s every day third baseman. He missed time last season due to knee and hamstring injuries, undergoing surgery to repair his knee. It’s still not known if he’ll be ready by Opening Day, in which case Brian Anderson would likely handle the position in his stead. In 2016, Prado played in 153 games and batted .305. He’s not too far separated from being healthy and productive. If he has a bounce-back season, Prado is yet another player who could be dealt to a contender this summer.

The Marlins’ new-look outfield now features Derek Dietrich in left and Cameron Maybin in center. Dietrich is no stranger to the outfield, but he’s primarily been an infielder during his career. In other words, he’s not the most ideal candidate to handle the position, but the Marlins are just looking for placeholders. Dietrich has a solid bat, having compiled a .759 OPS across his five-year career, but the standard for offense is higher in left field than it is at second base. Dietrich is likely to end up closer to replacement level as a result of the position change, not that it matters to a team expected to struggle to reach 70 wins. The Marlins may choose to platoon Dietrich with Scott Van Slyke.

Maybin, 30, makes his return to the Marlins. He was traded by the Tigers to the Marlins back in 2007 in the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis deal. Maybin found himself on the world champion Astros last season when they selected him off waivers from the Angels on August 31. Overall, he hit a meager .228 with 10 home runs.

Brinson may be playing his way onto the Marlins’ Opening Day roster. In 22 at-bats, the 23-year-old has nine hits including five doubles and a home run. Sierra may also find himself in the Miami outfield sooner rather than later.

The Marlins overall are going to be hard to watch this season. Jeter and Sherman took a roster that was only a couple of rotation arms away from being competitive and stripped it down for parts. It may now be several years before the Marlins are competitive again. At the very least, though, the minor league system has been replenished. But at this point, Marlins fans may be tired of having to look forward.

Prediction: 62-100, fifth place in the NL East.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 6, Nationals 1: Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings and the pen blanked the Nats in the seventh, but Washington clung to only a 1-0 lead thanks to an almost-as-good start from Jacob deGrom. In the eighth, Dave Martinez called on Kyle Barraclough to hold things down. He got two out but also put two runners on, so Martinez called on Sean Doolittle to get a four-out save in a tight game. Tough order, but Doolittle’s good. Usually.

Doolittle hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, gave up a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares, intentionally walked a guy and then gave up a three-run jack to Rajai Davis. The best part: Davis was just called up the Mets mere hours before. Hell, he had already taken batting practice for Syracuse, who was playing at Lehigh Valley. He took an Uber to New York, got there by the third inning, got lost and was finally suited up not long before entering the game as a pinch hitter.

As I wrote once upon a time, an essential part of living life is dealing with stuff when you’re basically unprepared. When you’re just thrown into a situation for which you didn’t have time or opportunity to gear up. Here’s a salute to Rajai Davis, who may not have been prepared to face a big league pitcher in a big league stadium when he woke up yesterday morning but who rose to the occasion because, really, what else can you do?

Cubs 8, Phillies 4: Cole Hamels took on the Phillies for the first time but, more importantly, he took on Cole Irvin in what I’m going to assume was a “Highlander” situation. Hamels didn’t pitch that well or get the win but he did a lot better than Irvin, so I assume Irvin’s head was cut off. There can only be one. Albert Almora Jr. hit a grand slam. Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run bomb to help the Cubs get out of an early hole. Let’s call it a Cole hole.

[Ed. — Let’s not]

White Sox 9, Astros 4: Not a great night for Coles. The White Sox beat up on Cole, Gerrit for six runs on seven hits. Eloy Jiménez hit two homers in this one and the Chisox even turned a triple play. A good one, too! Around-the-horn, bang-bang-bang, not one of those janky “baserunner screwed up and stood in the baseline as a guy caught a pop fly, stepped on the bag, and tagged out the confused runner” things. Watch:

Brewers 11, Reds 9: Zach Davies, with a 1.54 ERA, faced off against Luis Castillo, owner of a 1.90 ERA. So naturally 20 runs were scored. The Reds led 6-1 and blew it, then led 8-6 and blew it before the Brewers pulled away. The 8-6 lead went away when Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer to tie it. He also started a double play when, with the bases loaded, a strikeout pitch got past him but ricocheted right back to him. The guy on first took off but no one else did because they saw the ricochet. Grandal threw down to first to retire the struck out batter then the Brewers got the baserunner out in a rundown. Just how they drew it up.

Yankees 7, Orioles 5: The Bombers hit five more homers against an Orioles pitching staff that is going to do some ghastly things to the record books before this season is out. Thairo Estrada, D.J. LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres went deep in the first three innings go give New York a 5-0 lead. Gary Sánchez homered in the fourth to make it 6-1 and Torres homered again in the fifth to make it 7-2. Sánchez has homered in three straight games. Torres has 12 homers on the year. Ten of them have come against the Orioles.

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5: This thirteen-inning game ended twenty minutes before midnight. Today they get started at 12:37PM. Look for some super crisp play from the Sox and Jays today! Here Michael Chavis hit a tiebreaking homer in the 13th inning to give Boston the win. Rafael Devers homered earlier for his third blast in as many games. That gave Boston a lead that Marcus Walden could not hold thanks to a ninth inning rally from Toronto that made everyone stay up late. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel was, I imagine, tucked into bed back wherever he calls home and will be a fresh as a daisy this morning.

Athletics 7, Indians 2: Jefry Rodríguez didn’t fool A’s batters, who touched him for five runs in four innings while Frankie Montas blanked the tribe for six while striking out nine. Mark Canha homered and drove in three and Nick Hundley on a three-hit day as the A’s won their sixth game in a row and took their 10th of 14 overall.

Royals 8, Cardinals 2; Cardinals 10, Royals 3: New rule idea: when teams split a doubleheader the team which outscores the other in the aggregate gets some sort of bonus in the standings. So, here, since the Cards “beat” the Royals 12-11, each team gets one win and the Cards get, um, a point on top. Wait, that would require some sort of hockey-style points system too. OK, we can work with that. It might require some more changes. Like, when you lose a getaway day game in under two and a half hours, you lose a point as a “phoning it in tax.” There are all kinds of variations we can come up with here. Let’s blow this dang game up!

Oh, here: Brad Keller tossed two-hit, two-run baseball and the Royals — boosted by a Jorge Soler three-run homer — beat up on Michael Wacha in the first game. In the second game Homer Bailey got shelled, failing to make it out of the second inning, while Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Kolton Wong all went deep. Adam Wainwright was shaky but John GantAndrew MillerCarlos Martinez and John Brebbia combined for four innings of scoreless relief to disabuse Kansas City of any notions of a comeback.

Rockies 9, Pirates 3: For the second time in a couple of weeks Josh Bell hit a homer into the Allegheny River on the fly. That was nice but, at least until my points-system rules changes come into effect which would provide Bell a “cool factor” bonus, it was just a solo shot. Meanwhile, Rockies batters Daniel Murphy and Tony Wolters each hit three-run homers in the early going. Rockies starter Jon Gray allowed three runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings. One of those strikeouts was of Bell, on three pitches no less, in his next plate appearance after the splash homer. That would take a half point away, by the way.

Rangers 2, Mariners 1: The sweep. And the seventh win in eight games for Texas. Hunter Pence homered. Seattle is now in last place where most people expected them to be. That opening series in Japan seems like a thousand years ago.

Padres 5, Diamondbacks 2: Eric Lauer allowed one run on four hits over seven frames Eric Hosmer drove in a couple. Kirby Yates got his 20th save of the year. That’s a 65-save pace for a team that’s just above .500.

Rays 8, Dodgers 1: A couple of solo homers had this one tied at one entering the bottom of the seventh, with Dylan Floro taking over for the Dodgers to start the inning. He hit a guy, gave up two straight singles, then a homer and just like that L.A. was down 5-1. The homer — a three-run shot — came from Avisail García and chased Floro. Caleb Ferguson then came in, walked a guy, struck out two, then hit a guy and surrendered a three-run bomb to Kevin Kiermaier. Not what you want out of your bullpen.

Marlins 6, Tigers 3: The Marlins were down 3-0 entering the sixth before coming back. Brian Anderson hit a two-run shot for Miami, Neil Walker doubled in a couple and Garrett Cooper hit his first career homer to power the comeback. That’s five straight wins for the Fish. Eight straight losses for the Tigers, whose early season friskiness has long since passed.

Braves 9, Giants 2: Jeff Samardzija allowed six unearned runs but, as we said the other day, not all unearned runs are created equally. He put a couple of guys on and the would-be out number three of the inning was postponed due to an error, but before it was finally recorded he gave up a run on a wild pitch and coughed up homers to Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman. So, yeah, take that “unearned” stuff with a grain of salt. The Giants couldn’t do much against Max Fried, who allowed two over six, and nothing against the Atlanta pen which tossed two shutout innings.

Twins vs. Angels — POSTPONED:

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Oh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true
Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours