How the Miami Marlins Could be Even Better in 2021
The Miami Marlins had a damn good season in 2020, but there's work to be done.
The Marlins were a playoff team in 2020. This team won 57 flipping games last year, then turned around and finished two games over .500 and swept a playoff series on the road this season, before getting boat-raced by the Braves. It was marvelous, minus the Braves debacle. I did think they could contend this season, but my bet was on them finishing around 27-33 in the abbreviated season; not quite there yet. But they were a legitimately good baseball team in 2020.
Ok, now to 2021.
There were some glaring holes in this roster that need to be addressed this offseason in order to replicate or build upon the success of this season. The good news is the deficiencies are plainly obvious, so the front office should have a clear plan of action. The bad news is, well, the reason they are plainly obvious is because the Miami Marlins were dogshit in these areas.
The Jorge Alfaro/Chad Wallach combo is not gonna get it done at the Major League level. Sorry. Alfaro has three plus tools (power, speed, arm), but his defense, particularly his framing, and plate discipline are horrific. These flaws have held him back tremendously; he might just be an average big league catcher. Don Mattingly didn't start him once in the playoffs despite him hitting .298/.327/.489 across the last two weeks of the season. Wallach got the starting nods instead, even with his utter lack of oomph with the bat. This team survived all season with its pitching, so Donnie Baseball clearly valued Wallach's defensive prowess over Alfaro's power. Wallach can't be the long-term starter, through.
I don't think the Marlins splurge on J.T. Realmuto. The next two most attractive free agent catchers would probably be James McCann and Wilson Ramos. They'd be buying high on McCann, who has blossomed into an excellent hitter over the past few seasons. Ramos is the buy-low option. He recently turned 33 and is coming off a bad season, but put up an .802 OPS and 117 OPS+ across the two seasons prior, good for 5.4 oWAR. I'd bet he has a few more good years in him. Both of these options make sense for the Marlins, in the 3-year, $25-35 million range for McCann and the 2-year $15-18 million range for Ramos, with a 3rd-year team option.
These are quick fixes, though. The Marlins really need to dedicate themselves to their catching depth in the upcoming draft if they want to solve this issue. I'd also like them to take a flier or two on former top prospects who have lost the bloom on their roses. Austin Allen? Chance Sisco perhaps? Could they snag Reese McGuire? These low-risk, high-reward trades could be tremendous for the Marlins' depleted catching depth.
2. Young Hitters
Jazz Chisholm. Jesús Sánchez. Monte Harrison. Lewis Brinson. Isan Díaz. Five players acquired by the Marlins via trade. Five players who have at some point been top-100 prospects. Five players who have been unequivocally awful at hitting Major League pitching:
Chisholm: .161/.242/.321, 53 OPS+ (62 PA)
Sánchez: .040/.172/.080, -27 OPS+ (29 PA)
Harrison: .170/.235/.255, 35 OPS+ (51 PA)
Brinson: .195/.242/.305, 49 OPS+ (766 PA)
Díaz: .174/.251/.294, 45 OPS+ (223 PA)
Combined oWAR= -4.4
Combined BB:K= 68:346
It boggles the mind how every single top hitting prospect the Marlins have called up under Derek Jeter's tenure has been completely outmatched. I didn't even mention Lewin Díaz, who has never been a top-100 guy but was right on the cusp and is a highly-touted power prospect. He put up a .154/.195/.205 slash line with a 10 OPS+ in 2020, which is on-brand for young Marlins hitters. These guys haven't just struggled; they don't look like they belong on a big league field.
There's a problem here and it needs to be solved. I don't think patience is the answer anymore. Top prospects often light it up right out of the gate once they are called up, then they struggle after opposing pitching staffs can gameplan against them. Some struggle immediately, sure. But five in a row? Completely unable to put the bat on the ball after such successful Minor League careers? No way. I'm not buying it anymore. Something is wrong with how the Marlins scout their hitters or how they develop them, or both. This needs to be addressed immediately so the Fish can put these guys in a position to succeed; young hitters will be counted on next season.
3. Useful Veterans
The Marlins' hearts were in the right place when they signed Corey Dickerson, Matt Joyce, and Jonathan Villar last offseason. It's never a bad thing to add three affordable veteran bats coming off good seasons. Unfortunately, none of them produced up to their standards in 2020.
Dickerson's 94 OPS+ was a far cry from his 131 figure in 2019. Joyce fell from 119 to 81. Villar, before they traded him to the Blue Jays at the deadline, had an 81 OPS+ with Miami, compared to 109 in 2019. Not great. Dickerson is on the hook for one more season, and at 31, it's conceivable that he could once again be a good Major League hitter. The Marlins don't have to worry about Joyce or Villar sucking up at bats anymore, though. What they should do is try again with new proven free agent hitters.
Mitch Moreland, Jedd Gyorko, and Brad Miller are three names the Marlins could consider. They all have pop, an issue for the Marlins in 2020, and they won't be too expensive. You figure Mattingly will find around 300-400 PA for each of these guys, maybe more if there are injuries. That's more than enough opportunities to make a difference. The Marlins need players that can produce runs at the plate, especially if the aforementioned prospects keep living under the Mendoza Line.
The Miami Marlins will be even better in 2021 if they address their catching situation, get more production out of their young core, and can plug a few powerful veteran bats into the lineup a couple times per week. The pitching is fine; the rotation has a clear 1-2-3, and has several horses on the way. The bullpen is aging, but it should be rejuvenated by the overflow of pitchers in the Minors, many of whom will become relievers. I do think they'd win an extra 5-10 games, at least, if they got rid of those awful black-on-black tops, which have to be the most illegible jerseys in all of sports. (It doesn't take much to fix them. Takes Were Made already did.)
The 2020 Miami Marlins were a gift to South Florida. This season could be the start of something special.