They're not ready to contend just yet, but don't be surprised if Derek Jeter has an active offseason.
Rebuilds are hard. They can be messy. They can alienate all but the die-hard fans, and even their loyalty will be tested. That has been the reality of the Miami Marlins since Derek Jeter and Co. took over in September of 2017.
However, if the Marlins faithful are looking for a bright spot to the miserable 2019 season, it’s this; it was probably rock-bottom.
PROBABLY. It is possible that the abundance of prospects in the Marlins farm system do not pan out, specifically the ones that will be in the majors next season, and that the 2020 team will somehow be worse than the 57-105 squad of 2019. Prospect-development is a fickle business. That is PROBABLY not going to happen, though, as players like Sixto Sanchez, Monte Harrison, and Edward Cabrera will likely give the team a nice boost at the big-league level.
These soon-to-be Marlins will become household names, which is good for the fans. But if the front office really wants to show the Fish-faithful that it is committed to fielding a winner in South Florida, as well as expediting the whole rebuilding process, then nabbing at least one big-name free agent this offseason would be a savvy move.
Here are a few realistic offseason targets that could be wearing “Miami Blue” and “Caliente Red” next season.
1. Marcell Ozuna
A familiar face returning to Marlins Park. Ozuna was dealt away in December of 2017 for four prospects, three of which have made it to the Majors with the Marlins (Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, and Zac Gallen). Ozuna was traded after a career season that saw him produce a 149 OPS+ and 6.1 bWAR. Since then, he has reverted back to his mean, which is a 2-3 WAR player. He will be 29 next season, and likely has a few more years of solid production in him, health permitting. 2017 is never coming back, but “The Big Bear” can still be an All-Star-ish caliber player.
What the Marlins can do
The Marlins outfield is a question mark heading into 2020. The aforementioned Sierra performed well offensively and defensively after he was called up, albeit over just 15 September games. He does seem primed to begin next season as the Fish’s starting center fielder. Monte Harrison will probably make his Major League debut as the starting right fielder in 2020. The toolsy outfielder showed off a refined approach in AAA New Orleans in 2019, though his season was shortened due to a wrist injury.
That leaves left field, where Ozuna had the best season of his career in 2017. No Marlins candidate for that position holds a candle to Ozuna in terms of performance right now. Would something in the range of a three-year, $50-60 million contract be out of the question for Jeter and Michael Hill? Is veteran leadership, a name that fans recognize, and steady performance enough to get the front office to open its wallet? Time will tell. Since he rejected a Qualifying Offer from the Cardinals, the Marlins would need to give up some draft capital to get him. On the surface, however, a deal like this makes sense.
2. Jake Odorizzi
You know exactly what you’re getting with Odorizzi. Since 2014, there have been few more bankable pitchers in all of baseball than the 29-year-old right hander. He has thrown over 150 innings in all but one of those seasons, tossing 143.1 in 2017. He has averaged 2.2 bWAR, a 3.88 ERA, and a 106 ERA+. Jake Odorizzi is not an ace, but he is a reliable and effective starting pitcher, something that is rare in today’s game.
What the Marlins can do
If there’s one thing Derek Jeter has prioritized since taking over, it’s pitching. Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith are shoo-ins to begin next season as #1 and #2 in the rotation, respectively. After that it gets interesting. Jordan Yamamoto and Pablo Lopez have had their flashes in the Majors, but have not been consistent as of yet. Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera are knocking on the door, which may push one or both of Yamamoto and Lopez to the bullpen. There is certainly room for the Marlins to sign a proven talent like Odorizzi, who would probably slot in as the #2 or #3.
The Twins gave him a Qualifying Offer that he is likely to reject. Similar to the Ozuna situation, the Marlins would have to part with one or more draft picks if Odorizzi signed with them. This would be a clear sign that Jeter and the Marlins are ready to shift from rebuilding mode to winning mode. Something like three years and $45 million for Odorizzi seems fair based on his track record. Jeter might have to simply throw more money at him than other teams do, due to the fact that Miami isn’t a sought-after free agent destination right now. He might be worth it.
3. Nicholas Castellanos
After wallowing with the hapless Tigers for the first two-thirds of 2019, Castellanos was dealt to the Cubs. He promptly put up a 1.002 OPS and 151 OPS+ after that, becoming an absolute force for a team in the middle of a playoff push. This could not have come at a better time for the 6’4” outfielder, as he now enters free agency with this mesmerizing run fresh in teams’ minds.
What the Marlins can do
The book has always been the same on Castellanos; pretty good run-producer, bad defender. His defense has fluctuated from below average to horrendous, but his bat has been steady since he became a regular in the Majors. Even if the Marlins are getting the Detroit Tigers-version of Castellanos, that amounts to around a 115 OPS+ and 20-25 home runs. What’s more, you can realistically assume there is more production in him. He will be 28 next season, and though his Cubs performance may not be sustainable, it is entirely possible that he takes a step forward in the power department. Marlins Park is unforgiving, but Comerica Park is even more demoralizing for hitters. He did just fine there. The organization might just have to live with his defense; the bat is what they want.
Then there’s the hometown-kid angle. Castellanos is from South Florida, so fans can latch onto that as the front office tries to get more people into Marlins Park. A deal similar to what Ozuna might get makes sense. He would play one of the corner outfield positions, while providing desperately-needed oomph to an anemic Miami lineup.
4. Justin Smoak
You may not know it, but Justin Smoak has averaged 28 home runs and a 119 OPS+ over the last three seasons. He took a step back in 2019, hitting just .208 for the Blue Jays. Even in a down year though, his .748 OPS and 101 OPS+ were respectable (those figures would have each been good for third-best on the 2019 Marlins). He’ll be 33 next season, but his unquestioned eye and proven power suggest that he still has some productive years left in him.
What the Marlins can do
With the way MLB free agency has played out recently, Smoak might be the kind of player that ends up waiting near his phone until the middle of Spring Training, or even after the season has begun. For the Marlins, this could mean that he becomes a very affordable option for them as February and March roll around. Would he accept being a mentor on a non-contending team for a two-year, $15M contract? At 33 and coming off of his worst season since 2016, he might not have the luxury of being picky this offseason.
In terms of logistics, Smoak would have to slot in at 1B for the Fish in 2020. This would mean that the Marlins would have to move Garrett Cooper, one of their better hitters in 2019, to right field, where he played 31 games last season. This would then affect some of the Marlins’ 1B and corner outfield prospects, namely Lewin Diaz and Monte Harrison. It would certainly take some mixing and matching by Don Mattingly, but if management is looking to add an affordable, proven bat to the lineup for the next few seasons, Justin Smoak is a solid option.
5. Will Harris
Don’t be fooled by the high-profile mishaps in this past World Series; Will Harris has been one of the best relievers in baseball since 2015. 2019 was his best season to date, as he posted an ungodly 309 ERA+ over 60 innings for the ‘Stros. He’s 35, but his fastball velocity has remained relatively consistent over the past few years, and he has never been one to survive on elite velocity anyway (he’s a cutter guy).
What the Marlins can do
Among the Marlins long list of needs heading into 2020 is the bullpen; they ranked 26th in the Majors in bullpen ERA in 2019. It can be risky to spend on free agent relievers due to how volatile they can be (see: Diaz, Edwin), but Harris’s skills will likely age well. He immediately becomes a candidate to handle the 9th inning, something that management can use to entice him, but Mattingly can use him in a variety of roles if need be. A two-year, $15-20M deal with a team option for a third year is in the Marlins’ wheel house, as 2021 and 2022 are when this rebuild figures to bear fruit at the Major League level.
Dallas Keuchel, Yasiel Puig, Michael Pineda, Jose Abreu, Tanner Roark, Matt Joyce, Sam Dyson, Corey Dickerson
Will it happen?
It is tough to predict when Jeter will determine that the team is ready to shift gears. He is certainly not the type of person that is content with losing, so it would be no surprise if the Marlins are real players this offseason. The top-tier free agents (Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, etc.) are out of the question. But scooping up a solid contributor from the lower tiers of a stacked free agent class is something that the Miami Marlins just might be considering.