The Miami Marlins will, for the first time in a while, be an intriguing team this year
We’re getting 60 games plus playoffs, MLB fans. No more hitting pitchers. Teams start with a runner on 2nd base in extras, 16 playoff teams. It’ll be funky, but it’s baseball, so we got that going for us, which is nice.
60 games is a small sample size when compared to the usual 162-game schedule, though the teams you expect to be in contention (Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, etc.) will probably still be there come October, playing for a chance to capture the 2020 World Series. Nevertheless, there will certainly be some surprises borne by the variance and randomness made possible by such a short season.
I’d like to go on the record saying that I do not think the Miami Marlins will be one of those surprises.
But, again, it could happen this year. Really. There are many different ways the 2020 season could go, and contention is, believe it or not, one of the possibilities for the Marlins. Here’s a breakdown of that (faint) probability, and a few others.
Option #1: The Rebuild Continues
The Marlins invested in some experienced and serviceable big leaguers this offseason, adding the likes of Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson, Matt Joyce, Brandon Kintzler, Yimi García, and a few others. The position players mentioned combined for 5.3 bWAR and averaged a 120 OPS+ in 2019, while the pitchers averaged a 140 ERA+. Not exactly slouches.
The question is, what do they do with these players? Players like Lewin Díaz, Isan Díaz, Jazz Chisholm, Jesús Sanchez, and Monte Harrison are the future, and they are all on the 40-man roster. Well, in this scenario, Derek Jeter and Michael Hill acknowledge this fact and punt on the season halfway through, shipping off a few of these newly-acquired, serviceable veterans, along with guys like Garrett Cooper and/or Caleb Smith, to a contender in exchange for more prospects. You have to imagine they will prioritize catching and power bats in the infield, as they have an abundance of arms and outfielders at every level.
The Marlins finish near the bottom of the league, as the youngins are just not ready to compete at this level as a whole, and secure a top-five spot in the 2021 MLB Draft. They shift gears next season, signing a few of their studs to team-friendly deals. As far as tanking goes, you could do far worse than weathering a 60-game stretch of sucking.
Option #2: The Times, They Are A-Changin’
Picture the 2014 Houston Astros. This team finished 70-92 and came in 4th place in their division; just a bad season if you weren’t paying attention. The thing is, this team improved by 19 games in 2014, after losing 111 in ’13. They also had young players named Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel, who were starting to realize their potential at the Major League level. 2014 was when the Astros began their upswing, and 2020 could be a similar story for the Miami Marlins.
In this universe, the Marlins aren’t quite a playoff team, but they aren’t to be trifled with either. Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera show flashes, but are not consistent enough. Sandy Alcantara misses more bats and decreases his walk-rate. The front office still ships off one or two pieces, maybe Smith and the rejuvenated Jesús Aguilar, but they keep many of their reliable, affordable players for added depth in the years to come. Harrison and Chisholm strike out way too much, but they show that the power potential and athleticism are real. It’s a productive year for the Miami Marlins, but 2021 and beyond is when they can truly focus on the here and now, like the Astros did after 2014.
Option #3: Ahead of Schedule
Maybe Isan Díaz puts up an .850 OPS and Monte Harrison hits 10 bombs and swipes 15 bases. Maybe James Rowson fixes Lewis Brinson and he has a 2-win season. Maybe Sixto Sanchez goes 5-1 with a 2.3 ERA, while Brian Anderson continues his power surge on the way to a .505 SLG. The talent is certainly there.
I do not believe Jeter and Hill make moves at the deadline to go for it all this year, regardless of how well the team is doing. They have always thought long-term, and they do not strike me as the type of duo that is content with selling off their most valuable pieces for the sake of a one or two-year window, ala the Chicago Cubs shipping off Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez in 2016 and 2017, respectively. They want to build a sustainable winner, like the Atlanta Braves are in the process of doing.
I could still see them moving a player or two at the deadline for more farm depth, even if they are in contention. Lewis Brinson might emerge as a candidate, as he will be part of a crowded outfield even if he is performing. Garrett Cooper faces a similar situation at 1B with Aguilar and Díaz next to him. It might be difficult to exercise restraint if they see a real opportunity this season, but count on the new front office to resist those types of temptations.
As per the 2020 schedule release, the Fish will play 86.7% of their season against teams that had winning records in 2019, the highest total in the Divisional Era. That, uh, doesn’t bode well for Donnie Baseball’s squad. You’d love to see them play at the level of their opponents and pull off Option #3, finishing at 32-28 with a Wild Card spot, but the Miami Marlins will surely be content with 25-30 wins. That’s progress. The front office has to be looking at 2019’s 57-105 debacle as rock bottom, so a winning percentage above .400 is certainly a victory in the grand scheme of things.
The Miami Marlins will be an intriguing MLB team to watch in 2020, which is a welcome change for baseball fans in South Florida. Here’s hoping they stay safe and that we get a good glimpse of the wunderkinds that will be roaming Marlins Park in the years to come.