The 2021 Miami Marlins are in an interesting situation this season.
What a ride 2020 was for the Fish. The Miami Marlins advanced to playoffs for the first time since the Bush administration, and swept the Cubs once they got there. They then got abused by a Braves team that has had their number for a while, but all in all, it was a tremendous season full of awesome storylines.
Where did the team go from there? Ehhhhhh, not very far. Forward, but by steps, not leaps. They made minor strides in their bullpen, adding affordable, proven pieces much like they did last year. The offense got a tad better as well; hopefully Adam Duvall mashes baseballs all year long. But overall, they pretty much stood pat. I assume they will really go for it if/when their bevy of toolsy prospects start contributing at the big league level, but that is probably a year or two away. Until then, Derek Jeter and new GM Kim Ng seem content to make savvy moves to improve the team in the short run, without mortgaging the future.
I wrote a similar article last year about three possible outcomes for the Marlins. My best option had them at 32-28 with a Wild Card spot (they went 31-29 with a Wild Card spot). What that means is that you should absolutely take what I write as gospel and nothing else, clearly.
Here are three routes this season could take for the Miami Marlins.
Option 1: Brick by brick, my citizens
There is a real possibility the Marlins finish last in the division. I truly am sorry to have to break it to overly-optimistic fans, but it's true. Miami's Major League roster is talented, but horribly imbalanced, particularly on the offensive side.
Corey Dickerson, Starling Marté, Adam Duvall, Garrett Cooper, Jon Berti, Magneuris Sierra, Lewis Brinson, and Monte Harrison all deserve to get at bats in 2021. They all play outfield. Most of them play only outfield. Mind you, guys like Jesús Sánchez and J.J. Bleday could also push for big league at bats this season. Oh, and there's no DH spot to stick any of them. What is Don Mattingly supposed to do about this?
The infield, on the other hand, is much thinner. Probably a little too thin, but at least guys like the aforementioned Berti and Miguel Rojas can play everywhere. Behind the plate, though? Big yikes. Jorge Alfaro and Chad Wallach simply aren't good Major League catchers. Maybe Alfaro will bounce back this season. Maybe. Chad Wallach is fine as a backup once or twice a week, but he can't start. There are no good options waiting in the wings at the moment either. Not great.
In this scenario, Wallach and Alfaro don't produce and the outfield is too crowded, leading to scarce at bats and players not finding a groove. I have no fears about the starting rotation, which is talented, deep, and after last season, much more proven. But in this version of the 2021 season, the 30-somethings they scooped up in the bullpen can't nail down games.
Relievers typically have a huge variance from year to year. While guys like Anthony Bass, Dylan Floro, Ross Detwiler, and John Curtiss had excellent seasons in 2020, there's always a chance they lose their touch in 2021, no matter how good they were. Get ready for Sixto Sánchez to go 8-12 with a 2.7 ERA.
Nevertheless, there'll still be something to watch (if we get to watch the Marlins at all). This season will become about developing the hitting prospects who have struggled so mightily in recent years. They seem to be the last piece of the puzzle in Jeter's quest to build a consistent winner, so we shouldn't be too bummed out if the Fish finish last while Harrison, Brinson, Jazz, Isan, etc. show some development. Last year was nice, but it was a blip on the radar. The ship sails on towards a 2023-ish World Series title.
Record: 69-93 (Nice)
Option 2: Anything we can do, they can do better
Like I said, the Marlins got marginally better in multiple areas this offseason. Unfortunately, everyone else in the division improved more so than Miami did, as they all seem to be in win-now mode. Even if Donnie finds a formula for sorting out his lineup and the bullpen is solid once again, they might still struggle to compete against the Nationals, Braves, Phillies, and Mets.
The Marlins' rotation is pretty much on par with every other rotation in the division. But you could make the case that the Nationals and Mets are slightly better overall, due to their star power at the top. This is Miami's biggest strength, but even then, they simply don't have a Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Mike Soroka, or Jacob deGrom-type guy. Not yet anyway.
The other issue is that every other team rakes, and the Marlins don't. On any given day, this lineup will feature a few serviceable big league hitters, a few above-average ones, and a few projects. The Marlins will occasionally struggle to score runs, you can count on it. They really have to pitch well, which will be hard when every inter-division lineup has MVP-caliber bats in it.
Miami probably won't finish last in this universe. I'm thinking 4th, ahead of the Phillies, whose pitching staff is iffy, to say the least. Shit, maybe even 3rd if the Nationals' rotation breaks down like it did last season. But they won't be able to hang with the Mets and Braves, sadly, not over a full season. Those teams are on another level due to deeper pockets and/or better player development. They might not always be, but they are at the moment. Things will change.
Option 3: What fools these mortals be
You dare to doubt Derek, First of his Name, of House Jeter, Owner of the Five Rings, Warden of Marlins Park, Lord of the Jump Throw? SHAME! Maybe Jetes didn't want to splurge on a big name because he and Kim Ng know the wins they need are already in-house. Another season with James Rowson will unlock the vast potential of hitters like Brin Diesel, Isan Maxima (my own nickname for Díaz, patent pending), etc. The lineup will rarely look the same on back-to-back days, but the "next man up" and "why not us?" mentalities will make players rise to the occasion when they are called upon. This team will run, they will get on base, and they will hit the ball out of the ballpark. Several Marlins have the capacity to do all three of those things, and that potential will finally be revealed at the Major League level.
The starting rotation builds upon last year's run to be even more dominant in 2021. The top three of Sandy, Sixto, and Pablo are set, while a mixture of Nick Neidert, Trevor Rogers, Elieser Hernández, and maybe Max Meyer and Edward Cabrera (once he's healthy) round out the starting rotation. Guys consistently go deep into games to keep the effective-but-aging pen fresh, and relievers induce ground balls and soft contact all year long, just like last year. Midseason trades? Possibly. I imagine it would be for a lights-out closer wasting away on a losing team. Or maybe a middle-of-the-order thumper to drive in runs, preferably a lefty. The organization has plenty of farm depth to make a short-term move if need be.
This team won't have to worry about the Phillies or Nats bothering them. They might still finish behind the Braves and/or Mets, though. But it'll be enough for a Wild Card spot, and no team will be wanting to face Miami's pitching in the playoffs. We all thought this offseason was a sign the Marlins just aren't quite there yet. We thought the rebuild would continue, and last year was just a pleasant surprise on their road to contention. We were wrong.
I'm always excited for Marlins baseball, but I'm particularly excited this season because it is the first time I can remember the team actually improving after contending the year prior. Or at least trying to improve. A season like 2020 usually signals the beginning of the end, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
I have them finishing between option #1 and #2, closer to #2; I made a prediction on Crow Worthy that they'd win 75 games. Not great, but not terrible either. Regardless, the Miami Marlins, for the second year in a row, will be an intriguing team with some impressive potential. Been a while since we could say that, folks.
To close, I'll leave you with the immortal words of the incomparable Scott Stapp (you're welcome)...