Playing Pepper 2017: Miami Marlins

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Miami Marlins
79-82, third in NL East
Last year’s Pepper

We’ve been there and it’s a terrible place.

We know what it’s like to see a young, talented player cut down in his prime.  It may even be worse for the Marlins, who got to see just how good Jose Fernandez was before he was taken much too soon.  Trying to come back from that is a difficult thing, even with an offseason in between.

The game doesn’t stop, though, and the Marlins have to try to put out their best effort here in 2017.  To talk about what their outlook is like, we’ve got Sean Millerick, a writer at Marlin Maniac, to give us some answers.  Give him a follow at the site’s Twitter handle, MarlinManiac.

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

MM: Grading the Marlins offseason this year is really a matter of perspective. They needed to replace a player that was arguably one of the three best pitchers in baseball, and obviously didn’t do that. But doing that was also impossible- Edinson Volquez might have actually been the best free agent pitcher available, and pounce on him the Marlins did. They offered huge money to the elite closers, and ended up signing multiple good relievers instead, creating what could be one of the game’s top bullpens in 2017. There are more good players on the team going into 2017 than there were in 2016, but ultimately the Marlins are counting on better health and luck carrying them forward than anything else. Picking one move I wish they’d made that they didn’t, I fail to see why Jason Hammel wasn’t worth the money once he’d been hung out to dry as long as he had. That’s been the kind of situation the organization has jumped on in the past, and I was genuinely surprised when he signed for as little as he did elsewhere.  

C70: What’s the major strength of this team?

MM: The bullpen is the easy answer, as that’s what gotten all the buzz. It was good in 2016, the only members not returning are the two that weren’t that good, and the bulk of the Marlins offseason was spent adding to it anyway. But I’m going to go with the offense here. The club was fourth in all of baseball in batting average last season, no small feat. Marcell Ozuna made his first All-Star Game, but strong arguments could be made that as many as three position player teammates not named Giancarlo Stanton deserved the honor more. Scoring was a problem to be sure, but three regulars all missed significant time due to either injury (Justin Bour, Stanton) or suspension (Dee Gordon). It would seem impossible for the team to have the same degree of bad luck they did last year, suggesting a spike in offense would be forthcoming even without a promised renewed focus on analytics and film study. If health holds, I’m excited to see what this offense can do. 

C70: Can and will Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy for an entire year?

MM: No and no. Can’t claim he’ll do it until he does it at this point. That being said, last year’s groin pull was one of his first “normal” injuries in years. Getting hit in the face or the hand by a baseball doesn’t necessarily warrant being branded as injury prone, and that was what did in baseball’s biggest power threat in 2014 and 2015. If it ever does happen, he’ll lead the league in HRs. But time is running out for him to prove he can. I’m just hoping he’s healthy for the Home Run Derby. 

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

MM: No prospects really worth commenting on, but I’ll go with Derek Dietrich. He spent about half of 2016 batting .300, and came up huge for the organization when they needed a fill in for Gordon for those eighty games. An infielder that can play the outfield, he’s kind of the club’s secret weapon. While my fingers are crossed for health, nothing in Marlins history has caused me to uniformly expect it. If a significant injury (or suspension) happens, at any position besides catcher, expect Dietrich to receive a heavy workload. He’s well worth watching- if nothing else, his name will be a popular trade topic in July if the Fish fall out of it. 

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

MM: Last year I predicted an 80-82 finish, and that still feels right to me. Some holes were filled, some weren’t; combined with an increasingly competitive NL East, I just can’t predict the winning season I desperately want them to have. But I do expect improvement offensively. I’m just not expecting health, or for the plan of masking not having a true No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher with the bullpen all season long to work all season long. I’ll say fourth in the East, well ahead of the Phillies and just behind a Braves team that is going to be the surprise of the National League. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Marlin and why?

MM: Wow, tough sorting “kid feels” from “adult feels” here. Jose Fernandez climbed steadily up the charts every game he pitched; only Miguel Cabrera comes close for matching Jose in terms of the extent to which you expected to see something amazing every time they took the field. And I’m not sure who’s ahead of who there. Jeff Conine is way up there for me as well, but half his career is understandably fuzzy. Ultimately, I’ll go with Dan Uggla. Much like Conine and Mike Lowell, he was the consummate grinder. What separates Uggla for me could be a product of contrast as much as fondly remembering him tying the record for consecutive 30 HR seasons by a second baseman. He spent his whole Marlins career as the double-play partner for the unquestionably more talented but much less committed Hanley Ramirez. Hanley was the star, but Uggla always seemed to be much more of a leader for those 2006-2010 models of the Marlins. While it ultimately ended up being a good move, as far as not paying him anyway, it remains the most I’ve been hurt by a trade. 

My thanks to Sean for taking the time to talk Marlins with us today.  Here’s hoping that this can be a season of healing for the Marlins and their fans.

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