Playing Pepper 2018: Miami Marlins

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Miami Marlins
77-85, second in NL East
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Every year, when I sit down to make up the Playing Pepper questions, I always start the series of inquiries with something relating to the offseason.  I kinda felt bad about asking that of the Marlins bloggers, given the epic teardown that the club went through after the sale from Jeffrey Loria to Derek Jeter was complete.  (Who’d have thought you could go lower than what Loria did?)  Still, a couple of intrepid bloggers were willing to talk about this club and what hope there might be coming.

Writer Site Twitter
Sean Millerick Call to the Pen miasportsminute
Thomas Bennett Fish Stripes ThomasManyNames

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Sean: Unfortunately, that’s quite the loaded and nuanced question when it comes to the Miami Marlins. In terms of the big-league club, dramatically worse than the 2017 model. The starting rotation probably treaded water, but the team is obviously a lock to finish with a Top 3 Draft Pick. If we take a bigger picture look, prospect depth improved exponentially. Although, the prospect return arguably should have been far greater, as many of the moves were far more about dumping salary than maximizing return. The new regime actually found a way to burn through any shred of goodwill for not being Jeffrey Loria before Spring Training even started. That’s an impressive feat. As it is, when looking at overall improvement, the short answer is no.  

Thomas: The Marlins were arguably the story of the offseason, with the new ownership group trading away four star players in Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon. Marlins fandom is decidedly split on whether or not a rebuild is a good thing or even necessary. Personally, I didn’t want to see those guys traded, but didn’t really buy in to the idea that they were one to two pitchers away (and beside that, those kinds of game-changing pitchers don’t grow on trees).

Still, even if you liked the return, it’s hard to say that they improved in the short term. It’s guys like Monte Harrison, Sandy Alcantara and Jorge Guzman that will ultimately determine whether or not this was a successful offseason, and we won’t know that for another couple years, at least.

C70: So who is the next face of the Marlins, now that so many are gone?

Sean: J.T. Realmuto just edges out Justin Bour for the right to make the media guide cover in 2018. He’s still improving, and is already well regarded around the game. He should have made the last two All-Star Games. Actually, the only thing keeping him out of the All Star Game is the name value of Yadier Molina. If you can get him to start showing his age or retire, that would be great. Realmuto easily takes his spot as the perennial NL catcher on the ballot once that happens. That said, there’s been a lot of talk about his being traded away. But until that happens, this is Realmuto’s team. That storyline will only increase if a couple of these young pitching prospects take some big 2018 strides. 

Thomas: Lewis Brinson has the best shot of becoming the face. He’s a local kid, actually excited to be back home playing for the team he grew up rooting for, and he certainly has the tools to become a solid player. The Marlins arguably need him to pan out more than anyone else.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Sean: That there’s still a fair amount of offensive talent left over. Last year’s club actually had the third highest batting average in baseball at .267, and was in the Top 10 in RBIs. Now, sure, four of the best five hitters have been traded. But it really was a team effort last season. Bour and Realmuto were no slouches at the plate, and the Fish are also getting a .291 career hitter back in Martin Prado. Miguel Rojas can be streaky good at getting on base, and Derek Dietrich has flashed both power and plate discipline at times. Both should get their first crack at being everyday players in 2018. As a result, I think the offense will be better than many baseball fans expect. There could still be a Top 15 offense here. The problem is that there doesn’t project to be a Top 25 starting rotation, and that many of those offensive names could be moved at any point between now and August. This lineup could put up some big numbers on any given night, but will unfortunately need to do it every night if they want to compete. 

Thomas: The narrative out there would have you believe that everything Marlins is a disaster right now. I’ve chosen to be optimistic over the chosen course, because it seems to me that Derek Jeter and Gary Denbo (the new vice president of player development) are serious about bringing a winning culture to Miami, in the long run. They’ve installed the Captain’s Camp, which was previously run in New York with the Yankees and helped produce many of the current young luminaries that reside on that roster today. We’ve seen a lot of fire sales in Miami, but this one feels different…it feels like there is actually a plan in place similar to the ones which ended up launching the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs into the stratosphere. Time will tell if the Miami Marlins get to chart that course.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Marlins to do well?

Sean: Honestly, the best answer to that question is probably GM Michael Hill. It will be hard for one player to carry this roster to respectability. But if anyone could do it, give me Bour. If he can stay healthy, he can easily produce a 40 HR season, and give opposing pitchers a reason to pitch to some of the less accomplished hitters in the lineup. Surround a healthy Bour with Realmuto and Prado, and the offense could end up being respectable. Prado projects to be the better leader, Realmuto is the most talented. But in terms of the least replaceable, that’s Bour. The Marlins are down to one big bat, and need it big time. 

Thomas: Justin Bour has to be the monster in the middle of the lineup that I think he’s capable of being. He belted 25 home runs with 83 RBIs last season in only 108 games and had a memorable performance in the home run derby that ended up getting overshadowed by the eventual winner, Aaron Judge. His BABIP of .322 in 2017 is probably going to come down a little, and he needs to show that he can stay healthy, but it seems to me that Miami’s favorite donut lover is going to bring the thunder with great frequency this season, even if the players around him have lessened in skill and quality.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Sean: Projection is pain, sadly. The 2018 Miami Marlins are going to give the 1998 Marlins a serious run for worst record in franchise history. But I actually expect them to fall short of that goal, and end up clearing sixty wins. They’ll do just well enough to NOT pick first, which will just be all the more painful for the fans.  

Thomas: Many projections have this team as one of the two or three worst teams in baseball (keeping company with the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox). It’s hard to argue against that given what they’ve lost, and we know that not all of their young talent is going to pan out right off the bat (if at all). I don’t think the offense is as bad as people think it’s going to be, particularly if guys like Starlin Castro and J.T. Realmuto actually end up sticking around most of the season. With a diminished lineup and a pitching staff that didn’t really improve from last season, though, it’s hard to argue against the notion that they’ll end up well under .500. I’d peg it at 72-90 at the moment.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Sean: Hmmm. Truthfully, surprised I wasn’t asked about the kind of player you’re getting in Marcell Ozuna. Guess you were just being polite. I’d expect him to be as near and dear to Cardinal fans hearts as Matt Carpenter by season’s end. Stud, clutch hitter, excellent defender…he’s got it all. Losing him hurt, especially since it was the least necessary of all the trades. That being said, the prospect I’m most excited about having gotten back (that would have been another good one) is Sandy Alcantara. None of the outfielders excite me, because the bar is Gold Glover and/or league leader in HRs. But Alcantara is another story. If he can become a Top 3 MLB starter, the trade was worth it for a pitching starved franchise. 

Thomas: “Even with all the turmoil, are you still glad to be rid of Jeffrey Loria?” YES!

My thanks to the guys for taking the time to talk about the Marlins.  If nothing else, Cardinal fans will watch and see how those former Redbirds will do and hopefully often give a silent nod of thanks for the new left fielder throughout the year!

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