Every year since 2009, I’ve spent some time before the season starts trying to find out what fanbases are thinking about their team. It’s so easy to get myopic, especially with Twitter, so it’s a good chance for us (and by us, I mean me) to take a step back and remember there are 29 other Major League Baseball teams. We’ve got current bloggers, former bloggers that indulge me still, and this year a few media folks chiming in as well. Get out the bat, ball, and glove: it’s time once again to play some pepper.
63-98, fifth in NL East
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Last year’s Pepper
No matter what is happening on the field, there always seems to be some sort of story coming out of Miami. Even with Derek Jeter the new face of ownership instead of Jeffrey Loria, there feels like the same type of mindset toward keeping costs down, as we saw with the outfield trades last year and J.T. Realmuto being dealt earlier this winter. So where do the Marlins stand in a National League that seems to get more competitive by the day? We’ve got a blogger and a member of the credentialed media today who can let us in on Miami’s 2019.
|Andre Fernandez||The Athletic||FernandezAndreC|
|Sean Millerick||Call to the Pen||miasportsminute|
C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? What was good, what was bad, what else should they have done?
Andre: Overall the offseason was about what I expected from the Marlins with the obvious big story being the J.T. Realmuto trade, which finally happened on Feb. 7. The deal they made with the Phillies could end up being a really good win, but it’s not without its high risk. Clearly they gave up the most talented catcher in the game today (because he wanted out), so getting max value with their last best trade chip was important.
Pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez is to me who will make or break this trade for them as I wrote in The Athletic. Sanchez has tremendous upside and the potential to top a future Marlins’ rotation by 2020 at the earliest. But his injury issues are a big concern. He had elbow inflammation that shut him down last year and with a hard-thrower like that there’s cause to worry about him heading down the road to Tommy John if he hurts it further. Now if he can stay healthy, he’s clearly the most talented pitcher they’ve acquired in any of the deals they’ve made over the past 15 months. Catcher Jorge Alfaro has some power potential but strikes out a lot and while he has a powerful arm behind the plate, his defense needs work.
Besides that, they haven’t done much more than expected signing Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker as stopgaps or for 25-man roster depth while prospects develop. At the very least, the perception is that both are quality guys in the clubhouse that can mentor the younger players. A questionable move was trading Nick Wittgren, who figured to be one of the more effective pieces in their bullpen for a minor league pitcher in Jordan Milbrath, who is the same age and hasn’t pitched in the majors yet.
Sean: I’m going to have to cheat on the good. The signing of Victor Victor Mesa and his brother Victor (originality reigns supreme in that family) was the good, but that happened during the World Series. Offseason for the Marlins though! Splashing big in the international talent pool was not a move Jeffrey Loria often sanctioned, and was a welcome change in operating strategy. However, I do think they needed to add someone who might actually encourage 2019 attendance. The offseason isn’t over, but that will seem like a miss unless low-level signings Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker really pan out.
C70: What are your thoughts on the new uniforms and the removal of the home run monument?
Andre: The new uniforms have grown on me. I’m really starting to like the black uniforms in particular and the blue has a nice look to it. I’m kind of indifferent to the HR sculpture. Some hated it mostly because it was tied to the Jeffrey Loria era and some got used to seeing it there. The team continues to try and embrace a new identity on and off the field, so this is part of that effort.
Sean: Pretty much akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or if you want a really specific sports parallel, my mind went right to a story about ex-Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, where he made a point of picking up a piece of litter at a team practice to show that every detail is important. Loria did his own rebranding back in 2012…but was smart enough to pair it with a ton of pricey free agent talent being injected into an already talent rich roster. Now, everything did go horribly with that 2012 squad, but fans weren’t told in the offseason just to look at the pretty colors and enjoy the new food. Details matter, but winning is the bottom line.
C70: Sandy Alcantara had a strong September. What do you think he can do for the Marlins this year?
Andre: This figures to be Alcantara’s first real major league season. We saw glimpses of what he can do last year in September, but not enough of a sample size. He still had issues with command at times which led to walks, but a kid with at least 3 solid secondary pitches and mid-high 90s velocity deserves the benefit of the doubt to see if the control develops. The Marlins are likely to make him a fixture in the rotation this year to see how he handles himself over the course of a full season. Barring a catastrophic start, I can see him taking his place amongst their starting 5 and stick for a while.
Sean: If healthy, I think Alcantara can challenge for the Rookie of the Year award. He has that kind of talent. He’s looking good this spring so far, and nothing is going to stand in the way of him getting every opportunity to work on his craft this year. His team might stand in the way of his earning wins, but he can rack up the strikeouts along with a respectable ERA for sure. I don’t think he’s an ace, but I expect him to make himself the ace of this particular Marlins staff by season’s end.
C70: What is your general outlook for 2019? Where will they finish in the division?
Andre: With the team still very much in rebuild mode and each of their division rivals loading up, I can’t see them escaping the basement of the East this year. Finishing better than last year’s 63-98 will depend largely on progress from players heading into crucial second or third full years in the majors such as Alcantara, Lewis Brinson, Brian Anderson, JT Riddle, Jorge Alfaro. The starting rotation should be a strength, but the lineup in the beginning could be brutal to watch if those guys struggle. Adding Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson is fine in terms of experience, but neither of those guys are likely to produce a ton at this point in their careers.
Sean: Unfortunately, this is as easy to answer as it has been in twenty years. The Marlins will be finishing last this year in the NL East, and near the bottom of the league overall. The team is rebuilding, and to some extent, they likely needed to. That said, they are still early in the process. What will sting worse in 2019 is that every other team in the division improved- that’s likely going to dig into the bottom-line of wins and losses quite a bit. I actually expect the 2019 Marlins to play better baseball than the 2018 model, except at catcher. But they’ll be losing more games, and could challenge the franchise record.
C70: What’s the biggest question for this team going into the season and what’s the answer to it?
Andre: How much will the prospects on the cusp of major-league breakthroughs develop and will we see significant progress from some of the guys obtained in the trades for Realmuto/Stanton/Yelich/Ozuna/Gordon? To me this goes beyond this season which will likely end with them double-digit games under .500 again. It’s where they are by the end of September in terms of what strides certain players made that will determine if they are where they need to be in the process of this rebuild. If for example, Brinson comes out hitting a lousy .200/.210 after a significant amount of time – is he a bust? If Sandy Alcantara is struggling with a 5 or 6 ERA and walking people left and right, they’ve got issues. But if they see progress even if the wins don’t come in bunches this year, then it will show they made some good choices in terms of the players they acquired.
Sean: The biggest question is whether they can finish the season with anything positive to build upon going into the next season. That really didn’t happen last year beyond Brian Anderson, and the excitement over that was washed out by many of the names picked up in last season’s trades struggling. The Marlins desperately need to create optimism. This season needs to produce at least two players fans can be excited about watching this year, and for years to come. Who will the new fan favorites be? J.T. Realmuto is gone. Next year, Starlin Castro and Martin Prado almost assuredly will be as well. In short, the biggest question is whose jersey am I going to buy in 2020?
C70: What do you expect will give you the most joy watching this team on a regular basis this season?
Andre: Probably what I mentioned in the previous question, which started a little last year, seeing a franchise lay the building blocks for future success up close both in the majors and the minors. Seeing guys with real upside start to perform on the major league level and have the chance to document that and write baseball/human interest stories that differentiate from the routine stuff you see most other places, which is what we try to bring at The Athletic.
Sean: Can it just be the game of baseball? But some new faces will surely make strides this year. At least someone will. Whether it’s a local boy talent in Lewis Brinson, or Brian Anderson proving last year was just the beginning, the hope is 2019 will provide at least one name fans can rely on to be worth investing in. Personally though, I hope it’s a pitcher. Whether it’s Alcantara, Caleb Smith, or someone else…someone other than Dan Straily needs to step up and show the Marlins are worth a ticket when they’re on the mound.
My thanks to Andre and Sean for giving us some thoughts on the Marlins. It’s often tough to be a Marlins fan and this year seems to be no exception, but hopefully it’s a year that shows team growth for their faithful!