One of the new features that you'll be seeing at Federal Baseball this season will be series previews, so we're not going to go too crazy with a look at the other teams in the division. I imagine that dc Roach will have plenty more to add about the Washington Nationals upcoming opponents throughout the year, and I'm looking forward to some pretty neat infographics from B. Sheridan this season as well! I'm just going to take a broad look at each of the other four teams in the NL East as opening day approaches. Over the past few days, we've looked at the Phillies, the Braves, and the Mets. We'll complete this series today with a look at the Miami Marlins.
SB Nation Site: Fish Stripes
2014 Record: 77-85, fourth in NL East
Key Acquisitions: Mat Latos, Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, Dan Haren, Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado
Key Losses: Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones
Perhaps the two biggest moves that the Marlins made this offseason involved signing their two young corner outfielders to extensions. In November, they signed 25-year-old slugger Giancarlo (Cruz-Michael) Stanton to a massive thirteen year, $325 million extension that will keep him in Miami through 2027. In late March, they signed 23-year-old left fielder Christian Yelich to a seven year, $49.57 million extension which will buy out his arbitration years and his first three seasons of free agency. Yelich and Stanton figure to be two core players that the Marlins should be able to build their lineup around for the next few seasons.
Unlike the Phillies and Braves (and to some extent, the Mets, who added Cuddyer and some depth), the Marlins were a little more aggressive this offseason. They moved a couple of young starters with potential to bring in a couple of more established starters (Latos and Haren) and tried to solve their second base woes with speedster Dee Gordon. They signed former National Michael Morse to play first base and add some power to the lineup outside of Stanton and center fielder Marcell Ozuna. They moved promising young starter Nathan Eovaldi to the Yankees to acquire Martin Prado, a better version of last year's third baseman, Casey McGehee.
Will the moves help? Their offense certainly looks a bit more imposing than it did last season. Their outfield may be the best in baseball with Yelich, Ozuna, and Stanton. There's not an easy out in the lineup outside of Adeiny Hechavarria (and maybe Gordon), and the Marlins have five guys in the lineup who should have a good shot at hitting more than fifteen homers. While the Nats (when healthy) may still have a slightly deeper lineup, the Marlins may end up scoring the most runs out of any team in the division.
Of course, the pitching is a bit more of a question mark. While Latos would seem to be a stronger option to lead the rotation with Jose Fernandez out than any of the three young arms they traded, his may be the only spot in the rotation that's improved. Haren was better in Los Angeles last season than he was for the Nats in 2013, but he's certainly not the guy he was earlier in his career. He's had an ERA (and FIP) of over 4.00 the past three seasons. He's nothing more than a back end starter at this point. Heaney was one of the better starting pitching prospects in the majors, and giving up six seasons worth of control of him for Haren and a one dimensional burner like Dee Gordon who doesn't have great on base skills has disaster written all over it. Based on his 6-14 record and 4.47 ERA, it may seem that the Marlins won't miss Eovaldi much, but he's a young FIP favorite (3.47) with a big fastball who could be a monster if his surface numbers start matching his components. Even DeSclafani looked like a pretty promising prospect as he was coming up through the minors. He won a spot in the Reds' rotation, though that looks like their best deal of the winter.
Their rotation of Latos, Jared Cosart, Henderson Alvarez, Haren, and Tom Koehler will try to hold the fort down until Fernandez returns (hopefully around July?). Only Latos and Alvarez look like guys that they know they'll be able to depend upon. The bullpen isn't exactly loaded with starpower either. Steve Cishek is a fine closer and A.J. Ramos is coming off of a monster year, but the rest of the options to get those two guys the ball are underwhelming.
Best Pitcher: Mat Latos
Had the Marlins not gone out and gotten Latos, I would have gone with the injured Jose Fernandez here despite the fact that he'll miss at least the first two and a half months recovering from Tommy John surgery. The addition of Latos does give them another front of the rotation arm, though. He's maintained a sub-3.50 ERA in each of the past three seasons and keeps a nice solid walk rate in the 2.5 BB/9 range. Latos dealt with an elbow injury last season which not only cost him half the season, but also did quite a number on his strikeout production. After keeping a strikeout rate of 7.95 K/9 or higher in each of his first four full seasons, it dipped to 6.51 in 2014. If healthy, Latos should rebound a bit in the strikeout department and overall. He's sure to enjoy pitching in a more spacious park in Miami than The Great American Ballpark, so that should help him as well.
Best Reliever: Steve Cishek
After looking like the Marlins best reliever in his first year and a half with the club, Cishek took over the closer's role late in 2012. His 3.17 ERA in 2014 was the highest it's ever been, but (like the sidewinding Cishek) that's a bit deceptive. He actually had his best season in terms of strikeout production (11.57 K/9) and his best career FIP (2.17), but was plagued by a .331 BABIP against. If the Marlins can get a lead to the ninth, they're in good hands.
Sleeper Pitcher: Jared Cosart
The Marlins acquired Cosart from the Astros last season in something of a challenge trade involving a couple of young players that were redundant in their other systems (the Astros received OF Jake Marisnick). Cosart has actually posted a pretty terrific ERA in his first two seasons (3.26), but his performance in components has been kind of disappointing. After typically striking out 7.5 batters per 9 innings as he ascended through the Astros' system, he's mustered just a 5.54 K/9 in his first forty big league starts. On the positive side, he did show improved control last season. If he can keep the control gains and work his way back towards 7 K/9 in the majors, he may start making that 3.26 career ERA look like it's real. If not, his ERA may be closer to 4.50 than 3.00.
Best Position Player: Giancarlo Stanton
As great as Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper (I wrote a piece saying he'll win the MVP just a few days ago!) are, Stanton is the best hitter in the NL East. He hits for a decent average, has maintained a 14.7% walk rate over the past two seasons, and then... there's this
For the second time in three seasons, Stanton hit 37 home runs in 2014. If not for the fact that he missed almost two months in 2013 (he hit 24 HR in 116 games that year), Stanton would be looking for his fifth straight 30 HR campaign this season. As you'll note from watching the video above, he doesn't hit very many wallscrapers, and he hits them in one of the most spacious ballparks in baseball. While the video above does show some nice grabs with the glove, defense isn't really Stanton's strong suit. He moves well for a man of his size and he has a great arm in right field, but his size does end up limiting his range a bit. You're not watching Stanton to see him play defense anyway... You're watching to see him hit moonshots!
Position Player Bust: Dee Gordon
I've done sleepers for the most part as we've gone through the division previews, but most of the Marlins position players (even the young ones) are pretty well established commodities. We know Yelich is fantastic because of his OBP, his glove, and his potential to be a 15 HR/25 SB type. We know that Ozuna has a steady bat, nice pop, a great glove, and plate discipline issues. Nobody knows Michael Morse like Nats fans do, so we know what he brings to the table....
Dee Gordon had what will probably be his best ever season in the major leagues last season. In three previous stints with the Dodgers, Gordon had never really stuck. He hit well as a rookie (.304 in 233 PA), but then inevitably let pitchers overpower him when they learned to pitch him inside, batting .228 and .234 in his second and third seasons and eventually looking like he might be an up and down guy for the rest of his career.
Last season, he hit again. The 26-year-old middle infielder took advantage of the opportunity to seize the second base job in Los Angeles last season and slap hit his way a .289/.326/.378 line thanks to a .344 BABIP. Oh yeah... he stole 64 bases along the way. Gordon also watched his walk rate plummet to 4.8%. While a speedy runner like Gordon should keep a slightly high BABIP (more bunt/infield hits), it's doubtful that he maintains the .344 mark from last season. Unless he suddenly remembers how to draw a walk, the Marlins could be making a sub-.300 OBP guy their leadoff man in front of Yelich, Stanton, and Morse. With Stanton, Morse, and Ozuna all in the lineup, the Marlins would be better off putting Yelich in the leadoff spot and keeping a high OBP type atop the order... but hey, Gordon stole 64 bases in 83 attempts last season, so what do I know? The Marlins will regret that Andrew Heaney trade.
Summing it up
Even though I think the trade that brought Gordon and Haren to Miami was foolish, the Fish may have the best offense in the division. While their rotation certainly isn't as imposing as the Mets and Nats rotations, they do have a couple of really good starters in Latos and Alvarez until Jose Fernandez returns. If Cosart ends up surprising a bit, the Fish should contend for a wildcard spot. If Fernandez were healthy, they'd be a real contender in the NL East, but he's not.