Monday, March 28, 2016

NL East Preview - Miami Marlins

Now we are getting to the interesting part of the division as the NL East preview hits the Miami Marlins:

2015 Record: 71-91
Fangraphs’ 2016 Projection: 79-83
Fangraph’s 2016 playoff odds: 15.6%

It wouldn’t be a complete MLB offseason without some front office drama from the Marlins. This year, the drama revolved around their GM turned manager Dan Jennings. After firing manager Mike Redmond mid-season last year, the Marlins made the unprecedented move of promoting/demoting sitting GM Jennings to manager for the remainder of the year. When the season was up, the Marlins brought in former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and promoted/demoted Jennings back to GM. Shortly thereafter, though, Jennings got the axe after some reported disputes with Loria (and coincidently joined forces with the Nationals). On top of that, the team brought in Barry Bonds as a pitching coach and floated rumors about putting ace Jose Fernandez on the trade block. Fun!

In terms of on the field impact, though, this offseason was relatively quiet for the Marlins. They brought back Ichiro for one more year so he can chase some personal milestones. They non-tendered former all-star pitcher Henderson Alvarez following labrum surgery. The move seems to imply that the team thinks the once promising young starter will not be able to recover from such a significant shoulder injury. The bullpen took a big hit when Carter Capps, owner of the funky jump delivery and a big piece of the bullpen, became the next Tommy John surgery victim. On the positive sign, the Marlins did sign all-star second baseman Dee Gordon to a big 5 year deal that will see him in Miami through 2021. Additionally, the team lured underrated started Wei-yin Chen away from the Orioles.

Those changes come to a team that underperformed last year, especially when you consider how many experts tagged the Marlins of 2015 as a potential breakout candidate. The roster has a bit of a stars and scrubs feel to it. On the infield, Dee Gordon has proven himself to be one of the best all around second baseman in the game. Justin Bour had an interesting rookie year at 27, but really struggled to hit left handed pitchers. Adeiny Hechavarria brings solid defense at shortstop and a reliable batting average but struggles to take a walk or generate any power. At third base, Martin Prado continues his steady play as a complimentary player.

Where the Marlins’ season hangs in the balance is the outfield. Not much needs to be said about Giancarlo Stanton’s abilities at this point. He’s one of the best power hitters in the game today but he needs to be able to stay on the field. He’s had a mix of fluke injuries (getting hit in the face with a fastball) and reoccurring injuries (hamstring pulls). If he can finally put together a healthy season, expect him to be in the MVP consideration. If not, the Marlins’ lineup is not so intimidating. In the other corner outfield spot is Christian Yelich, a promising young player who is locked up long term. He plays good defense and hits the ball hard on a consistent basis. He’s put up solid batting averages and on base percentages during his time with the big league club but fails to get any loft out of his swing. As a result, his power potential is limited. The Marlins are hoping that he can unlock some of that power in 2016. Power tends to come with age, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Yelich can hit the 20 home run mark sometime soon. Finally, the Marlins will have to see what they can get out of Marcell Ozuna. He’s been yo-yoed around by the club, bringing up as a young rookie only to send him back down to the minors in the middle of the season last year as he struggled through a prolonged slump. He’s only 25 and has flashed an intriguing mix of speed and power at times and could be a mainstay in this lineup if he can put it all together.

Moving to the pitchers, it’s clear any conversation starts and ends with Jose Fernandez. Fernandez returned from Tommy John surgery midway though last season. The usual struggles expected out of pitchers returning from TJ didn’t really apply to Fernandez as he returned close to form. Expect him to be even better in 2016 as he moves further away from his surgery. However, Scott Boras has already started working on the plan to limit Fernandez’s innings in 2016 so he may not get to pitch a full season. As mentioned, the Chen signing flew under the radar but adds a capable pitcher who can eat innings to a rotation that is mostly lacking in proven players. He’s coming off of a career year in terms of ERA and strike out rate although he has had his struggles facing right handed hitters. Moving from the hitter friendly Camden Yards to the cavernous stadium in Miami should be a boost for a pitcher like Chen. Moving down the rotation is where the holes start appear. Tom Koehler has been around the block a few times and has been a good pitcher at home but has had some real struggles on the road. Youngster Jarrod Cosart struggles with his control at times and ends up giving away too many free passes. Old friend Edwin Jackson is onboard with Miami this year as he continues his quest to play for every MLB club. It’s a bit of feast or famine with this rotation and Marlins fans will hope that Fernandez and Chen can make up for the shortcomings of some of the other starters.

Player to Watch:Marcell Ozuna. Stanton is Stanton. Yelich is a borderline all-star. Ozuna is…? 2016 is poised to be a make or break year for Ozuna. If he can make good on the promise and prospect pedigree, the Marlins may have one of the best all-around outfields in baseball. Ozuna could be the second power hitter this team needs and help drive in the runs that Stanton can’t. On the other hand, the potential is also there for Ozuna to go down in flames and play his way right off the team. The club seems to have him on a short leash to begin with and if he doesn’t come out of the gates hitting this year, the Marlins may use him as trade bait.

Best Case Scenario:The potential is there for this team to compete with the Mets and Nationals in the NL East. If Fernandez stays healthy and the team can limit his innings while still allowing him to take the mound every fifth day, he is likely in the Cy Young discussion. If one of the other starters can step up to join Fernandez and Chen, all of a sudden the Marlins have a competent 1-3 rotation that matches up with nearly any team. With a healthy Stanton in the lineup behind on base machine Dee Gordon with protection from Ozuna and Justin Bour, this team could score enough runs to be in every ball game. Add in some struggles or injuries to the Mets and Nationals and all of a sudden the Marlins are in the playoff hunt.

Worst Case Scenario:
Then again, it doesn’t take a lot for this season to go down the drain quickly. Scott Boras has the ability to make a big stink about Fernandez’s pitching usage and it’s not unlikely that he gets shut down before the season ends. If Ozuna can’t hack it in 2016 and Stanton misses time, the lineup that once looked so potent is now pretty harmless. While Fernandez and Chen can keep the team in ball games twice a week, if no one else steps up in the rotation it’s a bit of a black hole. All of a sudden, this team’s talent level is on par with the Phillies and Braves and another sub .500 year is all but assured.

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