However, baseball has proven to still go on. In spite of Fernandez' death, the Marlins still have to play the 2017 baseball season. And in spite of the Marlins being a sentimental favorite, the fact is they are not the same team without Fernandez being part of it. The Marlins had to address some needs in their pitching staff and did so in a lackluster fashion. I give them credit for pursuing Kenley Jansen like they did, but overall, they failed to land the type of pitcher who can lead the staff. I like the trade they made for Dan Straily, who is coming off a break out season with the Cincinnati Reds (14 wins, 8 losses, 3.76 earned run average, 162 strikeouts in just over 191 innings pitched), though there has to be some concern over whether the right handed pitcher can repeat his performance of a year ago. The Marlins signed veteran starter Edinson Volquez from the Royals, who won ten games and made 34 starts last season, but pitched to a 5.37 earned run average. The Marlins added relievers Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa from the Red Sox. Ziegler has pitched around 2.00 ERA ball over the past two seasons and is a ground ball inducing machine.
The starting rotation has a series of questions starting with Straily and Volquez. Left hand pitcher Wei-Yin Chen signed a big free agent deal with the Marlins last off season and was very disappointing in 2016, pitching to career high 4.96 ERA, almost a run and a quarter over his career ERA in Baltimore. Left hander Adam Conley has the most promise among their starters, as he is looking to build on his first full big league season. Right hander Tom Koehler (9-13, 4.33, 33 starts, just over 176 IP) can be expected to repeat his 2016 numbers. Left hander Justin Nicolino, right hander Jose Urena and free agent signing Jeff Locke will be the first up if the Marlins need additional starters.
Jansen would have anchored a super bullpen, something similar to that of the 2015 Kansas City Royals. AJ Ramos serves the role of the closer, coming off a 40 save season and will be expected to get the same support from righties David Phelps (114 Ks in just under 87 innings) and Kyle Barrachough (113 Ks in less than 87 IP). Ziegler and Tazawa give the Marlins and unprecedented five man deep bullpen that can reasonably cover the last three innings of a baseball game every night. The problems that the Marlins will likely have with their starting pitchers this season can be slightly circumvented if their bullpen is as deep as advertised. Urena is another interesting potential bullpen piece, a hard thrower who will likely see a similar spike in his strikeout to innings pitched ratio if employed as a full time reliever. In an ideal scenario, the Marlins could use Urena as their sixth inning reliever, Tazawa and Barraclough in the seventh inning, Phelps and Ziegler in the eighth and Ramos in the ninth. Left hander Hunter Cervenka is the best option among left hand relievers, with righties Brian Ellington, Dustin McGowan and Nick Wittgren all competing for the last spot or two.
The Marlins have a formidable offense, one that is as good as any in the division. Outfielders Christian Yelich (.298 BA, .376 on base percentage, .483 slugging percentage) and All Star Marcel Ozuna (.266, 23, 76) have switched positions with Yelich playing center field and Ozuna moving to left, a move that was implemented by manager Don Mattingly last season. Gordon is coming off a down season, one in which was interrupted by an 80 game suspension for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Hope is that Gordon can return to his 2016 form, a season that saw the second baseman lead the National League in batting average, hits and stolen bases. The key to the Marlins lineup will be right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who saw his batting average and OPS go down last year, while his strikeout percentage went up. Of course, Stanton has also had to deal with a series of injuries over the past five seasons, though some of them have been of the freakish nature. He has played in more than 123 games just once over that time and it is imperative that he remains on the field if the Marlins want to max out their talent and compete in a stronger NL East.
Justin Bohr seems on his way to have a breakout season but his 2016 season was hindered by injury. Third baseman Martin Prado (.305, 8, 75, 173 hits) is the heart and sole of the Marlins clubhouse, with shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria coming off a year in which he hit just .236. Catcher JT Realmuto hit over .300 last year and he will be backed up by veteran AJ Ellis behind the plate, who was signed as a free agent. The Marlins lineup I would go with is Gordon 2B, Prado 3B, Yelich CF, Stanton RF, Ozuna LF, Bohr 1B, Realmuto C, Hechavarria SS. Ichiro Suzuki is back for another season, looking to add to his 3030 career hits. Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas will likely round out the Marlins bench. I think the Marlins are a very good candidate to carry just four bench players and man an eight man bullpen. Especially if they employ their pen the way I suggest, simply asking their undermanned starting pitchers to get them through the first five innings.
Top overall prospects Braxton Garrett and Tyler Kolek are a long way from making it to the major leagues. Right handed pitcher Jake Esch has already made his MLB debut and left hander Jarlin Garcia could be ready to help this season. Tomas Telis could work into a platoon at first base with Bohr is he earns it. Outfielder Destin Hood has a good future, but it will be tough to crack the Marlins outfield anytime soon.
The potential exists for the Marlins to have a breakout season. It will have to come out of their offense and bullpen. Perhaps the Marlins will be the leaders of the revolution to make baseball a five inning game. They do possess the depth to put the game more in their favor with their group of relievers. The Marlins over/ under number is 77.5 this year and I do think they have the potential to do much better than that. However, I predict the Marlins will finish at 78-84, fourth place in the National League East division.