The Miami Marlins made some aggressive moves after the 2014 season. The trade for Dee Gordon gave them a new identity. While expectations for the 2015 season were a little bit tamed, word was the Marlins had improved themselves enough to contend. The team also had signed first baseman Michael Morse, traded for pitcher Dan Haren and signed free agent right handed pitcher Mat Latos. What anybody that follows baseball was not able to put a quantity on was the mental state of the Marlins ownership and front office, which came to a head last season. The Marlins made the decision to fire manager Mike Redmond and inexplicably named general manager Dan Jennings as field manager. While Jennings may not have been against the decision, it seemed like the call was made by ownership, mainly principal owner Jeffrey Loria. Jennings had no prior managerial experience, but apparently had to do it if he wanted to keep his job. Assistant general manager Mike Hill was the interim GM, taking over for Jennings. It worked out about as well as could be expected, though the Marlins did go 16-10 in the month of September. The environment created in the Marlins clubhouse was nothing short of awkward. If a scapegoat should be given for the 2015 Marlins season (20 games under .500), it should be owner Loria, Brought into the fire this season is former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, whom Loria was a fan of during his time as the New York Yankees first baseman.
The Marlins are going to live or die over the contribution of star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (.265 batting average, 27 home runs, 67 runs batted in, .952 on base plus slugging) and pitcher Jose Fernandez (6 wins, 1 loss, 2.92 earned run average, 79 strikeouts, just under 65 innings pitched). Stanton played essentially the first 74 games to start the season, then missed the remainder of it. Fernandez made 11 starts in the second half of the season as he returned from Tommy John surgery. However, Fernandez was shut down in September. The Marlins need a healthy Stanton and Fernandez to have a shot at finishing .500, let alone making it to the postseason.
The signing of free agent left hand pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (11-8, 3.34, 153 Ks, just over 191 IP) was one of the best team signings of the entire off season. Chen signed a deal for 5 years and $70 million with an opt out clause after two seasons. So, technically the deal was for 2 years and $20.2 million, which is below market value for the starting pitcher. The Marlins also added starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (4-3, 3.07, 47 games - all in relief), who was released from his contract with the Chicago Cubs last season. While Jackson will make just over $500,000 from the Marlins this season, he will get paid the balance of his $13 million he and the Cubs agreed to just prior to the 2013 season. Also in that position is veteran infielder Chris Johnson (.255, 3, 18, .644), who is owed $17.5 million from 2016-2018 from the Cleveland Indians (through Atlanta Braves). Johnson makes a similar $500,000+ from Miami with the Indians on the hook for slightly less than $7 million. And outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (.229, 1, 21, .561 in 153 games) is back just 65 hits away from getting to 3000.
The Marlins have a solid offense that is predicated on Stanton being the number three or four hitter. Center fielder Marcell Ozuna (.259, 10, 44, .691) had a terrible season in 2015 on a number of different levels. The Marlins kept him in the minors, likely more than he deserved to be and there was thought he would be traded before the start of this baseball season. Left fielder Christian Yelich (.300, 7, 44, .782), himself missing over 30 games due to injury in 2015, gives the Marlins one of the most intriguing young outfields in the game, assuming Ozuna bounces back and Stanton and Yelich can remain healthy for the full season. First baseman Justin Bohr (.262, 23, 73, .800) had a breakout year and instantly becomes trusted as a left handed power threat. Third baseman Martin Prado (.288, 9, 63, .732) and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.281, 5, 48, .689) also battled some injury problems last season that cost them significant time. Rookie catcher JT Realmuto (.259, 10, 47, .696) had a decent first season and will handle the catching duties again this season.
Outside of Stanton, their best offensive player is clearly Gordon (.333, 4, 46, .776, 58 stolen bases). Gordon backed up a solid 2014 where he hit .289, stole 60 bases, had 174 hits and 12 triples with an even better season in Miami where he had over 200 hits. He is an igniter at the top of the order and has really come into his own. Gordon leads a Marlins lineup that goes like this: ... Yelich LF, Stanton RF, Bohr 1B, Ozuna CF, Prado 3B, Hechavarria SS, Realmuto C. Johnson and Suzuki lead a veteran bench that also includes backup catcher Jeff Mathis and Derek Dietrich (.256, 10, 24 in 90 games). Middle infielder Miguel Rojas (.282, 1, 17, 62 games) rounds out the prospective Marlins bench.
Fernandez and Chen form a very solid one- two punch at the top of the Miami rotation. After that, as many as six pitchers could fill out the remaining three starting spots. Right handers Tom Koehler (11-14, 4.08, 31 starts, just over 181 IP) and Jarred Cosart (2-5, 4.52, 13 starts, just under 70 IP) have the inside track but others are in the mix including free agent signing Jackson, who is trying once again to become a full time starting pitcher. David Phelps (4-8, 4.50, 19 starts, 112 innings) and left hander Justin Nicolino (5-4, 4.01, 12 starts, 74 IP) can probably both start and relieve if necessary. Top pitching prospect lefty Adam Conley (4-1, 3.76, 11 starts, 67 IP) will likely take over a full time spot in the rotation at some point this season. With some uncertainty about Fernandez and Cosart himself just returning from an injury plagued 2015 season, the Marlins will likely need all the starting pitching they can find, including projected reliever Brad Hand and 24 year old righty Jose Urena.
The Marlins bullpen took a major hit when right hander Carter Capps (1-0, 1.16, 58 Ks, 31 IP) went down for the season due to Tommy John. Closer AJ Ramos (2-4, 2.30, 32 saves, 87 Ks, just under 71 IP) returns to be the closer with Bryan Morris (5-4, 3.14, 67 games, 63 IP) likely serving as the righty set up man. Right handers Kyle Barraclough (2-1, 2.59, 30 Ks just over 24 IP) and Brian Ellington (2-1, 2.88, 23 games, 25 IP) both excelled when given an opportunity at the end of last season and will be given the chance to remain factors late in games. Lefty Mike Dunn (along with Stanton and Hand) is part of the only Marlins who played for the team in 2011 when they referred to themselves as "Florida." However, he has been very inconsistent, particularly in 2015 when his ERA was over 4.50.
Right hander Kendry Flores is worth taking a look at this season along with the lefty Conley. The Marlins have a left hand pitcher named Brett Lilek, who has very imposing stuff but is a couple years away most recently pitching in the New York Penn League. Top prospects Tyler Kolek, a pitcher taken in the first round in 2014 and Josh Naylor, a first baseman taken in the first round last season, will need at least another two or three years in the minors before we can think about them in South Florida.
The Marlins have had a difficult time trotting out the same team day in and day out. Mattingly gives the team a proven manager and the team does possess a lot of talent. I think the Marlins will be better in 2016 than they were last season. However, I think there is too much competition for them to be a legitimate postseason contender. Like a couple other teams, if the Marlins can get off to a good start, they might be in a position to be aggressive around the trading deadline. I think Loria is hoping that is the case and because of that, he will likely open the wallet to back a contender. The Marlins won 71 games last season and Las Vegas puts their over/ under at 80.5. I go with the over, just slightly, and have the Marlins at 82-80, third place in the National League East division.