Winter report card: Miami Marlins
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
2012 Results: 69-93, 5th place in NL East. (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Heath Bell, IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, LHP Mark Buehrle, OF Scott Cousins, RHP Chad Gaudin, C Brett Hayes, RHP Josh Johnson, SS Jose Reyes, RHP Carlos Zambrano
Key arrivals: RHP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, LHP Scott Maine, C Jeff Mathis, OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco, OF Alfredo Silverio
Just months after they rebranded themselves, hired Ozzie Guillen as manager, embarked upon on a winter spending spree and opened a new ballpark, the Marlins began tearing their roster down — a familiar tale for the franchise, but this time unaccompanied by the warm afterglow of a world championship. In July, the team waved a white flag on their short-lived bid for contention by trading Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Gaby Sanchez, Omar Infante, Randy Choate and Edward Mujica in a flurry of deals. In October, they fired Guillen and unloaded Bell, one of last winter’s three big free agent additions, on the Diamondbacks; in return they received 22-year-old shortstop Yordy Cabrera, who spent 2012 in High-A. In November they gutted the remainder of the roster by sending the other two free agents, Buehrle and Reyes, to Toronto along with Bonifacio, Buck, Johnson and cash, receiving Alvarez, Hechevarria and Mathis as well as Yunel Escobar (soon flipped to Tampa Bay) and prospects Anthony DeSclafani (a 22-year-old righty pitcher), Jake Marisnick (a 21-year-old centerfielder) and Justin Nicolino (a 21-year-old lefty pitcher). Gone from their roster are four of the five pitchers who made more than 12 starts for the team in 2012, as well as five of their top seven hitters in terms of plate appearances.
None of the prospects acquired figure to play a part in Miami’s 2013 season, and the major leaguers acquired are merely cheap placeholders. Alvarez, 23, made 31 starts and threw 187 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays last year, but he struck out just 3.8 per nine, by far the lowest rate of any ERA qualifier in either league; he also yielded 1.4 homers per nine, the majors’ ninth highest rate among same. He’s around to eat innings while helping the Marlins fill out the schedule. Hechavarria, 23, hit .254/.280/.365 in 137 PA with the Blue Jays last year. He’ll take over as the regular shortstop, but while well-regarded as a slick fielder, he’s a lousy hitter even for a glove whiz; his .235/.275/.347 at Double-A New Hampshire in 2011 is more representative than his .312/.363/.424 at Triple-A Las Vegas — a hitters’ paradise — in 2012 before being called up. Mathis, whose .218/.249/.393 showing with the bat set career highs for batting average and slugging percentage, will serve as a backup backstop behind Rob Brantly, a 23-year-old of some promise who hit .290/.372/.460 in 133 late-season plate appearances last season and figures to stick around until the next firesale.
Beyond that, low-cost free agents Pierre and Polanco should provide some amount of veteran presence, for whatever that’s worth, and possibly the return of a minor leaguer in trade later in the season. The former, who spent 2003-2005 with the Marlins and was very good for the first two of those years — helping to win a championship, even — is back after a modest rebound with the Phillies last year (.307/.351/.371 with 37 steals in 439 PA). Now 35, he’ll lead off and be the everyday leftfielder while drawing a measly $1.6 million in salary. The latter, 37, figures to be the regular third baseman, at least if his body holds together; he’ll make $2.75 million. Last year, Polanco missed nearly two months due to lower back woes and hit just .257/.302/.327; he missed time with a herniated disc and a sports hernia the year before, so it’s likely that holdover Greg Dobbs will see time at the hot corner as well.
Silverio, 25, is a Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers who has a fighting chance of making the roster. After hitting .306/.340/.542 at Double-A Chattanooga in 2011, he missed all of last season due to injuries sustained in a January car accident in the Dominican Republic. He suffered a concussion as well as neck, elbow and shoulder injuries; post-concussion symptoms prevented him from participating in spring training, and he needed Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in May, ending his season before it began. When healthy, he offers good bat speed and power, but his aggressive approach leaves him prone to chasing breaking balls. Maine, 28, is a fringy lefty reliever who has been cuffed for a 5.59 ERA and 1.5 homers per nine in 46 2/3 big league innings strewn over the last three season.
Unfinished business: Everything must go! So long as the Marlins are cleaning house and building for the future without any intention of fielding a competitive team for 2013, they might as well trade Ricky Nolasco and Giancalo Stanton as well. Nolasco, a 30-year-old righty, will make $11.5 million, roughly one-third of the team’s current commitment in salaries and payments to other teams. He pitched to a 4.48 ERA last year, right on the money with his career mark and in keeping with a long trend of underperforming relative to his peripherals; his career FIP in 1,113 1/3 innings is 3.82, his career ERA is 4.49 and only once in six full seasons has he fared better than expected. That’s not terribly impressive, but his combination of durability (an average of 31 starts and 190 innings a year over the past five seasons) and cost certainty should appeal to some team in need of a starter.
The bigger return, of course, will come whenever the Marlins deal Stanton. The 23-year-old slugger is coming off a season in which he hit .290/.361/.608 with 37 homers despite playing in just 123 games due to in-season knee surgery. He isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet, which means he’s got one more year of club control than Justin Upton, who has drawn heavy interest this winter and nearly netted a huge haul from the Mariners. Given the events of the past 12 months, there’s little chance Stanton would ever agree to a deal that would keep him in Miami, so if owner Jeffrey Loria is truly serious about the rebuilding effort, he’ll authorize Larry Beinfest to trade him.
Preliminary grade: D+. It’s tempting to go with an “incomplete” here given that it will take years to judge all the trades the Marlins have made since the season ended. While their minor league system as a whole is rather strong, until they deal Stanton and Nolasco, it’s difficult to get a feel for how well their recent work has shaped the franchise’s future. They’ve had success in the past with their teardowns, but the returns thus far on this one are underwhelming, and the cynicism with which they’ve been executed won’t do anything to patch things up with their fan base.