Winter Report Card: Miami Marlins
With little more 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 2013.
2013 results: 61-100 (.383), 5th place (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: 1B Logan Morrison, LF Juan Pierre*, 3B Placido Polanco*, RHP Chad Qualls, CF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Ryan Webb (* = free agent, still unsigned)
Key arrivals: OF Brian Bogusevic, RHP Carter Capps, IF Rafael Furcal, 1B/OF Garrett Jones, 3B Casey McGehee, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The 2013 Marlins posted a team OPS+ of 73, the seventh worst in either league since 1900. There was therefore no question which side of the ball Miami needed to focus on this winter. Nor, with Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich in the outfield, was there any question about where those upgrades needed to be made. The Marlins’ catchers and infielders hit a combined .223/.280/.310 in 2013, and this offseason the front office turned over four of those five positions by signing free agents Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal and Casey McGehee to fill catcher, first base, second base and third base, respectively.
Saltalamacchia, for all of his faults, is a clear upgrade behind the plate, where Miami’s catchers hit .194/.249/.280 last year, but it remains to be seen if the other three also represent improvements. Jones, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman who was non-tendered by a Pirates team in need of a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, hit just .233/.289/.419 in 2013. Furcal, who is now 36, missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, hit just .251/.314/.347 in his last two healthy seasons and hasn’t fielded a chance at second base since 2002. McGehee thrived while feasting on Nippon Professional Baseball’s new juiced balls last year, but hit just .221/.282/.351 in his last two major league seasons.
Jones would seem to be the best bet of the three, but Marlins Park could negate his power, which is the source of the bulk of his production. The Fish did well to buy low on Furcal, Jones and McGehee (total guaranteed dollars: $12.1 million), didn’t break the bank for Saltalamacchia (three years, $21 million) and showed good recognition of their needs overall. While the 2014 Marlins may not have a historically inept offense like last year’s edition, a lot has to go right for them not to have one of the worst lineups in baseball once again.
Unfinished business: Shortstop, righthanded-hitting first baseman
For all of the attempted improvements Miami made in its infield, the one position it didn’t turn over was the one that was the least productive in 2013: shortstop. The Marlins’ shortstops, primarily sophomore Adeiny Hechavarria (who came over in last offseason’s blockbuster trade with the Blue Jays), hit .226/.265/.302 in 2013 with a 67 sOPS+. That last stat measures adjusted OPS against a certain split. In other words, the team’s shortstops were 33 percent worse at the plate than the average major league shortstop.
Hechavarria is supposed to be a defensive whiz, but even Andrelton Simmons would be unplayable with Hechavarria’s bat, and Hechavarria can’t match his Braves counterpart in the field. Both Ultimate Zone Rating and Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average rated him as below average defensively in 2013. In fact, no player was more harmful to the Marlins’ cause last season than Hechavarria. He was dead last not only on the team in Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins Above Replacement — falling 2.1 wins below replacement — but in the majors among non-pitchers. Despite all of that, Miami plans to move Furcal out of position to second base to allow Hechavarria to continue to start.
Beyond the team’s shortcomings in the middle infield, it has also thus far failed to secure a first base platoon partner for Jones, a career .193/.234/.344 hitter against lefthanded pitching. Miami’s top option for that role at the moment is 31-year-old sophomore utilityman Ed Lucas.
Preliminary Grade: C+
The Marlins were proactive this offseason, taking action to address their needs. Just as importantly, they did no harm to their long-term outlook, a rebuild centered around Stanton, Yelich, centerfielder Jake Marisnick, 21-year-old ace Jose Fernandez and other prospects still in development. However, Miami’s solutions fail to inspire confidence and it left a giant hole in the middle infield. When your best move is spending $21 million on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, you didn’t have a great offseason.