What a difference a year makes. Optimism was brimming in Miami early in 2012 as the Marlins went on an offseason spending spree to accompany a new look and a new stadium. The additions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell brought an infusion of All-Star talent to an already dynamic core of young studs: Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton.
After moving into a tie for first place on June 3, things unraveled quickly for the new-look Marlins. Franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez was flipped to Los Angeles ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, just days after talented starter Anibal Sanchez and veteran infielder Omar Infante were shipped to Detroit. First baseman Gaby Sanchez was also moved mid-season, and the wrecking ball kept on swinging into the offseason. Heath Bell and his bloated three-year, $27 million dollar contract were moved to Arizona. Only then did the fire sale erupt into a five-alarm blaze. In a blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays, the new-look Marlins were demolished along with the promise that Miami fans had seen just a year ago.
The Fish will turn to youth to surround budding superstar Giancarlo Stanton in the hopes that their frequent dealings replenish the farm system and lay the groundwork for a consistent winner in the future.
The Marlins offseason moves cannot adequately be judged without taking a quick glance at just what they will be missing. In addition to the Opening Day starter and closer, six of the Marlins' eight position players (Reyes, Ramirez, Sanchez, Infante, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck) from 2012 will be wearing different uniforms as the season kicks off in 2013. Clearly, this team has quite a few holes to fill.
Acquired Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DesCalfani for Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle, and John Buck.
Escobar lasted just two weeks on the Marlins before being flipped across the state to the Rays. The other veteran coming to Miami in the deal, catcher Jeff Mathis, did little to help fantasy owners even in the deepest of leagues in 2012, batting .220 with a .261 OBP and he now projects as a backup to rookie Rob Brantly heading into the 2013 season.
Henderson Alvarez had a phenomenal start in 2012 thanks to a devastating sinker and strong defense from Brett Lawrie and Yunel Escobar on the left side of Toronto's infield. Unfortunately, he lacked a pitch to put hitters away and recorded just 79 strikeouts in 187.1 innings. Alvarez should enter the Marlins' rotation immediately after posting a 9-14 record, 4.85 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 79:54 K:BB ratio in 187.1 innings (31 starts) with the Blue Jays in 2012. Moving to the National League (and getting out of the AL East) should certainly assist the 22-year-old's progress.
Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is also expected to provide an immediate boost to the Marlins young lineup. The 22-year-old is considered an elite defender at shortstop and put up an impressive batting line in Triple-A (.312/.363/.424) with help from the hitter-friendly PCL. When he was called up to the Blue Jays in August, his glove showed promise but it became obvious his bat needed work. He'll likely win the starting shortstop job with his defensive upside, but he'll need to improve upon his sub-.300 OBP over his first 126 at-bats to stay in the lineup.
Marisnick, Nicolino and DesCalfani will all head to the minors to continue their development, but with a lack of proven talent at the major league, they could easily be fast tracked through the minors.
Signed Juan Pierre.
The 35-year-old speedster proved he had plenty left in the tank in 2012, batting a solid .307 with a .351 OBP over 394 at-bats with the Phillies. Pierre also enjoyed a bounce-back season on the basepaths, swiping 37 bags in just 44 attempts a year after he was successful on just 27-of-44 attempts with Chicago. He continues to make contact at a high rate, which helps him maintain a solid batting average, despite a mediocre eye at the plate. As long as Pierre can get steady playing time, he'll remain a valuable contributor on the basepaths.
Signed Placido Polanco.
Polanco was limited to just 303 at-bats last season due to a wrist injury earlier in the season and then a back injury that ultimately forced him to finish out the year on the disabled list. Polanco didn't do much with the bat when he was in the lineup, but he maintained a contact rate in line with his historical average. A low BABIP (.274) helped to push down his average, which gives some hope that his batting average could rebound toward his career .299 mark this year. Of course, he needs to stay on the field to be of much value, and at 37 years old the likelihood of injury is only going to increase. Still, Polanco could be a nice speculative pick in the end game as Miami's starting third baseman after signing a one-year deal with the Marlins.
Acquired Scott Maine, Sam Dyson, Braulio Lara, Alfredo Silverio, Derek Dietrich and Yordy Cabrera.
Lara and Silverio were acquired from the Rays and Dodgers, respectively, in the Rule 5 draft. Maine figures to have a chance to crack Miami's bullpen as a middle reliever, but the others, brought on via minor trades and signings, are unlikely to make any major impact with the big club in 2013.
Signed Jon Rauch.
Once hailed as a top prospect and later as a potential closer, Rauch has seen his ability to miss bats erode in recent seasons and 2012 was no exception as that number fell to 6.6 K/9. Fortunately, he cut back on the home runs allowed (from 11 in 2011 to seven last season) and limited the damage of walks, which have occasionally wreaked havoc on his effectiveness. Now 34, Rauch's flyball tendencies are better suited for use in a pitcher-friendly home park, making Miami a good fit.
Projected Lineup (vs. RHP/LHP)
1. Juan Pierre, LF/ Gorkys Hernandez, LF
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Logan Morrison, 1B
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Justin Ruggiano, CF
6. Rob Brantly, C/ Jeff Mathis, C
7. Donovan Solano, 2B
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
The Marlins' everyday lineup is certainly lacking the star power that they held for the first half 2012, with Giancarlo Stanton the only truly threatening offensive force. Ruggiano was a surprisingly productive piece for the Fish last year and they will need him to not only win back the starting job in center field, but continue to build on his breakout age-30 campaign to have any chance at finishing above .500. Veteran options Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre will certainly provide some locker room leadership and are both familiar with the NL East pitching after spending 2012 with the Phillies, but Polanco has really struggled to stay on the field in recent seasons.
1. Ricky Nolasco
2. Henderson Alvarez
3. Nathan Eovaldi
4. Jacob Turner
5. Wade LeBlanc
Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner have all showed promise both in the minors and in limited MLB action. Now, each of these pitchers will have a true opportunity to establish themselves as legitimate big league starters. Nolasco is by no means an ace, but the sabremetric tease is the best bet the Marlins have and will almost certainly take the mound on Opening Day in Miami. Wade LeBlanc is the favorite to break camp as Miami's fifth starter, though he'll have to pitch well to fend off a couple of other intriguing young options, including budding ace Jose Fernandez who will likely begin the season at Double-A.
Closer: Steve Cishek - Though he didn't see back-to-back save chances until late July, Cishek took the Marlins' closer role and ran with it, converting 13-of-14 opportunities over the season's final three months. Overall, the side-arm slinging right-hander dominated to the tune of a 2.69 ERA while registering 9.6 K/9. Cishek's walk rate is a touch higher than you would like out of a ninth-inning reliever (4.1 BB/9), and it's also moving in the wrong direction (3.1 BB/9 in 2011); still, Cishek got the job done in the endgame role and, with Heath Bell now out of the picture, he remains the favorite for saves in South Florida heading into 2013 even with the addition of Jon Rauch.
Key Bullpen Members: Lefty Mike Dunn and right-hander Ryan Webb both registered ERAs north of 4.00 last season and figure to combine with Jon Rauch to serve as Cishek's primary setup options to start the year. Daniel Jennings, Chris Hatcher and Scott Maine hold the inside track to bullpen spots to support the late inning trio in middle-relief.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
It's a one man show in Miami, but what a show it is!
It's Giancarlo Stanton and not much else. The Marlins enter the season with only one truly proven fantasy asset on their offense in Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton's impact, however, is certainly not something to be taken lightly. Battling through a knee injury that limited the slugger to just 123 games in 2012, he still managed to mash 37 long balls in 449 at-bats giving him 93 over his first 373 major league contests. Stanton's true upside was put on display when he posted a .290 batting average over 449 at-bats last season. While his walk rate fell back a bit, Stanton was able to raise his OPS by 76 points to .969 in 2012, trailing only Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun in that category if he had gained enough plate appearances to qualify. With a knee injury that required a midseason scope seemingly in his rear-view mirror, Stanton will set his sights on his first 40-homer season in 2013 as one of the league's premier power hitters.
Can Logan Morrison get his knees healthy enough to show us the player who knocked 23 home runs in 123 games in 2011?
Beyond Stanton, we have seen some flashes from Logan Morrison, but health issues and perhaps immaturity have kept him from showing any sort of consistency at the major league level. Morrison's knee remains a question mark as we approach Opening Day 2013, but the Marlins will remain patient with the talented and verbose 25-year-old. Morrison's third season spanned just 93 games and generated a paltry .230/.308/.388 over 292 at-bats, but he managed to hit 11 homers in limited action, one season after popping 23 long balls in just 121 games. His plate discipline is trending in the wrong direction as his walk rate has dipped from 14.3 percent in 2010 to 10.3 and 9.3 percent the last two seasons. With health, he still has some untapped potential.
Can 30-year-old journeyman Justin Ruggiano do it again? For a full season?
One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Marlins, Ruggiano returned to the big leagues in late May after putting up a .321/.409/.581 line at Triple-A and never looked back. Entering the year, Ruggiano had posted a paltry .621 OPS over 195 at-bats across parts of three seasons with the Rays before busting out with a .313/.374/.535 line for Miami over 288 at-bats in his age-30 season. His .909 OPS would have ranked fifth among outfielders had he collected enough at-bats to qualify. He'll enter the season as the favorite to start in center field for the Marlins and there is an intriguing power-speed combination here, but regression seems likely given his low contact rate (71 percent) and extremely high BABIP (.403) in 2012.
The team's lone strength is in the heart of its order, cleanup hitter Giancarlo Stanton. On the diamond, there is not much reason to be excited about this team otherwise, but his outfield brethren could also provide some nice fantasy value. Justin Ruggiano's emergence last year as well as the acquisition of Juan Pierre could actually make this unit a fairly valuable fantasy commodity.
The Marlins' rotation is loaded with question marks behind "No. 1" Ricky Nolasco. Beyond that, Donovan Solano, Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria are entirely unproven as viable major-league regulars. Placido Polanco would appear to provide some veteran experience and an upgrade from the pitiful third-base platoon Miami utilized last season, but Polanco has averaged just 115 games played per season over the last three years.
Rising: The Miami farm system gets the nod as the team's "on the rise" asset. With the non-existent depth at the major league level, the Marlins will likely look to their young stable of talent sooner than later. The Marlins were tied for the league lead with six total prospects being placed on MLB.com's recent top-100 list. Right-hander Jose Fernandez and lefties Justin Nicolino and Andrew Heaney all made the cut, in addition to outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Only Hechavarria is expected to break camp with the big club, but the other players will have every opportunity to make an impact in the not-too-distant future.
Declining: Ricky Nolasco - Nolasco posted his third straight season with an ERA in the mid-4.00s and his second straight campaign with a WHIP over 1.35. Nolasco's strikeout rate dipped significantly in 2012 (5.9 K/9), and that mark has dipped in each of the last four seasons since he struck out over a batter per inning in 2009. While his walk rate remained a solid 2.2 BB/9, that number represented his worst performance since 2007 and the 2.7 K/BB is also his worst rate since that season. All told, Nolasco has settled in as little more than a back-of-the rotation arm with solid control whose strong underlying statistics (career 3.83 FIP) fail to match the mediocre results (4.49 ERA) that he has put up over seven major league seasons.
Sleeper: Jacob Turner - After being flipped to the Marlins from Detroit midseason, Turner got his longest look yet in the majors and the 2009 first-rounder responded with a solid 3.38 ERA to go along with a stellar 0.98 WHIP over his first 42.2 innings pitched in the National League. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Turner profiles as your typical top-of-the-rotation power pitcher, with a 91 mph fastball complemented by a solid curve as well as a slider and a changeup. Turner's 1.9 BB/9 with the Marlins last season was his best performance in that category since his debut season at two stops in the Tigers' organization in 2010, and he'll enter 2013 potentially as the Marlins' No. 2 starter behind Ricky Nolasco. If he continues to show steady control, Turner should begin to fully deliver on the potential that recently made him a top-tier prospect.
Supersleeper: Nathan Eovaldi - Following a short stint in the big leagues in 2011, Eovaldi got his first real chance to be a major league starter in 2012 with the Dodgers, replacing an injured Ted Lilly in the starting rotation in late May. He posted mediocre results including a 4.15 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over his first 56.1 innings pitched before being shipped to Miami in the Hanley Ramirez trade. Eovaldi showed flashes over the second half with the Marlins, but struggled with his command to the tune of a 44:27 K:BB that accompanied a 4.43 ERA and 1.54 WHIP for his new club. Working with a nice 94 mph fastball, Eovaldi will need to improve on the 3.5 BB/9 that he posted last season if he is to capitalize on the high-end skill set and get back to the dominating form he showed in the minors in 2011--2.62 ERA in 103 IP at double-A--and find success in the middle of the Marlins' rotation in 2013.
Jose Fernandez, SP - Fernandez turned in a dynamic age-19 season in 25 starts between Low-A Greensboro and High-A Jupiter, twirling his way to a 1.75 ERA and 0.93 WHIP over 134 innings. The 2011 first-rounder is emerging as the Marlins' top minor league arm showing great command with plus strikeout ability throughout 2012. Fernandez works with a fastball in the 94-97 mph range, a solid changeup, and a put-away slider, which helped him to a 158:35 K:BB last season. The Cuban right-hander figures to start the year in Double-A for some additional seasoning in the minors but, if he continues to dominate, we just might see Fernandez toeing the rubber in Miami sooner rather than later.
Christian Yelich, OF - Considered to be the most exciting offensive prospect in the Marlins' minor league system, Yelich made strides in 2012 while playing the majority of his season at High-A Jupiter. He posted a strong .330/.404/.519 line over 397 at-bats while blasting 12 home runs with 29 doubles and five triples while driving in 48 runs on the year. Yelich enjoyed yet another efficient campaign on the base paths, swiping 20 bags in 26 attempts after going 32-for-37 in that area in 2011. While a shot at the big leagues seems a bit of a stretch in 2013, Yelich should continue to progress toward that goal and could be fast-tracked to Miami as part of the franchise's most recent rebuilding effort.
Jake Marisnick, OF - Marisnick has the athletic ability to be a star; unfortunately, it didn't translate to the field in 2012. Over two minor league levels, Marisnick hit .249 with eight home runs and 24 stolen bases. His defense is legit, and maybe his quickest tool to the majors, but even with his trade to Miami he will likely have another year in the minors to see if the bat can catch up. The Marlins are expected to continue his development by returning him to Double-A to begin the season.
Justin Nicolino, SP - A former second-round pick, Nicolino was included in the blockbuster deal between the Jays and Marlins in November. As a 21-year-old left-hander with control, Nicolino should progress somewhat quickly through the Marlins' system after carrying a 5.7 K/BB in the Midwest League last season. By most accounts, he has the ceiling to be a good big league starter, but the upside appears to be limited to that of a mid-rotation option as the strikeout rate could tumble a bit as he faces more advanced hitters at higher levels.
Andrew Heaney, SP - Heaney, the ninth overall selection of the 2012 amateur draft, flashed elite strikeout ability in his brief introduction to professional ball. He struck out 30 batters against only six walks in 27.0 innings between rookie ball and Low-A Greensboro. The 23-year-old lefty spent three seasons at Oklahoma State and arrived with the Marlins quite polished. With the experience and the talent, Heaney could move quickly through the Marlins' system in 2013 as the latest rebuilding project is well underway.