This is a project where 30 people got together to act as the GMs of the 30 MLB teams with the idea of conducting the offseason in one week. This is what happened in this simulation, not a prediction of what will happen in real life.
By Stephen Guilbert
The most difficult task the Miami Marlins have—and one of the toughest for any franchise this winter—is replacing Jose Fernandez. In short, you can’t. Fernandez had an argument for the best right handed pitcher in baseball. He was 24 years old, had a voracious appetite for the game and was a face of the franchise. The best a GM can do is try to replace his production in the aggregate. The Marlins accomplished that and much more this winter.
With a payroll of 75 million, we thought it would be easy to go into “sell mode”. Internally, we also thought that it would be inappropriate in light of Jose Fernandez’ passing and considering how much good young talent there still is on the team. Instead, our goals for this off-season were twofold:
1.) Stay young
2.) Stay cheap
If we could accomplish this without entering a rebuild cycle, I would consider this off-season a success.
After Jose Fernandez, the Marlins rotation underwhelmed in 2016. Our first feeler inquiries went out to other GMs about starting pitchers. We reached out to the Diamondbacks and soon had a deal in place for Michael Pineda. While the Marlins surrendered flame-throwing prospect Tyler Kolek in the deal, we also got our ace.
Given constraints on payroll (Giancarlo Stanton and Wei-Yin Chen made up 40% of the budget), reinforcing the rotation through free agency did not look likely but luckily for the Marlins, we were able to convince the Phillies that a middle infield of JP Crawford and Dee Gordon was something they had to have moving forwards. It sounds good, doesn’t it? How good? Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Nola good. We also received a back-up catcher in prospect Andrew Knapp.
Parting with Dee Gordon might seem bold. Perhaps it is. However, after consulting my director of player development and lead scout Rey Correa, we decided that the risk of a full season suspension if he fails another drug test along with concerns over his true level of performance without using PEDs was enough to warrant trading him for the right package. We also do not see a large drop-off from Gordon to Hernandez, who logged an outstanding 4.4 fWAR last year with elite defense and strong OBP production.
The prize, though, came in Aaron Nola, a potential #1/#2 entering his second season.
At this point, the Marlins were right around their payroll threshold with a number of holes in the lineup. The A’s had been in touch about a large deal that never came to fruition. After some negotiation, they offered 3B Danny Valencia for SP Wei-Yin Chen straight up and the opportunity to shed payroll was too good to reject. We made the trade. Valencia’s addition allows Derek Dietrich to move into a super utility role—something few in the game do better.
I targeted Rich Hill to finish rounding out the rotation but missed out on him after a big bid from his previous employers. Hill would have looked great fronting the rotation but the Marlins could only offer so much. We looked elsewhere and found Henderson Alvarez—a very talented former Marlin coming off of Tommy John Surgery—in free agency.
The rotation as it stands:
1.) Michael Pineda
2.) Aaron Nola
3.) Adam Conley
4.) Henderson Alvarez
5.) Justin Nicolino
The average age of this rotation is 25. The additions also allowed us to move Jose Urena back to the minors to work on his command. If any of these starting pitchers succumb to injury, Urena slots in.
As far as the lineup goes, not a ton of work had to be done, but here are the tweaks we made:
– The dream outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton return. We picked up Ichiro’s option and the ageless wonder returns to his role as super pinch hitter/reserve OF.
– Danny Valencia slots in at 3B, replacing the soon-to-be pricey Martin Prado (this was a bit tricky because the Marlins have already stated they will be extending him but he has not signed a contract. For sake of this project, Prado entered the free agent pool and the Marlins did not sign him).
– Adeiny Hecchevaria, Justin Bour and JT Realmuto return to their positions in 2017.
– I opted to give two youngsters spots on the 25-man roster to see what they can do with the opportunity. Last summer, the Marlins considered trading Hecchevaria in a package for Chris Archer, leaving Miguel Rojas to man shortstop. The youngster has held his own at the plate, though his glove is his calling card. (Tangent: I approached the Rays about a Hecchevaria-Archer swap and our talks extended to other Rays starters, though nothing materialized). The other is Yefri Perez, our 5th outfielder and pinch runner. Perez stole 71 bases in 2015. We will use him to wreak havoc on the bases late in games.
The Marlins bullpen was already in pretty solid shape. These additions make the group one of baseball’s best:
– Signed Jerry Blevins to be the team’s sole lefty in the ‘pen.
– Offered arbitration to David Phelps.
– Opted to retain former closing great Fernando Rodney.
– Signed Fernando Salas.
– Signed Drew Storen.
This Marlins team has its weaknesses. These weaknesses could prove damaging to the club’s chances in 2016, though its payroll and presence of a few impressive top prospects means it could attain reinforcements in a playoff hunt if needed. Here are the main areas of concern:
– The staff is very right handed. Just one starter (Nicolino) and one reliever (Jerry Blevins) throw from the left side. Many of the relievers have success against lefties, though, and it will be up to the manager to understand splits correctly.
– Run production if Giancarlo Stanton gets hurt again. Not many lineups depend so much on one guy. Stanton has to stay healthy for this team to compete in 2017.
– The farm system. The farm is not healthy. It’s up to the Marlins to continue to build through the draft and Latin America. The 40-man roster is young and talented. To stay good for a while, they have to improve that area. I made it a point to keep top prospect Braxton Garrett (mlb.com #36) and a number of other top farmhands. I worry about Tyler Kolek down the road and now post-TJS which explains my willingness to part with him.
Conversely, I see a number of areas of strength with this Marlins team:
– The lineup boasts quite a bit of OBP darlings. Cesar Hernandez (.371) and Christian Yelich (.376) hit in front of super slugger Giancarlo Stanton while Justin Bour (.349), JT Realmuto (.343) and Danny Valencia (.343) post excellent OBP numbers further down in the lineup. Bench players Derek Dietrich and Ichiro Suzuki also get on base very well. This team will get on base a lot and will score a lot of runs.
– We have an outstanding bullpen. While it lacks the star power of a Chapman or a Miller, do not sleep on guys like Barraclough or Ramos and look for strong veteran seasons from Rodney, Storen, Blevins and Salas.
– The rotation, despite missing Jose Fernandez, is young, hard-throwing and very talented. While we lack the depth I would like in case the injury bug hits, we do have a couple minor leaguers who can fill in quickly and adequately if needed.
In conclusion, I see the strengths outweighing the weaknesses and for the Marlins to improve quite a bit from their sub-.500 record in 2016. The Marlins watched the Mets have a puzzling winter in which they sacrificed most of their farm system for a couple positional upgrades and the Washington Nationals do little to improve. The Marlins are underdogs in the East, but they could challenge for the division if all goes well. If Washington and New York are strong, the Marlins will be in the wildcard race all year. We did that without sacrificing a draft pick, our top prospect, or expanding payroll. In my opinion, that is a very successful offseason.
We also came in 5 million under budget, which boss man Jeffrey Loria appreciates. I expect a nice bonus next year.
Michael Pineda, Aaron Nola, Cesar Hernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Andrew Knapp, Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Fernando Salas, Danny Valencia
Dee Gordon, Wei-Yin Chen, Tyler Kolek (prospect), Sam Perez (prospect), Hunter Cervenka
Final payroll: $69,210,000
|8||2B||Cesar Hernandez||1.5||(2 million from Philadelphia)|
|18||Pinch runner/5th OF||Yefri Perez||0.51|