With Soler signed, what's next for Marlins?
Bat depth secured, Miami will turn focus to bullpen
JUPITER, Fla. -- It goes without saying that the signing of Jorge Soler, last year's World Series MVP, provides more punch to the Marlins' lineup. The former AL home run champion's arrival lengthens Miami's lineup and deepens its roster.
Look no further than what happened during Tuesday's game against the Cardinals. Jazz Chisholm Jr. exited with a right hand contusion after a 107.3 mph grounder hit his hand between his ring and pinky fingers. Though he could've played through it during the regular season, there's no need to force the issue in Spring Training. Utility player Jon Berti replaced Chisholm following the injury.
As things stand, Soler will play in left field. Brian Anderson is expected to see time at third base and in left. Utility players Joey Wendle and Berti can play all over. Miguel Rojas and Chisholm will man the middle infield, while Garrett Cooper and Jesús Aguilar will split time at first base and designated hitter. Regardless of where guys play, the Marlins have more depth and positional versatility than they had last year, when early-season injuries ravaged the lineup and cost the club in the win column. In fact, there is already competition for at-bats in 2022.
"You start getting the pieces, and we talk more about load management nowadays than ever [before]," manager Don Mattingly said. "Getting guys off their feet and things like that. So you want to keep your guys fresh, and you want to be able to match up a little bit. You'd like to be able to have some different combinations. If a guy struggles against a certain style pitching or certain guy, that's the day he gets off, and [we] have a combination that works with that."
Who's in center?
When speaking to the media ahead of the Grapefruit League opener on Friday, general manager Kim Ng mentioned that the Marlins were looking for a bat/center fielder. With not much headway made on the trade front due to high asking prices, Miami pivoted to Plan B by signing Soler.
So where does this leave the Marlins in center field? Jesús Sánchez, Avisaíl García, Bryan De La Cruz and Berti (Wednesday's starter vs. the Nats) are all options to see time at the position. During the early stages of his pro career, Sánchez came up as a center fielder in the Rays' organization. He has started there a team-high three times this spring. When García signed a four-year deal prior to the lockout, he showed a willingness to play there.
Entering the offseason, Starling Marte was the marquee center fielder in a relatively thin free-agent market. When he signed with the Mets, the Marlins turned their focus to trade packages. They also brought in non-roster invitees Delino DeShields Jr. and Roman Quinn, who ranked sixth and eighth, respectively, in 2021 WAR among free agent center fielders. But Miami also had a contingency plan they began last Trade Deadline by acquiring De La Cruz from Houston.
"Sort of knowing that this could be a situation that we were in, we had tested him out there for the last couple of months of the season," Ng said. "I think knowing that all this was coming up, knowing that center field is a difficult position to replace. I think we're fairly well situated to be able to do that if we need to, but again, I think we're always looking for ways to improve the club."
With the offense taken care of, will the Marlins try to acquire another reliever? The free agent options are dwindling, with names like Richard Rodríguez (1.4 WAR) and Tony Watson (0.8 WAR) still available. In 2021, Miami's bullpen ranked seventh in the Majors with a 3.81 ERA and eighth with a 1.26 WHIP. The 'pen blew 24 saves, tied with three teams for 19th most.
"As I mentioned, the bat was first and foremost, and making sure that we secured that and what the parameters of that looked like," Ng said. "And now we're definitely focused on relievers. I will say that I've gotten some nice reports on some of the guys here, so we might be able to pull from within as well."
Dylan Floro, who finished the season as the closer once Yimi García was dealt, is the frontrunner. But Anthony Bender quickly moved into a setup role during his rookie year, recording a 150 ERA+ in 60 outings. Anthony Bass opened 2021 as the closer but lost the job during the first week after blowing two saves. This week, Miami also signed Grant Dayton to a Minor League deal and claimed Yoan López off waivers.