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5 big questions Marlins face this offseason

@JoeFrisaro
October 18, 2020

MIAMI -- The fact the Marlins reached the postseason for the first time since 2003 may have surprised many, but it wasn't shocking to the organization. Yes, the Marlins made the improbable leap from being a 105-loss team in 2019 to reaching the playoffs in an abbreviated 60-game season. But

MIAMI -- The fact the Marlins reached the postseason for the first time since 2003 may have surprised many, but it wasn't shocking to the organization.

Yes, the Marlins made the improbable leap from being a 105-loss team in 2019 to reaching the playoffs in an abbreviated 60-game season. But to those who have been closely following, the talent level has been rising from the Minor Leagues for a few years now, and it was developing at the big league level.

After the Marlins were eliminated in three games by the Braves in the National League Division Series, here’s a look at five main questions facing the organization in the offseason:

1) Status of front office

Michael Hill, who was president of baseball operations for the past eight years, parted ways with the Marlins on Sunday. This year alone, he oversaw 174 roster moves and 61 players on the roster, and Miami still made the playoffs. Hill's contract was set to expire at the end of this month, and after discussions lasted about a week, the Marlins decided to move in another direction and they are in the process of searching for his replacement.

CEO Derek Jeter announced that director of player personnel Dan Greenlee has been appointed as assistant general manager. Greenlee and assistant GM Brian Chattin will both oversee the baseball operations department until Hill's replacement is hired.

When the current ownership group took over after the 2017 season, Hill was retained and tasked with trading away popular players, such as Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, among others. In the Stanton trade alone, the Marlins moved what was at the time the remaining $295 million on his contract to the Yankees. Because Stanton has since opted in for the rest of his deal, Miami is still on the hook for $30 million, which the club will begin paying off beginning in 2026.

In the building process, the Marlins’ farm system went from being ranked near the bottom of all clubs to now being considered among the best.

2) Marte, Kintzler club options

Before the Hot Stove season gets underway after the World Series, Miami first must make a call on two club options. Center fielder Starling Marte and closer Brandon Kintzler each have pending deals for 2021. Marte's club option is $12.5 million option for next year, with a $1 million buyout. Kintzler has a $4 million option, with a $250,000 buyout. When Miami acquired Marte in a trade with the D-backs on Aug. 31, the front office expressed publicly that he was “not a rental.” Marte didn't play in the NLDS due to a fractured left pinkie. Since ownership signed off on the trade, it’s likely his option will be picked up. Kintzler’s may, too. But that still is to be decided, or if they organization will apply the $4 million somewhere else.

3) Who is the primary catcher?

When Jorge Alfaro was part of the J.T. Realmuto trade with the Phillies, the belief was the Marlins had their short-term and long-term catcher. It may not be playing out that way. Chad Wallach got the starting nod for the playoffs, based largely on his ability to handle pitching staff. Both tested positive early in the season for COVID-19. Alfaro played in 31 regular-season games, to 15 for Wallach. Offensively, the two were similar. Alfaro hit .226 with a .624 OPS, while Wallach batted .227 with a .640 OPS. Behind the plate, Wallach has the advantage in framing pitches. According to Statcast’s catcher “framing” leaderboard, Wallach has a 46.5 strike percentage to Alfaro’s 41.7 percent. Francisco Cervelli has announced his retirement, so he is no longer in the mix. The Marlins have a talented group of hard-throwing pitchers, so the ability to handle the staff is crucial. There’s certainly time for Alfaro to show improvement in his overall game, but the organization likely will explore all options, internally and the market.

4) Settling at second

For the Marlins, the position most impacted by the unpredictable nature of the shortened 2020 season was second base. In Spring Training, prior to the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Isan Díaz was projected to be the starter. Everything changed after the virus postponed the season and the COVID-19 outbreak in late July that landed 18 Miami players on the injured list. At that point, Díaz elected not to play. Jonathan Villar, before being traded to the Blue Jays, played some second base, as did Jon Berti. Díaz was granted reinstatement in September, but he appeared in just seven games before suffering a season-ending left groin strain. His .182 batting average in 22 at-bats this season is hardly a sample size, but across 201 career at-bats in the Majors, he’s hitting .174 with five homers. Prospect Jazz Chisholm, who has played mostly shortstop, now is a candidate to be the regular second baseman, with shortstop Miguel Rojas under contract for 2021.

5) Figuring out first

If the designated hitter is here to stay, that helps answer some questions regarding first base in 2021. Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper split time at first base and DH, and that helped keep both players fresh. Aguilar appeared in 51 games and had a .809 OPS with 10 doubles, eight homers and 34 RBIs. Cooper was in 34 games and had a .853 OPS, eight doubles, six homers and 20 RBIs. Prospect Lewin Díaz, a left-handed hitter, is defensively the best of the group. But is he ready for the grind of a full season? Díaz got a taste of the big leagues, getting 39 at-bats, hitting .154 with 12 strikeouts in 14 games. If Díaz is considered ready to play regularly, the Marlins may look to trade either Aguilar or Cooper.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.