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. Who is running the show?
The Marlins are searching for a new head of their baseball operations department.
Change is being made because Michael Hill, who was president of baseball operations for the past eight years, recently parted ways with the organization. Hill’s contract expires at the end of October, and talks didn’t progress far in terms of reaching a new deal. Chief executive officer Derek Jeter noted that whoever gets the nod, the decision-making process will be collaborative. So the job title and job description may change. Ultimately someone is expected to be hired to oversee the entire department.
In 2020, the Marlins made 174 roster moves and had 61 players on the roster, and Miami still made the playoffs.
Jeter also 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.
2. Marte back, is Kintzler next?
Among the first orders of offseason business was making calls on two players with club options. The Marlins addressed one of these on Wednesday, when Miami announced it has exercised the club option for center fielder Starling Marte, who will make $12.5 million next year.
Had the Marlins decided to not pick up Marte's option, they would have been on the hook for a $1 million buyout.
Closer Brandon Kintzler has a $4 million club option, with a $250,000 buyout, that the Marlins have until Sunday to make a decision on. The team is believed to be interested in retaining Kintzler.
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 the 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, and manager Don Mattingly said recently that the club felt more comfortable with Wallach catching the group. There’s certainly time for Alfaro to show improvement in his overall game, but the organization likely will explore all options, internally and on 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. Based on his upside, Chisholm may have the inside edge.
5. Figuring out first
If the National League has the designated hitter in 2021, then keeping both Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper makes sense. The two split time at first base and DH, and that helped keep both players fresh. However, if there is no DH, one of the two may not be back. Aguilar appeared in 51 games and had an .809 OPS with 10 doubles, eight homers and 34 RBIs. Cooper was in 34 games and had an .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.