The Winter Meetings begin a week from today in San Diego, and the main item on the Marlins' agenda will be acquiring more offense.
Does that sound familiar? It should, because that was also the objective last offseason.
While Miami signed Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler, they combined for just 21 homers and 69 RBIs, each playing in fewer than 100 games. The front office believes that with better health, the production (third-fewest runs in MLB) should improve to support a starting staff with the eighth-lowest ERA. That was the case during the first month of the 2022 season, when the Marlins posted a 12-8 record.
In order to get an idea of where Miami might turn to for additional offense, let's take a look at the current roster and projected lineup:
C Jacob Stallings
1B Garrett Cooper
2B Jazz Chisholm Jr.
SS Miguel Rojas
3B Joey Wendle
Let's get right down to it: Center field is the biggest question mark. After Opening Day starter Jesús Sánchez received a demotion in August for his inconsistency at the plate, it seems unlikely that the Marlins will go down that road again. The question is, will Miami fill that void via free agency or trade?
On the free agency front, the Dodgers non-tendered Cody Bellinger, the former 2019 National League MVP who has posted a 74 OPS+ over the past three seasons. Despite that, the 27-year-old is in demand, with him and clubs alike hoping for a bounceback campaign in '23. That could happen if Bellinger's right shoulder is fully healed and the new shift rules play to the left-handed slugger’s advantage. Defensively, he ranked in the 92nd percentile in Outs Above Average (OAA).
But shopping on the free agent market can be tough, because a player and his representation might deem another club a better fit. In that case, this would be the perfect opportunity for the Marlins to capitalize on their starting-pitching depth and trade for a center fielder. MLB.com colleague Anthony Castrovince proposed that Miami could deal right-hander Pablo López, who was the subject of trade rumors this summer, to the Orioles for Cedric Mullins.
Though Mullins wasn't able to recreate his All-Star campaign of 2021, he still stole 30 bases for the second consecutive season and ranked in the 96th percentile in OAA. Mullins, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, turned 28 in October. Like Bellinger, he would provide a lefty bat for a righty-heavy lineup.
What the Marlins do in center field will affect left. Something that new manager Skip Schumaker said on the Miami Mic'd Up podcast with Jeremy Taché stuck out to me: He mentioned looking forward to Bryan De La Cruz getting 500 at-bats. De La Cruz, whose Statcast batting percentile rankings jump off the page, ended the 2022 season on a tear (1.137 OPS in 25 games) once he was recalled from Triple-A Jacksonville. What better spot to put him than in left field, allowing Soler to be the primary designated hitter?
Another area of need is at first base, where Cooper is the only natural at the position on the 40-man roster after Pittsburgh claimed Lewin Díaz. Cooper, a 2022 All-Star who has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, has been injury-prone throughout his career. This would seem a logical spot to seek help. If so, free agent options include Josh Bell and José Abreu.
And if the Marlins truly want to make a splash and upgrade their lineup, much like the Twins did in March, they can jump into the premier free agent shortstop market. But it would come at quite the cost competing with the big-market clubs. Both Rojas and Wendle have just one year of club control left, and it remains to be seen whether Chisholm might transition to shortstop in the future.
MLB.com colleague Mark Feinsand recently detailed why Miami should link up with Carlos Correa, the Platinum Gold Glover and World Series champion. Marlins fans would feel like their holiday gift came early if that happened. Correa would give the Marlins the established superstar they have been missing since beginning the rebuild in 2018. The 28-year-old Puerto Rican is the type of player fans follow, regardless of what club he suits up for.