Marlins aim to lean on veterans in 2018
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Marlins are no strangers to turning over their roster when seasons don't go as anticipated. What's different this time, the organization insists, is that it is committed to sticking to its long-term plan.
Unlike restructurings of the past, the new ownership group, headed by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter, is focused on building a sturdy foundation from the ground up. The offseason trades, while unpopular, were made because there simply wasn't enough overall pitching or enough impactful players to seriously contend.
"What you're going to see within the Marlins' organization is not just this year," manager Don Mattingly said. "It's going to be different next year, and it will go on. You're going to see that continue, and it's going to force guys to get better."
The Marlins have not had a winning season since 2009, and they last made the playoffs in '03. To move the organization forward, some of the core from last year's 77-85 squad was traded.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich were dealt in the offseason. Since June, the Marlins used seven trades to stock their system with 27 new players. Some are expected to be in the big leagues at some point in the season, if not on Opening Day.
What's the goal?
As part of its culture change, the organization aims to build sustainable success, not just for one year, but to have enough overall depth at many levels to compete regularly for the playoffs.
Based on their offseason moves, expectations from the outside aren't high. Inwardly, the team is preaching that it can compete for the postseason this year. That's the stance that is publicly being relayed.
The reality is, the roster is young, and growing pains are expected along the way.
With so many new faces, the Marlins are looking for veterans like J.T. Realmuto and first baseman Justin Bour to take on leadership roles. Realmuto was frequently mentioned in trade rumors, but he isn't likely to be dealt. He's currently on the disabled list with a back contusion.
What's the plan?
Build around pitching, while filtering in as many high-ceiling, athletic players as possible. It's no coincidence that the team came into Spring Training with three young outfielders who all profile to play center. Lewis Brinson, the team's No. 1 prospect and the 27th overall in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, was acquired from the Brewers in the Yelich trade. Magneuris Sierra (No. 7 prospect) was brought in from the Cardinals in the Ozuna deal, and Braxton Lee (17th-rated prospect) was acquired in June from the Rays for Adeiny Hechavarria. All three have plus speed and are strong defensively. Of the trio, Brinson will make the Opening Day roster.
What could go wrong?
The outfield trio of Stanton, Ozuna and Yelich combined for 114 home runs last year, and the biggest power threat now is the first baseman Bour, who had 25 home runs a year ago, the most of any returning player. The lack of proven big league power creates concerns about run production. As for big league-ready depth, there isn't much. The long season could tempt the front office to promote its highly regarded prospects, perhaps too early. The Marlins said they don't plan on rushing pitchers like Sandy Alcantara, and position players like Sierra.
Who might surprise?
Reassuring to the organization is the fact Brinson, a South Florida native from Coral Springs, has come as advertised. The 23-year-old is showing the ability to make adjustments, often within games against the same pitchers. He's enhanced his chances of being the regular center fielder. Brinson could be a 20-home-run, 20-stolen-base candidate as a rookie. Also, with Martin Prado (right knee) scheduled to start off on the DL, Anderson, the club's No. 9 prospect, is expected to step in and could be tough to take out of the lineup.