This Marlin is focused on a bounce-back year

December 12th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola's Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It goes without saying this is an important winter for the Marlins.

Since returning to the playoffs in 2020, the club has lost 188 combined games and finished fourth in the uber-competitive National League East over the past two seasons. While Miami didn't strike a deal to upgrade the lineup during last week's Winter Meetings in San Diego, Opening Day is still three months away.

No player better epitomizes the Marlins' need to bounce back than Avisaíl García, who signed a four-year, $53 million contract with a club option for 2026 last December. Miami looked upon García and fellow free-agent signee Jorge Soler, the 2021 World Series MVP, to be run producers in the middle of the order. That didn't happen.

García slashed just .224/.266/.317 with nine doubles, eight homers and 35 RBIs in 98 games. He spent time on the injured list twice with a left hamstring strain.

"It's not the way you fail, it's the way you come up," García said at last month's Thanksgiving distribution event. "Just got to keep working, put in the work and try to do your best every single day. You have to learn from your failures. We're human, so that's going to happen, not only in baseball, but in life. And the only thing you can control is to prepare yourself and be ready."

Despite the down season for García, there were flashes of his previous All-Star form. He hit arguably the club's two biggest homers -- on June 29 to set up Sandy Alcantara's complete game and on Sept. 29 to help oust the Brewers, his former club, from playoff contention.

The 31-year-old García knows he didn't have a great year and needs to be better. It started midseason by getting into better shape -- going from 250 to 235 pounds -- while rehabbing. Following a healthier lifestyle made not only his body but also his mind "feel free."

It continues with his growing familiarity with pitchers within the division and league. Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor struggled his first season (100 OPS+) moving from the American League Central to the NL East before rebounding in 2022 (125 OPS+). Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos, who was a Miami target last winter, also scuffled in his first year in the NL East (139 OPS+ with Cincinnati to 95 OPS+). García is confident he will see a similar jump from what he experienced in 2020-21 with the Brewers (78 to 119 OPS+).

"I want to win. Everybody wants to win, so I'm focused on that," García said. "And I'm putting myself in the best position that I can to have a great year."

García isn't just saying that to sound good. New manager Skip Schumaker grabbed dinner in South Florida with García, who expressed his disappointment in the 2022 season. García already is hitting and working with first-base/outfield coach Jon Jay.

"Avi is one of those guys that's not happy about how his season went," Schumaker said at last week's Winter Meetings. "He felt like he wasn't in shape enough to play a full season and came in not ready like he should have been. Could have been the lockout, a number of different things. But I feel like he's the No. 1 guy that I'm most excited about. ... The guy is extremely motivated and not real happy about how his season went about, so I'm looking forward to see what he looks like in spring."