Marlins address multiple areas at once with Bethancourt add

December 11th, 2023

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.

In acquiring catcher from Cleveland on Sunday, Miami stood by something president of baseball operations Peter Bendix stated at last week’s Winter Meetings.

“You can win games in a lot of different ways, and we want to add offense for sure,” Bendix said. “But we also understand that run prevention, pitching, defense, all of that, there's a lot of different ways you can win games.”

Bendix said this in response to a question about how the club might replace Jorge Soler should he sign elsewhere on the free-agent market. Soler's 36 homers not only tied for eighth most in the National League, but also represented 22 percent of the club’s total. His 75 RBIs were second on the team.

The simple answer is the Marlins cannot replace that type of offensive production should Soler move on. What they can do is a combination of things, and they started with improving upon a strength.

One day before Bendix’s comments, manager Skip Schumaker was asked what he learned about the Marlins’ path to success in the competitive NL East.

“I thought what we are really good at is we can pitch,” Schumaker replied.

Despite scoring the fewest runs in the NL, the Marlins made the postseason because of a talented-yet-still-developing pitching staff (16th-lowest ERA in MLB).

Ace Sandy Alcantara had a down year by his standards before undergoing Tommy John surgery, but left-handers Jesús Luzardo and Braxton Garrett broke out. Phenom Eury Pérez lived up to the hype during his rookie campaign, though right-hander Edward Cabrera took a step back. Southpaw Trevor Rogers once again missed significant time due to injuries. The bullpen almost always held onto late leads (69-4 when ahead after eight innings).

Many variables will determine how Miami’s pitching staff fares in 2024. Bethancourt should help that group in a number of ways. 

In 2023, Bethancourt’s 3.62 catcher’s ERA ranked second lowest among Major League Baseball backstops with at least 3,000 plate appearances, trailing only Toronto’s Alejandro Kirk. Tampa Bay’s pitching compiled the fifth-lowest ERA in MLB, so how much of the credit deserves to go to the man behind the dish?

Bethancourt’s 23 percent caught-stealing rate was above league-average (21 percent) thanks to elite pop time (95th percentile) and arm strength (70 grade). Marlins pitchers struggled to hold runners, surrendering 0.80 steals per game -- tied for seventh most in MLB. All of that means Bethancourt can help neutralize the opposition's running game and prevent runners from getting into scoring position.

“In my mind, value is value -- runs scored, runs saved,” Bendix said. “They all help you win games. There's a lot of different ways that you can get to being a really valuable player. And so it's never about replacing one for one so much as just building the strongest team possible.” 

Miami’s catchers compiled the second-lowest OPS in the Majors in 2023 (.570), so despite Bethancourt seeing a dip at the plate (.635), he was still better than his predecessor, Jacob Stallings (.565). Bendix could even add another backstop to the mix, and there are more offensive-minded options in Gary Sánchez (.792 OPS) and Mitch Garver (.870) left on the free-agent market. Then there’s a potential upgrade at shortstop (.578, lowest OPS in MLB), and so on.  

“I don't really like to get locked into one [hitting] profile,” Bendix said. “I truly believe there's a lot of different ways you can be good at hitting, good at baseball. I like well-rounded players, but you also need to score, and it really depends on the position. It depends on what the team needs. I think you can score runs in a lot of different ways: power, speed, average, on-base [percentage], all of that. Ideally, the more ways a team has to score runs, the better.”