Mattingly on bullpen, first base, more

December 17th, 2020

MIAMI -- A relaxed Don Mattingly, sporting a full beard, is enjoying some needed offseason downtime from his home in Evansville, Ind.

Still, the Marlins’ manager is staying connected with general manager Kim Ng and the rest of the front office. He is preparing for baseball business to heat up at the first of the year, as the club gears up for Spring Training to get underway in February.

The 2020 MLB season was a frantic one for Mattingly and the Marlins. The club was struck early in the season with a COVID-19 outbreak that landed 18 players on the injured list and saw three coaches test positive.

Under Mattingly’s guidance, the Marlins navigated through a trying season, finishing 31-29 and second in the National League East. One of baseball’s biggest surprise stories, Miami made the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and advanced to the NL Division Series.

The Marlins’ dramatic turnaround from a 57-105 season in 2019 earned Mattingly NL Manager of the Year honors, as voted on by the BBWAA.

Entering his sixth season at the helm in Miami, Mattingly covered a variety of issues, including how the organization plans to address its biggest needs, on Thursday as part of the virtual Winter Meetings.

Here are the highlights:

Tabbed as the top priority
, Mattingly called the bullpen a “work in progress.”

From the 2020 roster, closer , who saved 12 games in 2020, and setup man are both free agents.

“The market seems to be moving fairly slowly,” Mattingly said. “We trust Kim and the whole front office. There are a lot of good arms out there.”

The Marlins have made three bullpen moves already. Right-hander was selected in the Rule 5 Draft, and Miami acquired right-hander from the D-backs for a player to be named. Pop was taken by Arizona in the Rule 5 Draft, then flipped to the Marlins.

Earlier in the offseason, Miami traded for right-hander from Cleveland for cash considerations.

Closer candidates
The Marlins have left the door open for Kintzler to return. But even if he does, it doesn’t necessarily mean the 36-year-old right-hander will close.

The Marlins are open to making a trade or signing a free agent with high-leverage experience.

“As far as the closer situation,” Mattingly said, “I think we put the best collection of arms in camp that we can put together, the [combination] that gives us a chance to get outs.

“You always like to put a guy back there that you know is ‘the guy.’ But really, in today’s game, you want flexibility out there. Sometimes your best matchup would be in the eighth, or maybe in the seventh. So you like to be flexible in that way. We’re going to try to put our best collection of arms together, and then go from there.”

Figuring out first
The Marlins are preparing for no designated hitter in the NL in 2021. That creates some questions regarding first base, because and are signed for '21.

“Coop has played some outfield,” Mattingly said. “It’s a good problem to have. Those are two quality bats in our lineup. We’ll let those things continue to play out. I’m happy that we’ve got those guys both signed.”

Taking the vaccine
Count Mattingly among those willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I would get the vaccination in a heartbeat,” Mattingly said. “I think it’s going to be important for our game and our country moving forward, that we’re willing to take the vaccination.”

Rule changes
When it comes to figuring out ways to improve the game, Mattingly isn’t stuck in the past. He said he is open to anything that enhances the quality of game, even if it means limiting or eliminating the shift.

“I wouldn’t be totally against it,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, we have to look at what do you qualify as a shift? It’s sad that we may have to get to that, but I wouldn’t be against anything that basically creates more action. Less down time and more action. Anything that moves to that.”