What to know: Marlins' 2021 offseason FAQ
MIAMI -- Internal expectations were high for the 2021 Marlins, who were fresh off their first playoff appearance in 17 years. But a slow start and costly injuries turned them into sellers by the Trade Deadline, as the club finished fourth in the National League East.
As Year Five of the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter regime gets underway, the time for consistent results at the big league level is now. There is a foundation of young starting pitching and position players to complement with veteran talent.
Here’s a primer for what the Marlins will face with the Hot Stove season approaching:
What are some key dates (based on the end of the World Series)?
First day after
• Eligible players become free agents
• First date players may be traded between Major League clubs
Fifth day after
• Last date to reinstate players from the Major League and Minor League 60-day injured lists
• Last date to outright potential Minor League free agent without Major League contract, if applicable
• Nov. 8-11: GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif.
• Dec. 1: Expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement
• Dec. 1: Last date to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft, provided player does not need to be tendered
Which players are free agents?
Infielder Joe Panik, catcher Sandy León as well as right-handers Austin Pruitt, Luis Madero and Bryan Mitchell. None are likely to come back on MLB contracts.
Which players are arbitration-eligible?
Twelve players are eligible for arbitration: ace Sandy Alcantara, right-handers Pablo López and Elieser Hernandez, first baseman Jesús Aguilar, catcher Jorge Alfaro, third baseman Brian Anderson, high-leverage reliever Dylan Floro, first baseman/outfielder Garrett Cooper, utility player Jon Berti, left-hander Richard Bleier and outfielders Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra.
Who might be a non-tender candidate?
Sierra, a reserve outfielder who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, was out of options in 2021. Brinson is now in the same boat. There are eight outfielders on the 40-man roster, with prospects JJ Bleday, Peyton Burdick and Kameron Misner getting closer to the big leagues. Assuming roster turnover includes picking up veteran outfield bats, Sierra's and/or Brinson's Marlins tenures could be over.
Alfaro, who will be in his second year of arbitration eligibility, has an 82 OPS+ in 253 games with Miami. He also has led the NL in passed balls twice. When the club acquired two backstops ahead of the Trade Deadline, Alfaro began to see time at first base and left field to improve his versatility before a leg injury ended his season. If a trade partner can't be found, Alfaro could be a non-tender candidate. Cooper is another possibility because of his inability to stay healthy. He will be coming off Tommy John surgery, but if the universal designated hitter is adopted, he could be an option.
Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and do they have a crunch for roster spots?
Griffin Conine, son of Mr. Marlin Jeff Conine, is Miami's only Top 30 prospect who needs to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. The 24-year-old outfielder finished second among all Minor Leaguers with 36 homers in 2021, but he did strike out in 40% of his plate appearances between the High-A and Double-A levels. Other noteworthy names include Jefry Yan, who is pitching in the Arizona Fall League, Triple-A infielders Joe Dunand and Bryson Brigman, as well as Triple-A reliever Tommy Eveld. The Marlins' 40-man roster is at 36, though six players are on the 60-day IL.
What areas of need must the Marlins address? Who might they target?
Before the season came to an end, chief executive officer Derek Jeter wasn't shy about saying the organization would be actively talking with free agents or exploring other moves to improve the offense, which ranked near the bottom of many categories. General manager Kim Ng noted that Miami would try to add multiple bats. The versatile Chris Taylor (3 HRs for the Dodgers in NLCS Game 5) would be a nice fit. In 2021 alone, he played all three outfield spots as well as second, third and shortstop. All-Star Nick Castellanos, who can opt out of his contract with the Reds, would provide a formidable middle-of-the-order bat (.939 OPS). Plus, he's a local.
Though this winter offers a stellar free-agent class of shortstops, the Marlins inked Miguel Rojas to an extension. Rojas did state that he is open to changing roles for the betterment of the club. Should Miami get creative, an option would be moving Brian Anderson -- a 2020 Gold Glove Award finalist at third base -- to the outfield and signing one of those top players. Anderson will be coming off left shoulder surgery. A reminder that one addition won't drastically improve the lineup, so the Marlins would be wise in maximizing their salary allotment by filling several holes.
Who might they be willing to trade?
Having a Top 5 farm system is a luxury, one that the ownership group made a priority. It's a sign of an organization's sustainability and health. The hope is that those prospects will develop and help the big league club. In some instances, those young players can be used as trade bait to acquire MLB talent. Miami's biggest area of need is at the catching position. The organization acquired two backstops ahead of the Deadline, but a veteran is crucial in handling a talented pitching staff and producing at the plate.
The Marlins' organizational strength lies in their pitching depth, so that would appear to be the natural area to trade from. You can never have enough pitching, of course, as evidenced by this season. Max Meyer, MLB Pipeline's No. 30 overall prospect, should be off-limits. But what about Kyle Nicolas (2.52 ERA at Double-A) or Jake Eder, who became a Top 100 prospect before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August? Perhaps a near-MLB-ready outfield prospect among the trio of Bleday, Burdick and Misner? In order to acquire talent, one must give away talent. With the catching position a weak one around MLB, the demand and price will be high.