5 key questions facing Marlins this offseason

October 11th, 2021

MIAMI -- No one in the Marlins organization is happy with how the 2021 season turned out, as they went from their first playoff appearance in 17 years to 95 losses in the underwhelming National League East.

"I expect this offseason to be active for us, whether that's talking with free agents or exploring some other moves," CEO Derek Jeter said. "But for the first time really since we've been here as an ownership group, I expect to be pretty active. Or I should say, have active conversations."

Here’s a look at five main questions facing the Marlins in the offseason:

1. Will the coaches return?
Manager Don Mattingly's mutual option for 2022 got picked up in July. Around that time, general manager Kim Ng said decisions would be made after the season regarding his coaches.

A no-brainer to return would be pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., whose staff finished 11th in the Majors with a 3.96 ERA despite a multitude of injuries. Will bench coach James Rowson, who interviewed for several managerial positions last offseason, be offered a job elsewhere this winter?

The Marlins led the Majors in pickoffs and errors by wide margins in 2021, but those statistics don't tell the whole story. The club finished second in the NL with 106 stolen bases and tied for sixth in MLB with 57 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). If anything, mental lapses -- not physical mistakes -- need to be cleaned up.

2. Who is the primary catcher?
When the Marlins acquired a pair of backstops prior to the Trade Deadline, it sent a clear message as to what they thought of the position's depth across the organization. Jorge Alfaro, the club's Opening Day catcher in two of the past three seasons, began seeing time in left field and first base before a leg injury cut short his 2021 season. Since coming over in the J.T. Realmuto trade in '19, he has an 82 OPS+ and has led the NL in passed balls twice.

Former Top 100 prospect Alex Jackson, as well as rookies Nick Fortes and Payton Henry, split time behind the dish over the final month. Jackson struck out in 49 percent of his plate appearances with the Marlins, Fortes homered four times in 31 at-bats and Henry went 4-for-15. Both Fortes and Henry began 2021 at the Double-A level.

If the Marlins want to battle for the division in 2022, it's hard to fathom them rolling out one of that trio as the primary backstop. Arguably the most important role of the catcher will be handling the talented pitching staff. That is why veteran Sandy León (38 OPS+, 3.23 catcher ERA in 2021) stuck around, receiving rave reviews for his game calling. The catcher free agent class isn't strong, so the best bet would be for the Marlins to send a package from their strong farm system for a backstop.

3. What will they do about the back end of the bullpen?
Miami's main priority last offseason was to revamp the relief corps, and the Opening Day unit reflected that with seven newcomers. But the bullpen got off to a rough start, with Anthony Bass blowing his first two saves before relinquishing the closer role. Dylan Floro went 13-for-15 in save chances after Yimi García was dealt to the Astros at the Deadline.

"I think guys like that chance at [closing]," Mattingly said. "We feel like they could do it, and so he has stepped up for leverage innings. I'm not saying [Floro] should be the closer or anything like that. He did a nice job with leverage innings, he holds runners, [and] for the most part he's not walking people."

The foundation is there with Floro, southpaw Richard Bleier and righties Anthony Bender, Zach Pop and Zach Thompson. The bullpen finished 2021 with the seventh-highest WAR in the Majors (5.0). However, if the Marlins intend to be legitimate contenders, a proven closer should be a priority.

4. Was there enough of a sample size to trust the young guys?
A silver lining of the Marlins being out of the playoff chase and moving expiring contracts ahead of the Trade Deadline was the ability to let the kids play. Former Top 100 prospect Jesús Sánchez began starting on a daily basis in mid-June, then went on the IL for a month. He ended 2021 with a strong September (.903 OPS), though he strained his right hamstring in the season's final week.

When the Marlins didn't deal Jesús Aguilar at the Deadline, it blocked then-prospect Lewin Díaz at first base until Aguilar was sidelined with a left knee injury on Sept. 8. The organization's Triple-A MVP of the Year showed flashes at the plate with eight homers in 122 at-bats, but had a 26 percent strikeout rate. What really stood out was Díaz's plus glove; in just 258 1/3 innings in the field, he finished second in the Majors with eight DRS.

Outfielder Bryan De La Cruz, acquired in the Yimi García trade, was a pleasant surprise in his first taste of the big leagues. He slashed .322/.384/.474 through his first 50 games before running out of gas over the final week (.143/.172/.143). As a result, will the Marlins bring in one or two outfielders? Could they obtain an infielder and move third baseman Brian Anderson to the outfield?

5. What's the plan if there's a designated hitter?
Assuming the new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes the universal DH, how will the Marlins fill that role? Entering 2021, they kept Aguilar and Garrett Cooper -- both right-handed-hitting first basemen -- because of the possibility of a DH. That never happened, and Cooper split time at first and in the outfield when he wasn't hurt.

If the Marlins decide to hand the first-base job to Díaz, that leaves Aguilar and Cooper as the internal options at DH. Both will be coming off season-ending surgeries. Aguilar will be in his final year of arbitration, while Cooper will be in his second.