MIAMI -- Since the start of their building process, the Marlins have stayed stubbornly consistent about building through their farm system while showing patience at the big league level.
Now after two straight last-place finishes in the National League East, and coming off the second-most losses in franchise history (105), there is a little more urgency to make improvements at the Major League level in 2020.
At the General Managers Meetings this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Marlins were exploring free-agent and trade targets.
In doing so, they are threading the needle in their approach. They are targeting impactful players who fit into their short- and long-term plans, while being mindful not to block some high-end prospects who are moving closer to reaching the big leagues.
“It’s definitely a delicate balance, and we have to be very systematic with our approach in improving our club,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “But the bottom line is we need to get better.”
Unlike the past two Hot Stove seasons, when the Marlins were clearly in “seller mode,” they enter this year as buyers, albeit, modest buyers. They are willing to offer multi-year deals to free agents who fit into their bigger picture.
Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, a free agent after spending the second half of 2019 with the Cubs, is expected to be a target. Yasiel Puig, Howie Kendrick, Justin Smoak, Avisaíl García, Todd Frazier, Jason Castro and Jon Jay are other position players who fit the profile of what the Marlins are after.
Miami’s offseason could move in a number of directions, and it is likely the club will land at least two position players who either can be regulars or fill in as platoon options.
There is a clear need for middle-of-the-order threats.
In 2019, the Marlins leaned on leaders like Martín Prado, Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker. That group helped stabilize a youthful clubhouse, but all three players are free agents and unlikely to return.
Down on the farm, the Marlins have a few position players who are expected to reach the big leagues at some point in 2020 -- outfielders Jesús Sánchez and Monte Harrison, along with first baseman Lewin Díaz and shortstop Jazz Chisholm.
Sánchez, a left-handed hitter, was acquired from the Rays in July as part of the Nick Anderson/Trevor Richards deal. The 22-year-old is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami’s No. 3 prospect, and he is No. 51 on the Top 100 list.
In 113 Minor League games, Sánchez hit .260/.325/.398 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs.
Harrison, 24, was expected to be a September callup before he underwent right wrist surgery. Ranked as Miami’s No. 5 prospect, and 83rd overall, he had a slash line of .274/.357/.451 with nine home runs, 24 RBIs and 20 stolen bases at Triple-A. Harrison is playing Winter Ball in Puerto Rico.
Díaz was acquired by the Marlins in July from the Twins as part of the Sergio Romo trade. The left-handed-hitting first baseman is Miami’s No. 12 prospect, and he belted 27 home runs and drove in 76 runs while batting .270/.321/.530 last year.
Chisholm, obtained from the D-backs for rookie right-hander Zac Gallen, is projected as the shortstop of the future. A left-handed hitter with power, Chisholm belted 21 home runs at Double-A, while combining to hit .220/.321/.441, including a .284 average and .383 on-base percentage in 23 games at Double-A Jacksonville after the trade. Chisholm is Miami’s No. 4 prospect and 54th overall.
None of these position player prospects is likely to open the season on the big league roster, though perhaps that would change based on a strong Spring Training.
If they wind up all together at Triple-A Wichita, which is likely, the Marlins promise to have a stacked team with impactful hitting prospects knocking on the door.
“In terms of how you get better, you get quality people,” Hill said. “You get knowledgeable people. You get the best minds in the game to support an incredibly talented group of players and help them reach their potential. And on top of that, you get some good players.”