Talented pitching staff has Marlins hopeful for '14
MIAMI -- Building from the ground up requires a tremendous amount of patience, discipline and commitment to the long-term mission.
For remaining on point, credit Mike Redmond for holding the youthful Marlins together, staying calm and pushing forward during a trying season.
After breaking up the underachieving 2012 squad, the Marlins literally stripped the franchise down to the basics. High-priced veterans were traded for low-cost youngsters. The return stockpiled the Minor League system, especially with quality pitching, and gave the big league club some promising pieces.
But like any new project, results take time. Reshaping a baseball franchise is no different.
In the big leagues, at the end of the day, teams are measured by wins and losses. In that department, the Marlins ranked second to last in the Majors. Only the Astros lost more games.
From an organizational standpoint, you'd have to go back to 1998 to find a squad with fewer wins.
Redmond just so happened to be a rookie on the '98 squad, which finished 54-108. A message he learned that season was the importance of "turning the page." Move forward, regardless of what happened the game before.
"Turn the page" became one of Redmond's catch phrases in 2013, because that's what the long-term plan requires.
Before the start of Spring Training, the Marlins realized this season would be a challenge. So emphasis was placed on the process more than simply the results.
What the Marlins discovered in their "transition year" is they have a talented rotation, and several core parts to stride in the right direction.
The Marlins may not have a lineup that is as loaded as the Braves or the Nationals, but they do have Jose Fernandez.
In Fernandez, Miami has a legitimate ace, and one of the rising stars in the game.
"To think that he was going to start the season in Double-A, and for him to have a chance to be the Rookie of the Year, none of us would have predicted that," Redmond said. "He's been great, and an outstanding story. Going forward, you have that front-line pitcher. Not a lot of teams have that. That's huge."
An All-Star and a NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Fernandez anchors the strength of the organization. Pitching is what kept Miami in so many games in '13, and it will be expected to set the tone for the future.
What Fernandez is to the rotation, Steve Cishek is to the bullpen. The side-arm throwing, 27-year-old has become a lock-down closer.
"The bullpen got some great experience," Redmond said. "We've used them in a lot of situations. They stepped up and kept us in a lot of games. The bullpen has been one of the brightest spots of the team. We've played a lot of one-run games, because our pitching has given us a chance."
The pitching provides promise for 2014. But to get more wins, the organization is well aware they need more run support.
This season, the Marlins finished last in the Majors in pretty much every significant offensive category -- runs, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage. So it is no mystery that they will explore the market for options.
In a division that features so much quality starting pitching, Miami simply needs more power and production.
"That's something we're going to have to talk about this winter," Redmond said. "You look at the offensive numbers. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out we've struggled scoring runs and hitting home runs. I'm sure we will sit down as an organization and figure out what pieces we need to upgrade in going forward."
Arbitration-eligible: RHP Steve Cishek, OF/3B Chris Coghlan, LHP Mike Dunn, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Kevin Slowey, OF Giancarlo Stanton, RHP Ryan Webb, C Koyie Hill.
Free agents: OF Matt Diaz, OF Austin Kearns, OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco, RHP Chad Qualls.
Rotation: Starting pitching was the strength of the 2013 squad, and it is the reason for the most optimism in '14. For all the questions the Marlins have in the offseason, there is little doubt who is the ace.
The Marlins felt they had a rising talent in Fernandez. Little did they know he would be a Rookie of the Year frontrunner and one of the best starters in the National League. Fernandez enjoyed one of the best rookie seasons for a starter in the past 30 years. He set a franchise strikeout record for a rookie, and showed maturity well beyond his age.
Nathan Eovaldi, like Fernandez, has a legitimate power arm. He was the lone Marlins pitcher to have his fastball clocked at 100 mph. Fernandez reached 99 on several occasions. For Eovaldi, gaining consistent command of his off-speed pitches is essential for him to develop into a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter.
Henderson Alvarez showed flashes of being a solid No. 3. But there are some who wonder if his future will eventually be in the bullpen. For now, Alvarez has an inside edge to remaining in the rotation.
Jacob Turner had an up-and-down season. Still, there is a realization he is just 22. There is potential and talent with Turner, and it has been seen in flashes, just not on a consistent basis. While he will enter Spring Training with an inside edge to start, he must earn his spot.
Tom Koehler got plenty of opportunities to start, and he held up nicely in September. He gives the team flexibility as either a starter or coming out of the bullpen.
If possible, the Marlins would like to add a left-hander. Wade LeBlanc started off the year in the rotation, but he was designated for assignment in June. And in September, lefty Brian Flynn was called up from Triple-A New Orleans.
Flynn made a few big league starts. The results weren't overwhelming, but the lefty still has upside, and gaining some valuable MLB experience should help when Spring Training gets underway.
Brad Hand also is in the mix. Called up in September, the lefty made a couple of starts. He will compete for a spot in September. A few pitching prospects also may be emerge in Spring Training. Andrew Hainey, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino all showed signs at Double-A Jacksonville, and they could reach the big leagues at some point next year.
Slowey is worth watching because he is arbitration-eligible, and he also is coming off an injury. If healthy, he is a veteran with a track record.
Bullpen: One of the pleasant surprises was the bullpen, anchored by Cishek, who topped the 30-saves mark for the first time.
The Marlins weren't exactly clear with what they had in relief, but they figured Cishek had the makings of a lock-down closer. For the most part, he delivered.
The Marlins have an abundance of talented arms on the rise. Finding their exact roles is next. While Alvarez is likely to remain in the rotation, some baseball insiders feel he lacks the third and fourth pitches to continue as a starter. Koehler is another starter who may find his future is in relief.
From an evaluation standpoint, 2013 provided numerous chances to see how the young pitchers did in setup situations. A.J. Ramos and Dunn threw effectively in the back-end. Webb is a sinkerball reliever who will enter his second season of arbitration. There is a chance he could be a trade chip. But Miami may be rethinking that based on how Webb pitched in September.
Dan Jennings offers a second lefty setup option.
Qualls was a veteran and stabilizing presence to the young 'pen. But he also is a free agent, and may not fit the club's plans.
Arquimedes Caminaro is a hard-throwing right-hander who has a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot.
Catcher: When the Marlins acquired Rob Brantly in their mid-season 2012 trade with the Tigers, they thought they had their catcher of the future. Now, they aren't so sure.
The 24-year-old was the Opening Day starter, after he showed promise in limited playing time at the end of '12. But his inexperience showed, and he had his struggles at the plate and behind it. Eventually, Jeff Mathis, who entered the season on the disabled list with a broken right collarbone, became the regular. Brantly spent time in the Minor Leagues.
Mathis is under contract in 2014, so the club could again go with Mathis and Brantly. That's to be determined. Hill was a backup in the final months.
The organization will huddle in the upcoming weeks to decide which direction it will go at the position.
First base: Consider the Marlins plight at first base at the beginning of the season. Logan Morrison opened on the 60-day disabled list, and in the second game, Casey Kotchman, went down with a hamstring strain. Joe Mahoney also opened the year on the DL. So through two games, Miami was down to its fourth option.
Morrison joined the team in June, after recovering from right knee surgery. He remained healthy through the end, which is encouraging, considering all the time he missed over the past few years.
Miami has scouted Cuban sensation Jose Dariel Abreu, a pending free agent who is attracting many suitors.
Most likely, the team will stay the course with the left-handed hitting Morrison, who will reach arbitration for the first time. Bottom line is the organization hasn't seen what Morrison is capable of, when healthy, over a full season.
Second base: The advantage is going to the incumbent. Donovan Solano finished the season doing a nice job at the plate and in the field. He was the Opening Day starter, but lost his spot after being sidelined by an intercostal strain in early May. Derek Dietrich was promoted, and he offered power from the left-side. But Dietrich had his struggles, and he was optioned back to Double-A Jacksonville.
Solano would have the edge heading into Spring Training, but his status isn't set in stone either. He may profile more in a utility role.
But if the Marlins gain more production from their corner infield spots, then Solano is a steady fit, playing either as a regular or in a platoon situation with Dietrich.
Shortstop: Not since the days of Alex Gonzalez have the Marlins seen a shortstop defensively as flashy as Adeiny Hechavarria. The 24-year-old rookie makes watching routine ground balls fun. He also dazzled with a number of sensational plays. The offense may remain a work in progress, but there is no questioning his defense.
The club is relying heavily on pitching, and they play in a pitcher-friendly park. So sacrificing some offense at shortstop for all Hechavarria does with the glove is a trade-off the team gladly accepts.
Hechavarria may be primed to make a Gold Glove run in '14.
Third base: Drafting Colin Moran with the sixth overall pick brought the projected third baseman of the future into the organization. Who will handle the hot corner in '14 is yet to be determined.
Placido Polanco was a steady defensive presence and a quiet leader in a trying season. But Polanco is a free agent, and he turns 38 in October. Finding a one-year stop-gap seems the likely alternative.
There are some internal candidates. Chris Coghlan, primarily an outfielder since he was called up in 2009, was an infielder in the Minor Leagues. Coghlan played some third at the end of the season. Ed Lucas showed he is a capable utility player who can handle a number of positions. Solano also could be a candidate, if Dietrich steps up at second.
Perhaps Polanco returns on a one-year basis, even if in a part-time capacity.
Moran probably will open at Class A Jupiter, and there is a chance he could advance to Double-A by the end of the season. The most realistic target date for his arrival to the big leagues is 2015, if not as a September call-up.
Outfield: A strength of the club is its depth and talent in the outfield. What remains to be answered is which three will be taking the field on Opening Day.
One of the hot topics of the offseason will be the status of Stanton. The slugger will turn 24 in November, and he is up for arbitration for the first time. So his salary will rise dramatically from $537,000 to around $7.5 million.
Stanton undoubtedly will be the subject of trade talk. But every indication from within the organization is that the slugger will stay. Before the 2013 season, team owner Jeffrey Loria said publicly the Marlins would eventually approach Stanton about a long-term contract. Whether he is agreeable remains to be seen.
Even if he is not, chances are the Marlins will retain Stanton, who they technically could sign on a season-to-season basis for three more years before he is eligible for free agency.
Rookie Christian Yelich has solidified left field since he was promoted from Double-A in July. There is no reason to believe he won't be a regular in '14.
Center field should provide some interesting competition. Marcell Ozuna, recovering from left thumb surery, is a high-energy candidate who has power potential. Ozuna could wind up in left, with Yelich playing center.
Jake Marisnick got a taste of the big leagues in the second half, and he had his struggles. Spring Training will be big for Marisnick to show if he has made strides. If he isn't ready, Triple-A is a likely starting point.
Justin Ruggiano is heading to arbitration for the first time, and there are indications he will be back, providing depth. Pierre, one of the most popular all-time Marlins, is a free agent and may not be a fit. Coghlan also could wind up as an extra outfielder, or perhaps a trade chip.