Postseason berths aren’t clinched over the offseason, but moves made in the winter can foster optimism leading into spring training.
The journey to snap an 11-year playoff drought begins on Friday for the Miami Marlins when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Florida, for their first workout.
Miami rides momentum after the front office signed All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a record deal, traded for All-Star infielders Dee Gordon and Martin Prado, signed World Series champion Michael Morse and acquired starters Mat Latos and Dan Haren.
"I’m just looking forward for us to get on the field first and foremost," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "This offseason feels like it’s taken forever to get through. We love what we’ve done this offseason — the collection of talent both existing and new that we’ve been able to bring in. It’s just spring training, so it’s a time for us to meld as a team, come together as a team (and) work hard on all the little things I think will allow us to take the next step Sent from my iPhone
So how will the Marlins build upon their 15-win improvement from 2013 to 2014?
The young core of Stanton, Gold Glover Christian Yelich, center fielder Marcell Ozuna and Gold Glove finalist Adeiny Hechavarria returns. So does three-fifths of the rotation, including All-Star Henderson Alvarez.
For the first time under manager Mike Redmond, Miami is looking at a deeper roster with many of its roles already locked up heading into camp.
"There’s always a couple spots that are open," Redmond said. "There will be some competition there pitching wise. We do have options on our bench. We’ve created some good competition for those spots. It’s going to be a good battle for some guys."
When: Pitchers and catchers report Friday; first full-squad workout on Tuesday; First game is March 2 vs. Florida International University
2014 Record: 77-85, fourth in the National League East
Manager: Mike Redmond (third season)
Redmond, who signed a three-year contract in 2013, was awarded an extension through the 2017 season. He took the young roster from 100 losses in 2013 to playoff competition through September 2014.
Coaches: Frank Menechino (Hitting), Chuck Hernandez (Pitching), Perry Hill (First Base), Brett Butler (Third Base), Rob Leary (Bench), Reid Cornelius (Bullpen) and Jeff Urgelles (Bullpen Coordinator), Pat Shine (Major League Administrative Coach).
The entire coaching staff returns, providing continuity to the ballclub. Butler, an excellent bunter during a 17-year career, will likely make newcomer Dee Gordon into his pet project. Shine, an addition to the staff last spring training, helped the Marlins go 18 of 26 on instant replays in 2014.
1. Dee Gordon, 2B — Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, Gordon brings the speed element to a lineup missing it in 2014. He led the majors in both triples (12) and stolen bases (64), six more than the Marlins as a club. His on-base percentage (.326) could be higher, especially to give Stanton opportunities to drive in runs.
2. Christian Yelich, LF — Entering his second full big-league season, Yelich looks to build upon his impressive 2014. Forced into the leadoff spot when Rafael Furcal got injured, Yelich averaged 4.26 pitches per at-bat (sixth best in MLB) with a .362 on-base percentage. Redmond has said in the future he envisions Yelich in a more run-producing role, so why not as the third batter? If Redmond remains adamant on batting Stanton third to get more at-bats, Yelich would likely hit second and Prado elsewhere. If not, perhaps the order could look like this: Gordon, Prado, Yelich and Stanton.
3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF — The runner-up for 2014 NL MVP matched a career high in home runs (37) and set a new best in RBI (105) despite missing the final 17 games after taking a pitch to the face. He batted .316 with runners in scoring position. Fresh off a 13-year, $325 million extension, Stanton is the new Mr. Marlin and a leader in the clubhouse.
4. Michael Morse, 1B — He takes over for Garrett Jones as the club’s first baseman and Stanton’s protection in the lineup. Morse, who drove in two runs in Game 7, won the World Series in October with the San Francisco Giants. He has 99 career homers and 333 RBI in parts of 10 seasons. Can he stay healthy? Playing first rather than the outfield should help Morse, who turns 33 in March.
5. Marcell Ozuna, CF — When Jones, Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltamacchia struggled to drive runners in, Ozuna became the second reliable option behind Stanton. Ozuna finished second among National League center fielders with 23 homers and led them with 85 RBI. Both were second on the team behind Stanton. He’s a streaky hitter who is still seeking consistency.
6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C — Signed to a three-year deal before the 2014 season, Saltalamacchia struggled at the plate after switching leagues. His average (.220), homers (11) and RBI (44) were the lowest of his eight seasons. If Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter, improves on them even a bit, that production will help the lower half of the order.
7. Martin Prado, 3B — Prado, who comes to Miami via the New York Yankees, provides a veteran approach and bat control at the plate. The 2010 All-Star is a career .291 hitter with 78 homers and 426 RBI in nine seasons. His spot in the order will likely be determined by where Yelich hits.
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS — Batting in front of the pitcher isn’t the easiest of tasks. Still, Hechavarria improved his average by 49 points (.227 to .276). His homers (1) and RBI (34) were down, but he finished second in the NL with 10 triples. Hechavarria hopes to bunt and steal (seven) more, utilizing his speed — with caution — at that spot in the lineup.
Projected Reserves: C Jeff Mathis, INF Jeff Baker, OF Ichiro Suzuki, INF Donovan Solano, TBD.
This offseason, Miami picked up Mathis’ team option, which will make him the backup catcher for a third straight year. Reliable behind the plate, he is also a strong influence in the clubhouse and with the pitching staff. Baker enters the second season of a two-year deal. He batted .316 as a pinch-hitter in 2014 and will back up Morse at first. Suzuki, a future Hall of Famer, will serve as the fourth outfielder. There’s no telling how much action he’ll see in that role. In a limited sample size, Suzuki is a .302 pinch-hitter. Solano enters his fourth season with the club and has hit .264 with eight homers and 90 RBI in 306 games. He has played second, third and short, as well as left field. The final bench spot will likely come down to first baseman Justin Bour, infielders Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas and utility player Jordan Valdespin. The first three are young guys on the 40-man roster. Valdespin, who didn’t receive an invite to spring training last year, wound up playing 52 games beginning in July. However, he is once again a non-roster invitee on the outside looking in.
1. Henderson Alvarez (12-7, 2.65 ERA) — With Jose Fernandez out for more than half of the 2014 season, Alvarez took over as the ace and made his first All-Star team. He finished sixth in the NL in ERA and sixth in the majors in complete games (three). Alvarez will likely get the Opening Day nod based on his 2013-14 stats as a Marlin: 17-13 and 2.98 ERA over 47 starts. He has also pitched on Closing Day both years.
2. RHP Mat Latos (5-5, 3.25 ERA) — Latos looks for a bounce-back — and healthy — year. Various injuries limited him to just 16 starts in 2014, snapping a string of four straight seasons of 30-plus starts. A free agent at the end of 2015, Latos is looking at a contract year. He is 60-45 with a 3.34 ERA in 153 starts. At full strength, Latos is one of the NL’s formidable pitchers.
3. RHP Jarred Cosart (4-4, 2.39 ERA) — Acquired at the trade deadline from the Houston Astros, Cosart went at least six innings in all but two of his 10 starts. He won four straight starts before a three-game skid to close out his first full big-league season. His ERA as a Marlin was two runs less than as an Astro (4.41). Cosart is 14-12 with a 3.26 ERA in 40 starts since 2013.
4. Dan Haren (13-11, 4.02 ERA) — When the Marlins traded for him during winter meetings, Haren expressed his desire to remain close to family in southern California or he’d retire. He will arrive at camp with a 142-122 record and 3.77 ERA in 12 seasons. With its young rotation, Miami is in need of a dependable veteran arm, and Haren has 10 straight 30-plus start years.
5. RHP Tom Koehler (10-10, 3.81 ERA) — Koehler won the fifth spot in the rotation last spring and enters with competition from lefty Brad Hand and righty David Phelps to retain the role. Koehler joined Alvarez as the only other Miami starter with double-digit wins in 2014. He didn’t miss an outing in his first try as a full-time major-league starter and recorded 19 quality starts.
Projected Bullpen: RHP Steve Cishek (Closer), LHP Mike Dunn, RHP Bryan Morris, RHP A.J. Ramos, RHP Carter Capps, RHP David Phelps.
Cishek returns for his third season as the club’s closer after posting a career-high 39 saves in 2014. He is 91 for 101 in save opportunities since 2011. Two setup options — Dunn and Morris — collected double-digit wins last season. Dunn, the lone lefty in the bullpen, received a two-year deal two weeks ago. He matched his career high in appearances (75) and boasted his second-lowest ERA (3.16). Morris, acquired in June from the Pittsburgh Pirates, didn’t give up a run in a franchise record 12 2/3 innings to open his Miami career. His season ended in early September due to a nagging groin injury. There will be several names battling for two open relief spots. Capps, who came to the Marlins in the Logan Morrison trade, started 2014 in the minors and then missed three months with right elbow discomfort after nine big-league outings into late May. If the Marlins don’t have another southpaw in the bullpen, Carter is the frontrunner with his upper 90s fastball. The long reliever role will go to the loser of the fifth spot in the rotation. Hand, a lefty, is out of options. Phelps, who was part of the New York Yankees trade in December, has experience as a starter and reliever (15-14, 4.21 ERA in 87 games, 40 starts).
1. Will there be any lasting effects on Stanton?
Stanton has yet to face live pitching since getting hit in the face on Sept. 11, 2014, sustaining several fractures and requiring multiple surgeries. He plans on wearing a protective guard on his helmet. Will Stanton, who already stands away from the plate to begin with, flinch on inside pitches? Will pitchers go inside even more? Any mental hurdles will present themselves — if there are any — early on. The Marlins don’t have any fears seeing as they gave him a 13-year, $325 million extension.
2. When will Fernandez return?
According to general manager Dan Jennings, the timetable for Fernandez’s much-awaited return is between June 15 and July 15. Fernandez, meanwhile, doesn’t like putting a date on it. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Finalist underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2014. He has been rehabbing and playing catch. Sometime during the early part of spring training will be his first time throwing off a mound. No matter how limited he may be (pitches and otherwise) upon his comeback, Fernandez will be a welcome sight in the dugout when he can pitch in a game again.
3. How much closer will Suzuki get to 3,000 hits?
As the fourth outfielder, Suzuki won’t be in the lineup everyday. He enters his 15th big-league season 156 hits away from 3,000. It will be tough to get there in 2015 even if one of Miami’s young outfielders gets injured. And that’s something the Marlins don’t want to see happen. Either way, it will be exciting to see the future Hall of Famer continue his quest for the milestone in South Florida. He is also the first Japanese-born player with the Marlins.
4. Will the postseason drought end?
All of the offseason moves were made for one reason: postseason baseball. The Marlins have made the playoffs just twice in their history (1997, 2003), and yet they have run the table both times. The 11-year drought is the third longest in Major League Baseball behind the Toronto Blue Jays (21) and Seattle Mariners (13). On paper, it would seem like a two-team race between the Washington Nationals and Marlins for the NL East with the New York Mets not far behind. Then there are the two wild-card spots. Miami will need to stay healthy and live up to its potential for a chance at surprising some in baseball.