Miami Marlins Offseason To-Do List

Sep 11, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; A general view of Marlins Park after a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Miami Marlins. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins had a rough 2016, but the team also saw some players that took a step forward in their development, and remained on the outskirts of the wild card race until the season’s final week.

Today we are taking a look at the Miami Marlins as they sit heading into the offseason, and will offer some suggestions for how they should go about improving to potentially contend in 2017.

Before we get to all of that though, let’s first take a look at where the Marlins sit in some key ranks, and which players are set to hit free agency this winter.

Offensively, the Marlins ranked right in the middle of all teams in terms of offensive WAR with a 19.0, which ranked 7th in the National League. Only the Giants struck out at a lower rate than the Marlins last year, but Miami also didn’t walk at a high clip, ranking 14th in the NL. The team ranked second among NL teams in batting average at .263, but that low walk rate dropped their team OBP rank to 8th with a .322. The Cubs and Cardinals were the only two teams to have a collective wRC+ that was above league average, while the Marlins accumulated a 91, which ranked 10th in the National League.

On the pitching side of things, the Marlins again ranked right in the middle (8th) in terms of WAR in the National League with a 14.2. They ranked 6th in team ERA with a better than league average 4.05, while their FIP of 3.97 ranked 7th, but was closer to the top tier of teams than the lower end of the spectrum.

In the field, the Miami Marlins ranked in the top four in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), preventing 14 runs in 2016. The bad news is that J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna were the team’s two worst defenders by the metric, allowing a combined 20 extra runs to score.

Free Agents

Pitchers: Andrew Cashner (SP), Fernando Rodney (RP), Mike Dunn (RP), Cory Luebke (RP), Dustin McGowan (RP).

Batters: Jeff Mathis (C), Jeff Francoeur (OF), Casey McGehee (3B), Don Kelly (OF), Chris Johnson (3B).

With the Marlins set to extend Martin Prado, that should take care of their hole at third base. Prado has been at least league average with the bat since 2012, and provided some good defense at the hot corner for Miami in 2016. With Adeiny Hechavarria and Dee Gordon planted up the middle, Derek Dietrich can continue to play the super-utility role, and he is a solid option to do so.

Now, let’s look at where the Marlins can make some upgrades.

Sep 27, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins relief pitcher Mike Dunn (40) throws during the seventh inning against New York Mets at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Relievers

With a number of relief pitchers set to hit the free agent market, the Miami Marlins will need to fill those gaps. Fernando Rodney is likely at the end of his career, so he’s likely out. Dustin McGowan put up a solid ERA of 2.82, but his FIP of 4.19 suggests that he was aided by the defense behind him more often than not. His 4.43 walks per nine is also a bit high coming out of the pen, unless you’re a young flamethrower, which he is not.

Mike Dunn pitched fairly well last year, with a K/9 of 8.08 and a BB/9 of 2.34, and the Marlins could really go either way with him. His peripheral stats looked good, but lefties were batting .279 off him while right-handers held a .341 OBP. They could bring him back as a low-leverage, low cost reliever that they’re familiar with, or explore the market a bit.

One option that could be intriguing, given the Marlins addition of Rodney (a former closer that is coming off a rough year) last season, would be Santiago Casilla. He’s not the flashiest option on the market, but he wouldn’t have to be the team’s closer with A.J. Ramos on board. Casilla may look elsewhere to resume closing, but he would be an under-the-radar add that should have a bounce-back season and create depth wherever he signs.

Daniel Hudson is another intriguing option. He’s had two Tommy John surgeries, so there is certainly some risk involved here, but he has proven to be a solid lefty reliever the past two years, despite what his 5.22 ERA from this year says. The defense behind him was one of the worst in all of baseball, and his 3.81 FIP indicates that he would be a solid addition that could come at a bit of a discount. Pitching at Marlins Park for half of your games instead of the launching pad in Arizona would definitely help those numbers look all nice and shiny.

Of course the Marlins could go after one of the big three relievers on the market in Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen, but they have a solid closer of their own in A.J. Ramos, so that would be a waste of resources.

Aug 3, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher Tomas Telis (11) loses his bat during the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Mets won 12-1. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

To Add a Catcher?

The Miami Marlins have J.T. Realmuto behind the plate, and he is coming off of a career year where he hit 11 homers, drove in 48, stole 12 bags and hit .303. He’s the team’s starting catcher, to state the obvious.

But who will be the backup catcher? With Mathis hitting free agency, is it time to give Tomas Telis a bigger role on the club? The way that they’ve been using him doesn’t suggest that they think he’s ready.

On the free agent market there are a couple of options that could prove to be solid defensive catchers behind Realmuto.

The first is Jason Castro, who has spent his career thus far with the Houston Astros. He regularly ranks among the league’s best in pitch framing, and unless we’re moving to robotic umpires with the new CBA, Castro will still have value. His bat will leave you wanting, but he is good for the occasional big home run. Perhaps a role as the backup instead of the full-time guy will keep his legs a bit more fresh and help out his bat.

Two other options would be A.J. Ellis and Nick Hundley, formerly of the Dodgers (and Phillies) and Rockies. Both would provide a solid veteran presence on the club, and while Hundley would provide a little more pop than Ellis, Ellis would provide the better defense behind the dish. Both performed well below league average at the plate last year, but Realmuto would be getting his fair share of starts.

Jul 30, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna (13) connects for a two run home run during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Explore Trade Options

The Miami Marlins got a huge year out of Marcell Ozuna in 2016, after he bashed 23 homers and drove in 75 runs, but his wRC+ was still just five percent above league average. Coupled with the defense that he gave Miami last year, he could become more of a liability than a core piece.

That said, Ozuna is still young and certainly has room to improve on his peripherals, but the Marlins front office should have a good idea of what kind of player they think Ozuna is going to be at this point, and if they feel that they could trade him for an upgrade, this may be the offseason to do it with so few game-changing free agents on the market. At 25 years old, Ozuna is likely to be entering his prime years, and the return could be solid.

Ozuna is set to enter his first year of arbitration, which MLB Trade Rumors has him projected at earning $4.5M for the 2017 season. That number will keep climbing up throughout his arbitration years, and while that’s small change for a team that signed Giancarlo Stanton for $325M, it will all depend on what kind of value is out there to be had.

The Oakland Athletics have a need in center, and a need for some power throughout their lineup, and they could become trade partners with their bevy of pitching prospects that are just about ready for the jump to the big leagues. The A’s also have Renato Nunez and Matt Olson who are corner infielders, while Olson has played a little in right field, and a trio of players vying for two middle infield spots in Marcus Semien (not going to be included), Chad Pinder and Yairo Munoz. Pinder could provide a little more at the plate than Hechavarria, with the two coming up with some sort of platoon to upgrade the offense a bit. If they wanted to really make a splash, they could pair Ozuna with some other talent to attempt to land Sonny Gray, whose name is bound to come up in numerous trade rumors this winter.

While Ozuna is likely not going anywhere this winter, the Marlins rank right in the middle in a number of categories, which is great in order to be a competitive ball club, but it’s likely not enough to push them over the top. They’ll have to get creative in order to make some small upgrades in order to take that next step.

As Brian Sabean of the Giants said earlier this week, “The magic number in the National League is four. If you score four runs, you’ll have a good chance to win each time out.” The Marlins have the offensive firepower, even without Ozuna, to reach that magic number more often than not.

Jul 27, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Adam Conley (61) delivers a pitch during the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park. The Marlins won 11-1. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Player Development

While it’s not flashy, if not downright boring, the Miami Marlins could always opt for a more traditional approach this winter, which is to focus on developing the young talent that they already have under contract while looking for small upgrades via free agency and some lower-level trades.

It goes without saying that the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez has had an effect on the Marlins both on and off the field, and that there is certainly no replacing him in either respect. The Marlins have a number of talented young arms that could help compensate for this tremendous loss in the coming year, however, so a trade for a big name player may not be a necessity, but more of a luxury.

Adam Conley will presumably be the team’s number one starter, but he’ll have to cut down on his BB/9 rate of 4.19 in order to become more effective. Behind him on the depth chart are (in no particular order) Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, Jose Urena and Jake Esch, with the last two just cutting their teeth in the big leagues last season. A veteran free agent could be in order to help stabilize the rotation, or perhaps a trade could be in the works for a Jeremy Hellickson-type that had a down year but is about to head to free agency after 2017.

Hisashi Iwakuma is on the free agent market, as is Jorge De La Rosa, both of whom are veterans with track records of success. Iwakuma held a 4.12 ERA with the Mariners last season, totaling 199 innings while De La Rosa has spent the majority of his career pitching at Coors Field, so Marlins Park would be a welcome change of pace for him. Both could likely be had on low cost deals. If they’re looking for a trade, one interesting candidate for a number of teams would be Clay Buchholz, who has a team option with the Red Sox for 2017. There is no guarantee that they’ll pick it up, so he may hit free agency, but the cost of acquisition shouldn’t be terribly high if a trade is necessary.

Urena showed flashes of brilliance in 2016, highlighted by his 8 2/3 outing against the Dodgers in September in which he allowed just four hits and struck out four, but he followed that up by giving up 7, 5 and 5 earned runs in his final three starts. The average velocity between his fastball (94.9) and his changeup (89.1) may not be enough to fool big league hitters, but if he can create another mile an hour or two difference, then that could give him a big weapon at his disposal and lead to better results.

While Urena’s FIP suggests that he pitched better than his results, Esch had the opposite happen, albeit in just 13 big league innings. He held a 5.54 ERA, but his FIP was nearly two runs higher at 7.22.

Making slight upgrades to the pitching staff and hoping for a full season from Stanton isn’t a terrible plan for 2017. As we saw this past season, when something goes awry, like Dee Gordon‘s suspension, this team steps up and produces new players to keep an eye on. The Marlins are trending in the right direction, and all it will take is some health, minor upgrades and a little good fortune for the Miami Marlins to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003.

This article originally appeared on