Moving forward: MO2 explores Marlins’ free agent options
By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
The MLB postseason has been a nightly showcase for several former Miami Marlins, who are stepping up on baseball’s biggest stage.
Adam Duvall is making his mark for the Atlanta Braves, coming up with big homers and big hits in big moments. Over in the American League, Enrique Hernandez (who had a short tenure in Miami in 2014), has been Mr. October for the Boston Red Sox.
Earlier in the playoffs, we saw Giancarlo Stanton showcase his incredible power for the New York Yankees in their Wild Card game loss to the Red Sox. Christian Yelich, who struggled in the regular and postseason, was again in the postseason with the Milwaukee Brewers.
On the pitching side, Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi has established himself as a big game postseason starter, and lefty reliever Alex Vesia is regularly called upon to get tough left-handed hitters in big spots for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s never easy for the Marlins’ fan base to watch their former players standout elsewhere. Still player turnover is part of the sport, and when the Hot Stove season launches a few days after the World Series ends, the focus shifts to what the Marlins’ front office will do to upgrade a roster that frankly underwhelmed in 2021. After finishing 67-95, the Marlins are expecting more moving forward.
Miami’s top three needs are: Offense. Offense. Offense.
As a team, the Marlins ranked near the bottom of all 30 MLB teams in many significant statistical categories: 29th in runs (623), 28th in homers (158) and 29th in slugging percentage (.372).
Making matters worse, the offense struck out way too often and didn’t walk nearly enough. Their 26.2 strikeout percentage was second highest in the sport, and their 7.6 walk rate was 27th.
Low power coupled with high strikeouts is not a formula for success.
Granted, loanDepot park is not hitter friendly. On the flip side, that benefits the Marlins’ pitching staff. But that’s another story, because pitching, in our opinion, also should be addressed this offseason. For this article, we’ll stick to offense.
Finding hitters who also could succeed at loanDepot park should also factor in the evaluation process. It’s a big building and hitters have shown their frustration plenty of times since the retractable-roof stadium opened in 2012.
Offensively, at home, the Marlins ranked 27th in runs (324), 28th in homers (71) and 29th in slugging percentage (.369).
Aside from injured players returning healthy and young players maturing, what do the Marlins need to do to become a more formidable offense?
Boosting payroll is a start. And the organization has made it clear it intends to do so. So we can anticipate Miami being active in free agency, and open to trading.
The 2022 season will be year five since the group headed by Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter took over. There’s urgency to make a major leap forward. Whether untested prospects and players with limited MLB experience are ready to mesh into a legitimate contender is an ambitious expectation for 2022. We’ll see how that goes.
From the Hot Stove season standpoint, there should be plenty of buzz around the Marlins.
Exploring the free agent market, MO2 breaks down some players we feel would fit in Miami.
OF Nick Castellanos: No surprised here to regular followers of ManOn2nd. We aren’t joining the bandwagon. We’ve sat in the drivers’ seat since 2019, and openly said so early in the 2021 season. A South Florida native who was a standout at Archbishop McCarthy, Castellanos is expected to opt out of the four-year, $64 million deal he signed before the 2020 season. With the Reds this year, he slashed .309/.362/.576 with 34 homers, 95 RBIs and had a 140 wRC+.
Foremost, the Marlins need a middle of the order threat. Castellanos is it.
Getting a deal done is another thing. Castellanos promises to be highly coveted by many clubs, and the Reds have expressed interest in having him return.
Refresher on Castellanos. When he was a free agent in 2019, the Marlins showed some interest, but the asking price kept them away. Miami ended up signing Corey Dickerson.
Point here is, if you are serious about a player, find a way to get it done.
OF Starling Marte: Bringing Marte back would certainly be popular with the fans. Yet, MO2 has not pushed for a reunion, not because we are down on Marte as a player. We recognize how talented he is, and the fact he helps you in the field and at the plate. But if the cost to sign is significantly more than the $12.5 million he made this season, then we pass. We’d rather allocate more to someone who is more of a threat in the middle of the order. Not setting things up at the top. Put those dollars towards Castellanos. Marte had 12 homers in 120 games in 2021. Yes, his wRC+ was 133, and we do like that his strikeout rate was just 18.8 percent, and he walked 8.2 percent. Still, the Marlins had Marte for the first half of 2021, and the club was still more than double-digits under .500 at the Trade Deadline.
OF Adam Duvall: Duvall is having a fascinating season. He belted 38 homers and drove in 113 runs, and he’s come up with some big playoff homers for the Braves as well. The Marlins, of course, had Duvall for the first half of the season. But they had no interest in picking up his mutual option for 2022. He made $5 million in ’21. We like Duvall’s impact, because when he’s hot, he can carry a club. However, he’s often cold. The slugger hit .228 with a .281 on-base percentage. At the end of the day, his 103 wRC+ is slightly above average. As noted above, the Marlins strikeout way too much, and Duvall’s K rate was 31.4 percent this year, to go with a 6.3 walk rate.
Keep this in mind, too. Marlins prospect, Peyton Burdick, has similar traits to Duvall. At Double-A Pensacola, Burdick hit 23 homers in 106 games before being called up for a brief Triple-A stint at Jacksonville. Burdick struck out 29.3 percent of the time at Double-A, although he did walk 16.5 percent.
INF/OF Chris Taylor: Late in the season, I had a conversation with Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas at the park. We talked generally about players who would be good fits in Miami. I told Miggy I’d make a push for Chris Taylor. The reason? He checked plenty of boxes. Speed. Some power. Positional versatility. Winning pedigree. Taylor has shown all that and more in the playoffs, coming off a three home run night in Game 5 of the NLCS win by the Dodgers.
Taylor, 31, will be a free agent, and the Dodgers may not let him get away. He is coming off a two-year, $13.4 million deal. In the regular season, he hit 20 homers and he had a 113 wRC+. Taylor can play center, left, and all over the infield. He can steal a base and has a knack to come through with a big hit.
Another factor, familiarity with L.A. Marlins GM Kim Ng had a long tenure working in the Dodgers’ organization. Granted, it was another regime, but executives tend to do business with teams they are familiar with.
3B Eduardo Escobar: Escobar makes a lot of sense for the Marlins. A switch-hitter, with a history of power and versatility. A Venezuelan native, Escobar has a home in Miami as well. The 32-year-old will be headed to free agency now that his three-year, $21 million deal is expiring. In 146 games in 2021 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers, Escobar had 28 home runs, and a 3 fWAR. If the Marlins are serious about reducing strikeouts, Escobar had a 20.7 K rate this year. In 2019, he belted 35 homers.
Escobar can play third, second and first. The Marlins have to figure out what to do with Brian Anderson, who is recovering from surgery. Anderson also can play right field.
OF Avisail Garcia: The 30-year-old corner outfielder hit 29 homers and had a 115 wRC+ with the Brewers. His K rate is 23.5 percent, and he’s been a consistent performer for several seasons.
The Marlins need more than one impact hitter, which is why we project Miami to do a few deals with AAVs in the $10 million range than join the Carlos Correa sweepstakes. If the Marlins can sign a few free agents, and mix a couple of trades, for say, a catcher, they will be better positioned to contend in 2022.