When previewing a team’s season, it’s important to envision the scenarios in which that team makes the postseason. The issue with doing that in this preview is that the Marlins have no realistic scenarios in which they can make the playoffs.

So the next question to answer is what would need to happen in 2018 to consider the season a success? From an ownership perspective, it seems the answer to that question is simple: The Marlins want to suck.

After Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman bought the team, the Marlins traded their entire outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, which was once touted as the brightest bunch in baseball, as well as second baseman Dee Gordon. Ownership is blowing up the roster, saving money and tanking for hopefully a brighter future.

I don’t expect Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman to be cheering for the team to lose games in 2018 like Rachel Phelps in “Major League,” nor do I expect nude cardboard cutouts of either man in the Marlins clubhouse – at least I hope not. But with more teams than ever deciding to tank, it seems as if the Marlins, projected by PECOTA to be tied for last with 66 wins and a team I project to go 58-104, are in a race to finish last. So rather than write this post as if the Marlins care about winning in 2018, let’s look at the players who will hurt Miami’s chances of being utterly pathetic.

 

J.T. Realmuto

As the best player on the Marlins, Realmuto can’t be too thrilled about the complete 180 of the organization in the last few seasons. With Realmuto under team control through 2021, it doesn’t seem like Marlins are willing to deal their star catcher. Realmuto is coming off the best season of his career last year, in which he totaled the third best Baseball Prospectus WARP among catchers, only behind Tyler Flowers and Buster Posey. The backstop hit for the best power in his career—as did nearly everyone last season—as he posted a .278/.332/.451 slash line.

The way Realmuto can hurt the Marlins’ chances of being horrible is by improving again with the bat to turn into not only one of the best defensive catchers in the game, but also one of the best hitting ones as well. It’s not unrealistic to expect another step up out of Realmuto. He’s improved both offensively and defensively in every season so far, and 2018 will be his age-27 season.

Justin Bour

Similar to Realmuto, Bour has improved in every season in the big leagues, making the Marlins roster management this offseason seem all the more baffling, considering the amount of young position player talent. But I digress. If Bour takes another step forward in his age-30 season to become one of the premier slugging first baseman in baseball, then that would surely hurt Jeter’s first-year tank of the Marlins.

Bour hit 25 home runs last season and posted a .902 OPS in only 108 games, as the slugger missed the entire month of August with an oblique injury. In Bour’s three major league seasons, he’s played 129, 90 and 108 games. With Bour heading into his 30s, he may be a trade candidate at the deadline for a team looking for a designated hitter or a power left-handed bat. I’m sure Bour won’t be disappointed to have a strong first half and be traded to one of the eight teams that care about winning in 2018.

The Shortstops

After the Marlins traded Adeiny Hechavarria last season to Tampa Bay, Miguel Rojas and JT Riddle split time at shortstop. The platoon served the Marlins well in 2017, which could be bad news for Jeter’s masterplan to be horrible in 2018. As a rookie, Riddle posted a weak .287 on-base percentage in his age-25 season, but was a plus defender to be an average shortstop in value. On the other hand, Rojas was a two-win player in a 90-game sample, posting a .367 on-base percentage and with a history of elite defense in his past.

Riddle bats left and Rojas right, which could make for a platoon, though Rojas seems to be the better option. Despite Rojas being the more experienced player and the player who posted a better 2017, the Marlins have Riddle listed as the starter on their website.

 

The Other Infielders

Martin Prado, set to be the Marlins’ third baseman, played only 37 games last season due to multiple injuries. The 34-year-old is one of the few Marlins players being paid several million dollars to play baseball, as Prado will be paid $28.5 million over the next two seasons, which seems like a fair settlement to spend your last few seasons in baseball on a team that has no intention of winning anytime soon.

Starlin Castro came to Miami in the Giancarlo Stanton trade as the true loser of the deal. Castro has been relatively consistent in his eight major league seasons, as the soon-to-be 28-year-old has been a two-win player in five of those seasons. If Prado can stay healthy and return to his 2016 output of a 113 OPS+, and Castro can at least maintain his league-average level, the Marlins have a foundation to sniff 70 wins.

Derek Dietrich has a career 108 OPS+ in about 450 career games, so the utility man will surely find himself playing a significant amount in 2018. Dietrich has experience playing second base, third base and the outfield, so if the young outfield struggles, or Castro or Prado go down with injury, Dietrich will be able to step in.

 

The Outfielders

It’s going to be depressing for the remaining Marlins fans to look into the outfield and not see Yelich, Ozuna or Stanton–or Ichiro. Playing in front of the the beautifully ugly home-run sculpture this season is expected to be four players with little-to-none MLB experience. Lewis Brinson, Braxton Lee, Magneuris Sierra and Garrett Cooper, all of whom were acquired by trades in the past year, enter 2018 with 164 total career plate appearances.

The most promising of the players is Brinson, who came from Milwaukee in the Yelich trade. Brinson, who will likely play left or center field this season, posted a .331/.400/.562 slash line in Triple-A last season, and the soon-to-be 24-year-old owns a career .855 OPS in the minor leagues. Despite his minor league success, Brinson struggled in his brief stint in the majors last season, posting a 34 OPS+ in a small sample of 55 plate appearances.

Sierra, who is projected to play center field but may not do so as often with Brinson’s arrival, hit an all-singles .317 in 64 plate appearances last season with the Cardinals. The 21-year-old was shipped to Miami in the Ozuna trade and owns a career .717 OPS in the minors with 51 stolen bases in the past two seasons.

Taking up right field could be a platoon between Braxton Lee, who has never played in the majors, and Garrett Cooper, who played 13 games last season for the Yankees. Lee posted a .395 on-base percentage last season in Double-A, while Coopers owns a career .843 OPS across five minor league seasons. It’s unlikely Miami’s young outfielders will all shine in their first full-time major league seasons, but if one or two of them do, that could put a damper on Miami’s race to finish last, and Brinson has the potential to be a superstar.

 

Starting Pitchers

Outside of the late Jose Fernandez, the Marlins have struggled mightily to develop or find competent starting pitchers.
Since it’s very unlikely the Marlins have a good-enough pitching staff to compete in 2018, here’s a quick rundown of how several pitchers could thrown a wrench in Jeter’s tank plans:

Dan Straily, who posted a career-best 8.4 K/9 last season, could improve again. The 29-year-old trains at Driveline, a data-driven training facility in Washington state, which he’s credited with helping him establish himself in the majors.

Wei-Yin Chen is the highest paid player on the Marlins but has yet to live up to the five-year, $80 million contract the Fish gave him before the 2016 season. Chen has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and is electing to avoid Tommy John surgery and instead receiving platelet-rich plasma injections. It’s unlikely, but if Chen is healthy and returns to his pre-2016 production (3.72 ERA in Baltimore), that could hurt the Marlins in their quest to be a bad baseball team.

Jose Urena is entering his age-26 season and likely needs some significant improvements in his peripherals in 2018 to help the Marlins exceed expectations. The righty throws very hard and posted a 3.82 ERA last season but that contrasted with a 5.20 FIP, as a result of his 1.77 K/BB ratio.

Sandy Alcantara came over from the Cardinals in the Ozuna trade. Entering his age-22 season, Alcantara has thrown only 8.2 innings in his major league career, while owning a 3.95 ERA in the minors and just ranked 70th overall on top prospect lists from both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.

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