The Miami Marlins had a really, really difficult 2016 season. The team started off with playoff aspirations and played well enough in stretches to where a Wild Card berth seemed more than just a dream. Dee Gordon was gone for 80 games, but Derek Dietrich came in and lit the world on fire. The pitching wasn’t great, but Adam Conley came seemingly out of nowhere and pitched very well. Then Giancarlo got hurt. Then the pitching went bad. Then the team fell apart. There were some good signs in 2016, but a very sour ending to the season. The Marlins will need a lot of things to go just right in order to compete in the tough-and-still-improving National League East. Here is a wishlist of things the Marlins need to take care of before the season starts to set themselves up for a chance at a successful 2017.
1 and 2. A New Starting Pitcher, Then Another Starting Pitcher
With the tragic death of ace Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are left with a very scattershot pitching rotation going into 2017. Even with Fernandez in the plans for 2017, the Marlins knew they were going to have to boost their starting rotation in order to compete. Without Jose, things are even more dire. If the season started today, the Marlins would have Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, Adam Conley, Jose Urena, and Justin Nicolino in their rotation. Ugh.
Chen was signed to be a number-two starter, but he pitched to a 5-5 record with a 4.96 ERA. There’s hope for improvement from the lefty, especially since he was hit by a line drive on Opening Day and appeared somewhat bothered by the injury throughout the year, but he will have to improve in all aspects to be anything but a back-end rotation piece. Koehler is a solid, consistent, innings-eating starter, but he’s overmatched as a number two. Conley showed some promise and may have a bright future. He actually fits well as a number-three pitcher. Urena had a few good starts sprinkled around some awful ones. He ended the season with a disgusting 6.13 ERA and cannot be trusted with a start every fifth day of the season. Finally, Nicolino is an all-control, no-strikeout pitcher who doesn’t have the necessary control to be truly effective. He ended the year with a 4.99 ERA and shouldn’t be expected to do much better than that next season. The Marlins have some other in-house options, like Odrisamer Despaigne and David Phelps, but Despaigne is a project and Phelps seemed better suited in the bullpen.
In order to truly field a competitive team with a chance to win every day, the Marlins need to sign or trade for two starting pitchers. Neither necessarily needs to be an ace, but at least one should be a front-of-the-rotation-type of arm.
3. A New Shortstop
Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria makes amazing plays in the infield. He is also a great argument for the designated hitter to not only come to the National League, but also to be used for fielders as well as pitchers. After a 2015 in which his offense was “good enough,” Hechavarria went back to being terrible at the plate, finishing 2016 as the worst offensive player in baseball. While his defense was very good, it was not elite to the point where his .236/.283/.311 line was even near acceptable. The Marlins need a new shortstop. They have given “Hech” four seasons and he has been above average in just one of them. While the Marlins won’t find themselves an elite shortstop like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, or Francisco Lindor anytime soon, they can certainly upgrade from a guy who has been the worst hitter in baseball over the past year and was the worst overall player in baseball in 2013. He’s fun to watch at shortstop, but he costs the team far too much at the plate to continue to receive a pass.
4. A Healthy Giancarlo Stanton
When he is on the field, Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is an absolute monster. He crushes baseballs, hitting them consistently harder than any other human on Earth, and he plays solid defense. The issue throughout his career has been staying on the field and off the disabled list. Some of Stanton’s injuries have been unavoidable freak injuries, like the fastball-to-the-face. But others are more concerning, leading some to label the Marlins slugger as injury prone. Stanton has never played in more than 150 games in a season, and he averages only 121 games per season in his career. Despite a slow start to the 2016 season, he still managed to make a difference in the lineup when he was in it, and we all know what he is capable of when he gets hot. If the Marlins expect to make any noise in a tough National League East, they’ll need their best player to set a career high in games played.
5. The Old Dee Gordon
Second baseman Dee Gordon had a rough season. He was the most noticeably shaken by the loss of Jose Fernandez, and he served an 80-game suspension due to performance enhancing drugs. Making things worse, he did not perform at nearly his expected rates upon returning from suspension. This, of course, led some to draw into question his previous successful seasons, but realistically, Gordon was unlikely to have benefited so significantly from the PEDs. He ended up posting a disappointing .268/.305/.335 line with 30 stolen bases in 2016, paling in comparison to his excellent 2015: .333/.359/.418 with 58 steals. The good news was his defense, which won him a Gold Glove in 2015, was still great. Dee can be expected to fall somewhere in between his 2015 and 2016. The closer he ends up to 2015, the better the Marlins will fare in the standings. He’s a key piece of the team at the leadoff spot, and as the old baseball saying goes, “when he goes, they go.”