What is the Miami Marlins’ Endgame?

So, um, what exactly is the Miami Marlins’ endgame here?

It’s no secret that the Marlins are a rebuilding team and have been since their post-2017 fire sale that sent second baseman Dee Gordon (Seattle Mariners) and outfielders Giancarlo Stanton (New York Yankees), Marcell Ozuna (St. Louis Cardinals), and Christian Yelich (Milwaukee Brewers) elsewhere. They continued the purge when they traded first baseman Justin Bour (Philadelphia Phillies) last season and catcher J.T. Realmuto (Philadelphia Phillies) in the offseason.

When projecting how standings would fare in Major League Baseball this season, everyone had the Marlins in last place in the National League East — which came as no surprise. Their lineup is thin, their pitching staff is unreliable, and they don’t have the talent to contend.

People poke fun at the Marlins for trading away six of their best players over the last year and a half, and the fact that superstar shortstop-turned owner Derek Jeter is calling the shots only furthers the ammunition when it comes to mocking the organization; the results have a vital role in it as well.

The Marlins finished last season 63-98, which warranted last place in the NL East. This year it’s grown worse. They’re 10-30, which puts them in last place in the division, and they’re arguably the worst team in baseball. From a production standpoint, they’re easily the most futile team, offensively.

With puzzling moves from new ownership and a lack of pure talent, the Marlins seemingly have no immediate future. @RPStratakos had to ask: what is Miami's endgame?Click To Tweet

Going into their Tuesday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Marlins were 30th in MLB in runs (105), hits (283), home runs (24), total bases (400), on-base percentage (.283), slugging (.310), and OPS (.592) and 27th in batting average (.219). It’s not much better on the mound. Going into Tuesday night their pitching staff was 25th in ERA (4.85), 22nd in strikeouts (342), seventh in walks surrendered (154), and 19th in opponent batting average (.250).

Bright spots? Veteran infielder Neil Walker is having an encouraging season at the plate, hitting a team-best .295. Left-hander Caleb Smith has been phenomenal in his second year starting on a consistent basis, owning a 2.25 ERA and 0.92 WHIP while totaling 64 strikeouts through his first eight starts. Other than that, it’s extremely quiet, and if your most positive development plays every fifth day, it’s going to be a long season.

To this point, the 2019 season has also produced discouraging seasons from players once viewed as potential franchise players, or staples at their respective positions such as third baseman Brian Anderson and right-handed pitcher Jose Urena.

Last season Anderson locked down the hot corner, drove in 65 runs, and looked like he could grow into manager Don Mattingly‘s starting third baseman for the foreseeable future. This season he’s hitting .230. Meanwhile, Urena put together two impressive seasons from 2017-18, pitching deep into games, keeping his ERA below four in both seasons (3.82, 3.98), and was someone the Marlins could lean on to be the leader of their pitching staff. It’s still early, but the right-hander owns a 4.82 ERA and looks nothing like the reliable starter the Marlins grew enamored with.

Ultimately, the franchise is relying on the return it got for its former stars to turn things around.

For Gordon they got pitchers Nick Neidert and Robert Dugger and infielder Christopher Torres; for Stanton they got $265 million of the remaining $295 million of his contract off the books, as well as veteran infielder Starlin Castro, right-hander Jorge Guzman, and shortstop Jose Devers; for Ozuna they got pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen, and Daniel Castano and outfielder Magneuris Sierra; for Yelich they got outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, infielder Isan Diaz, and right-hander Jordan Yamamoto; for Bour they got left-hander McKenzie Mills; for Realmuto they got catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitchers Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart, and international bonus slot money.

To be fair, Alfaro and Alcantara are on the Marlins roster, and Sanchez, Alcantara and Brinson, were the Phillies, Cardinals, and Brewers top prospects, so it’s not as if the Marlins traded their core for scraps; they got fair value. At the same time, what happens when all, or most of these prospects get called up?

Every bad, or rebuilding team has a young core in the majors they’re trying to build around. That doesn’t mean their minor-league system isn’t, or can’t be a part of that transformation, but without established and improving MLB players it’s difficult to build a playoff contender. The Marlins are essentially taking a leap of faith that their prospects are going to take them on a rise to prominence, a lot like the Kansas City Royals earlier this decade.

A realistic best-case scenario for the Marlins is that their top prospects are all up and manning starting roles in 2021, at the earliest. In a best-case scenario they come into their own as stars, or great players in three years. And if they do, can we legitimately say they’ll be better than any team in their division?

We could look at every team in baseball and find a group of young players, or ones who signify hope for the near future, but let’s focus on the NL East.

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the most lethal offenses in the sport with the additions of Bryce Harper, Jean SeguraAndrew McCutchen, and Realmuto in the offseason, as well as a potent pitching duo in Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta; the Atlanta Braves have a killer young core, which features Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies while also having the likes of Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis in their lineup.

The New York Mets have a stout starting rotation headlined by Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, as well as a young positional core which includes Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, and Pete Alonso; the Washington Nationals have a starting rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, as well as an electric young outfield duo in Juan Soto and Victor Robles.

What’s the featured element of the Marlins?

Anderson and Urena are struggling, their offense is anemic, and their starting rotation is inconsistent. According to Baseball Reference, the Marlins also have the worst attendance in the sport (9,668 people per game) and are the only team in MLB averaging under five figures in attendance per game.

Plus, how are they going to attract players? Right now, their pitch to free agents is overpaying them, or offering them the chance to play a significant role. Little to no one attends their games, they continually trade away their best players to add young talent, and “the future” is barely even on the MLB roster. What happens if Mattingly decides to call it quits and resigns as manager? Who’s going to want the job?

The most notable and recognizable part of the Marlins is their owner, followed by their manager — who are each remembered for their superb careers with the New York Yankees.

The Marlins are going nowhere, and it’s virtually impossible to create a roadmap around this debacle.

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