Give the Miami Marlins credit: they’re trying.
The Marlins have been active this offseason, when it concerns adding established talent to their big-league roster. They’ve acquired infielders Jonathan Villar and Jesus Aguilar and signed outfielder Corey Dickerson (two-year, $17.5 million deal) and catcher Francisco Cervelli (one-year, $2 million deal).
Villar quietly put together a encouraging 2019 campaign with the Baltimore Orioles. Hitting .274 while totaling a career-high 176 hits, 24 home runs, and 73 RBIs across 162 games, Villar was a steady force at the top of the Orioles lineup. He has a level, contact swing and is a savvy, extra-base hitter. Last season was arguably the best offensive season of his big-league career.
Meanwhile, Villar possesses defensive versatility, as he consistently plays second base and shortstop and has made appearances at the hot corner.
Aguilar is coming off a turbulent season split between the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays. At the same time, he’s a year removed from a monster season as the Brewers starting first baseman, where he posted an .890 OPS and totaled 35 home runs and 108 RBIs. He swings a power bat and could be a force in the middle of manager Don Mattingly‘s lineup as the team’s starting first baseman.
Dickerson is one of the most underrated outfielders in Major League Baseball. He’s an efficient hitter, has hit .300 or higher in each of the last two seasons, has posted an OPS above .800 in each of the last three seasons, sports a career 119 OPS+, and is a vacuum in left field. A free-swinging, left-handed hitter, Dickerson could be the Marlins opening day left fielder or at least be a fixture in their outfield rotation.
Granted Jorge Alfaro is likely the Marlins starting catcher next season, Cervelli has more experience under his belt and could be a great mentor for the 26-year-old catcher. He’s a contact hitter and will be a welcome presence behind the plate, which comes in handy when a team is filtering young pitchers through its system — like the Marlins.
So, what do these transactions mean for the Marlins’ win-loss total and/or chances of rising up the National League East? Well, not much, but that’s not the point.
The Marlins are making moves to supplement their youth rather than waiting for them to blossom and spend little money until they’re in playoff contention — which most rebuilding teams do.
It would be easy for the Marlins to chill in the shadows of the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves and do close to nothing until their youth turns a corner. Instead, they decided to add three under-the-radar players 30 or younger on short-term deals (Villar, Aguilar, and Dickerson).
It’s a bit of a trial-and-error game. None of these players are under contract beyond 2022; if they struggle, the Marlins can move on over the next three years. Most have shown a glimpse of being a premier player at their respective position but been unable to sustain that level of play, whether it be because of the situation they’re in, an injury, or an uncharacteristic season.
Villar and Aguilar were non-tendered and eventually traded to the Marlins. In a world where teams with low payrolls are taking few chances on top-dollar signings, it makes sense for them to take advantage of what has been a robust non-tender market. Notable players who were initially non-tendered or released this offseason include: Villar, Aguilar, Dickerson, C.J. Cron, Kevin Pillar, Blake Treinen, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Domingo Santana, among many others.
Those are good players. It has just become a cutthroat sport with the further the analytics and technological advancements get; teams with low budgets benefit from the recent uptick in players 30 or younger being jettisoned.
Villar, Aguilar, and Dickerson will help legitimize an offense that was 29th in MLB in runs (615) and 30th in total bases (2,065) and OPS (.673) last season. But it’s an offense that has some players to be optimistic about moving forward.
Brian Anderson is a versatile player who’s a well-rounded hitter; Garrett Cooper has pop in his bat; Miguel Rojas is a steady, contact hitter; Harold Ramirez was a pleasant surprise at the plate in his 2019 rookie campaign.
Meanwhile, the Marlins have a blossoming starting rotation. Sandy Alcantara steadily improved over his first full season in the big leagues and keeps hitters guessing with his array of offerings; Caleb Smith was an All-Star Game consideration in the first half of 2019; Jose Urena is a year removed from being the team’s ace; Pablo Lopez and Jordan Yamamoto are a work in progress.
The goal for the Marlins over the next two-to-three seasons is to be a ballclub that teams can’t walk over. Last season they were a dismal 24-52 in divisional play and logged 105 losses, which was more than they finished with in 2018. They need to get leadoff hitters to touch all four bases, drive in runners in scoring position, and work the count more often.
When the Nationals and Braves come to town, or they play in the rival’s ballpark, it needs to be a series and not a three-to-four game-run for the opposition to get back on track. Yes, the Nationals, Braves, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies are significantly more talented than the Marlins — although the Marlins were 10-9 against the Phillies last season — but the Marlins have some talent themselves; they need to begin doing something with it.
None of these additions are going to alter the course of the franchise, but they’re a step in the right direction for the Marlins. They’ll complement a young lineup and make them a more respectable ballclub.
Kudos to the Marlins for trying to field a competitive team. There’s not enough of that among cellar-dwelling teams.