2016 Record - 79-82
Third place, NL East
Team ERA: 4.05 (10th in MLB)
Team OPS: .716 (25th in MLB)
What Went Right:
This was a really difficult piece to write, for obvious reasons. I’m going to start out with two moments that made me smile. First we saw Ichiro Suzuki reach the 3,000-hit plateau on August 7 in Colorado. He finished the year on 3,030 hits and now has 4,308 career hits if you combine his time from Japan. Ichiro turned 43 last week, but he isn’t walking off into the sunset just yet. The Marlins recently exercised the 2017 club option on his contract and added an option for 2018. I also have to mention Dee Gordon’s home run in the Marlins’ first game after the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez. There are some moments that are bigger than baseball. For that night, we were all Marlins fans. 2016 featured a breakout year from Christian Yelich (21 homers, .859 OPS) and Adam Conley posted a 3.85 ERA with 8.37 K/9 over 25 starts during his first full season in the starting rotation. Martin Prado hit .305/.359/.417 and stayed with the Marlins on a three-year, $40 million extension rather than test free agency. J.T. Realmuto was an underrated contributor, batting .303/.343/.428 with 11 homers and 12 steals. A.J. Ramos, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps, and Nick Wittgren were all trusted arms out of the bullpen.
What Went Wrong:
We’re now exactly one month removed from the death of Jose Fernandez following a late night boating accident and it still doesn’t feel real. By the age of 24, Fernandez had already accomplished so much both on and off the field. I don’t need to get into the numbers, but the sky was really the limit for him. We’re always going to remember his smile and the joy he played with, but the reverberations are going to be felt for a long time here. It’s impossible to quantify what his loss means to the franchise and the community. Everything else about the Marlins this season is secondary, but we can’t ignore it, so here goes. Dee Gordon stunned the baseball world when was handed an 80-game PED suspension back in April. Giancarlo Stanton had a confounding slump from around mid-May through mid-June and missed significant time down the stretch with a quad injury. Wei-Yin Chen struggled and dealt with injuries in his first season with Miami and Andrew Cashner and Fernando Rodney were both disappointments after coming over from the Padres via trade. Adeiny Hechavarria was very good defensively, but his .594 OPS was the lowest among all qualified hitters in MLB. The Marlins were 52-43 as late as July 21 before finishing with their seventh straight losing season. Hitting coach Barry Bonds was let go after one season on the job, reportedly due to friction with manager Don Mattingly.
**Giancarlo Stanton has been a first-round pick in fantasy drafts in recent years, but we likely won’t see that in 2017. Sure, the power is jaw-dropping and he hits the ball incredibly hard, but he has topped 123 games in a season just once since 2011. Thanks to the lengthy slump mentioned above, he finished with career-lows in batting average (.240) and OPS (.815) this season. His .326 on-base percentage was equal to his rookie season. His contact rate has regressed and he’s also been increasingly aggressive. It’s hard to quit on someone who has such obvious elite fantasy potential, but Stanton doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point. Look for a more reasonable draft position in the spring, which might not be such a bad thing for fantasy owners.
**What do we do with Dee Gordon at this point? Fresh off a National League batting crown and a five-year, $80 million extension, Gordon caught everyone off guard when he received an 80-game PED suspension at the end of April. He had some ups and downs after returning three months later and ultimately finished with a disappointing .268/.305/.335 batting line, but he still managed to steal 30 bases in just 79 games. Only nine players stole more bases this season. The main culprits behind the drop in batting average appear to be an increased strikeout rate combined with an uptick in fly balls and soft contact. His speed still gives him plenty of value, but there’s a lot of quality competition at the second base position all of the sudden.
**Christian Yelich slugged 21 homers this season after hitting just 20 of them over his first 332 games in the majors. Can we believe in the power surge? Yelich still hits a lot of ground balls (only three qualified hitters had a higher ground ball rate this season), but we saw a five-percent increase in his fly ball rate this season and he pulled the ball more often than ever before. If you go by average exit velocity among fly balls and line drives, he’s 13th among hitters with at least 150 batted ball events. If you go by Statcast’s new barrels metric (well-struck batted balls with an estimated BA north of .500 and a slugging percentage north of 1.500), he had more of them than interesting names like Robinson Cano, Daniel Murphy, Corey Seager, Brian Dozier, Carlos Gonzalez, and Yoenis Cespedes. Even if you don’t fully believe in the power quite yet, Yelich has established himself as a safe play for batting average and can help across all categories. He’s in the top 10-20 range among outfielders at this point.
**The Marlins reportedly looked into trading outfielder Marcell Ozuna last winter before deciding to keep him around. They looked very smart for doing so early on, as he earned his first All-Star selection by batting .307 with 17 homers and an .893 OPS during the first half. It was a different story for him after the All-Star break, as he struggled with a .209/.267/.342 batting line and six homers over his final 63 games. Only six players (min. 200 PA) had a lower OPS during the second half. Ozuna suffered a wrist injury in September, but he was struggling well before that. Oddly, he actually had a higher contact rate after the All-Star break than he did during the first half. The most noticeable thing about his batted ball profile was an increase in ground balls, but that’s not enough to explain how his BABIP completely crashed. It’s important to note that his first half was propped up by an insane May while his second half was dragged down by a miserable August. Perhaps he’s somewhere in the middle of those two extremes?
**A.J. Ramos set a new career-high with 40 saves this season while posting a 2.81 ERA and 73/35 K/BB ratio over 64 innings. And that was even with a brief stint on the disabled list due to a fractured right middle finger. Fernando Rodney took over during his absence, but his struggles opened the door for Ramos to take the job back and tally eight saves in September. Ramos made $3.4 million in 2016 and is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter. Ideally the Marlins will keep him around, but they are no strangers to trading players as they get more expensive. They have some intriguing late-inning alternatives if they decide to go that route eventually. Kyle Barraclough posted a 2.85 ERA and 113/44 K/BB ratio over 72 2/3 innings this season while swingman David Phelps had a 2.28 ERA and 114/38 K/BB ratio over 86 2/3 innings.
Team Needs: Replacing Jose Fernandez is an impossible task, but the Marlins need to find some arms for their rotation. Quality options in free agency are limited this winter, so like many other teams, they could be forced to turn to the trade front. The Marlins don’t have a deep farm system, so any significant trade will likely have to lean on major league assets.