As we get closer to the start of the season, we are going to spend some time focusing on the opponents on the Red Sox schedule for 2020. In this strange season, Boston will be playing only nine teams, so we will go one by one and look at each individually. Today, we head to the NL to look at the Marlins.
Like the Orioles, who we looked at yesterday, the Marlins figure to be one of the worst teams in baseball yet again in 2020 and picking near the top of next year’s draft. Miami is in the midst of a total rebuild, coming off a 64-win season and having won an average of about 61 wins per season over the last three years. Compared to Baltimore they are taking a bit more of an admirable approach to the present day with some legitimate additions to their offense over the winter including Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson and Jesús Aguilar. None of them are world-beaters, but they are certainly legitimate major leaguers. Miami is will be interesting this season, though, not due to talent and winning but rather the fact that they have most of their top prospects, regardless of age and level, in their player pool. Whether or not they play is a different question, though. In all, it is expected that they will finish last in the NL East, and it likely won’t be particularly close.
This one was pretty close between Anderson and Dickerson, mentioned above. I didn’t give this one to the latter largely because his production is so platoon-based whereas Anderson is an everyday player in this Marlins lineup. Although he’s not a superstar, the third baseman is still fairly underrated in the overall baseball landscape as he has turned himself into a consistently solid producer at the plate. In his two full seasons in the majors he has put up wRC+’s of 112 and 114, meaning he has been 12 and 14 percent better than league average in those years. What’s really interesting is that he has done it in two different ways, with 2018 being a more contact-oriented, on-base kind of approach whereas last season was more brute force and power. Either way, in a Marlins lineup that is looking for some stability, he should provide it near the top of the lineup. Also, as an interesting side note, he is the only position player projected to make the Marlins Opening Day roster to be originally signed or drafted by the team.
Best Starting Pitcher
Although Miami’s additions to their lineup make for some interesting potential with the bats, the rotation leaves a ton to be desired and is likely to be the undoing of this team. To be fair there is a good amount of youth in the rotation and more help coming up through the pipeline over the next couple of years, but for now things don’t look great unless one of the young guys takes a step forward.
Until then, though, Smith remains their top arm in my view, even if someone else who we’ll get to later was an All-Star last year and is going to start Opening Day for them. Smith is more of a league-average arm than a great one, but he has some room for growth and most importantly misses bats. He needs to clean up the control, but a lefty who can strike out more than a batter per inning is enough to take the top spot in this rotation in my view, with the caveat that there are huge error bars for projections on any of their pitchers. In fact, if the Red Sox are looking for a starting pitcher and a trade market opens up this summer, Smith would be a target I could get behind.
Best Relief Pitcher
One thing the Marlins lack in their rebuild is a young, high-ceiling reliever at the back of their bullpen that they can use as trade bait either this year or in the offseason. That is an easy way to grab prospects, but it’s just not something they boast at the moment. So, instead, their closer is going to be a veteran who doesn’t really pitch like your prototypical modern closer. That’s not to say Kintzler isn’t good because he has been quite productive in three of the past four years. It’s just that he doesn’t really miss bats and instead relies on ground balls and weak contact to get him through innings. Usually a pick up like this from a rebuilding team is for a trade deadline deal, but with the trade market expected to be weak this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised if he sticks in Miami all season.
I mentioned above that Smith is not the Opening Day starter and that the guy getting that nod was also an All-Star last year. That would be Alcántara. So why isn’t he my best starting pitcher? Well, the peripherals just don’t line up with his results nor what you would think he can do if you watch him. There are times where it looks like the young righty has some nasty stuff, but he just hasn’t been able to miss bats the last couple of years. He has shown some ability a few years back, though, when he was still in the Cardinals organization. Still only 24 (almost 25), there is still room for growth in Alcántara’s game. I’m not ready to crown him yet, but if the Marlins are to surprise people in a shortened season they need big jumps in their rotation, and this is the number one place to look for that kind of jump to dominance.
Jazz Chisholm, Jesús Sanchez, Monte Harrison, JJ Bleday, Lewin Diaz, Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Trevor Rogers, Braxton Garrett, Max Meyer
Like I said, the Marlins have invited pretty much all of their top prospects to the player pool this summer, with each of those players above except Meyer making up nine of their top ten prospects according to FanGraphs’ list. Meyer was their first round pick in this June’s draft. It’s unclear how many of these guys will actually get major-league time, but if you’re a Marlins fan all you really have to look forward to is the future and the organization is at least making it a little easier to do that here.
You bet your ass Ryan Lavarnway is still kicking around. The former Red Sox catcher has never really been able to hang on in the majors as a bat-first catcher whose defense leaves plenty to be desired and whose bat never really played up as much as hoped. Despite that, he’s played at least a handful of games in eight of the last nine seasons — I just learned this fact right now and it’s blowing my mind — and he’s on the Marlins taxi squad so that streak could continue in 2020.
Remember the rag tag group of pitchers that came together to eat innings in last season’s miserable run through the summer? No? Well, I’ll remind you that Smith was a part of that. The righty tossed 31 innings for the Red Sox last year and somehow managed to allow 10 homers, which doesn’t seem like it should be possible. He’s a depth long arm for the Marlins this summer, just as he was for Boston a year ago.