The Miami Marlins have been well off everyone’s radar this season, and given their current record is 30-51, that’s with good reason. But the Marlins have begun to show some signs of life lately, and some talk about their young players is quietly picking up. ESPN’s Aaron Boone singled them out for praise on Monday Night Baseball last night, and quoted San Francisco Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy doing the same. So let’s take a look at the Marlins and see what we might expect.
Before going through the personnel, let’s step back and ask ourselves what the basis is for evaluation. Clearly, not even the most optimistic observers think the Marlins are going to be in shouting distance of the playoff race this year, even if they had the lungs of a soprano. What I’m looking at is the number 63.5.
That was the Over/Under total posted in Las Vegas this spring on the team’s expected win total. I picked the Over. Right now, Miami’s only on a pace for 60, so our first question is whether they can improve enough to reward their bettors. We’ll also look at what veterans they have who might fetch a price in this month’s trade sweepstakes.
GOOD YOUNG PITCHING
The strength of Miami’s team is their pitching, which is in fact seventh in the National League in ERA, placing them narrowly in the league’s upper half. The starting rotation and bullpen are both fairly well balanced, and the pen does a good job of closing save chances, with their 69 percent clearance rate being above the league average.
Jose Fernandez is the prize young arm, and the 20-year-old has posted a 2.72 ERA in 16 starts. Jacob Turner, only two years older, has started six times and has a buck-76 ERA. And over the past couple weeks, Miami has been lifted by the return of Nathan Eovaldi. You may recall he was the centerpiece prospect in the deal that sent Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, but then Eovaldi immediately required elbow surgery. He’s back, and in three starts against Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego, has gone six innings each time out with an ERA of 2.00.
The trio of Fernandez, Turner and Eovaldi make a nice core group to build with, but the key veteran is Ricky Nolasco. With a 3.93 ERA in 17 starts, the Marlins could use Nolasco to improve his performance just a little bit. He doesn’t have to be a big-time ace, but he’s still capable of a lower ERA than that in the National League. If Miami wants to build for a playoff run next season, he would be important. More likely, Nolasco will be their most valuable trade chip this year and you want his ERA low enough that it would translate well to an American League contender where he would have to face a designated hitter.
Steve Cishek has become a nice closer—not dominant, but good enough to get the job done, closing 15/17 save chances with a 3.12 ERA. The pen is a mix of veterans and young kids, and you have to think that arms like Chad Qualls will be moved to a contender sometime this month. The same goes for Kevin Slowey. Miami has called up a live young arm in Dan Jennings, who’s pitched great in his 13 innings of work, and the Marlins need to get him a lot of action in the second half.
AN OFFENSE BEYOND ANEMIC
There’s no point in sugar-coating anything with this offense—it is absolutely horrific and there’s not a lot of hope that it will get better. Miami is last in the National League in runs scored, and they’re last in both component parts, in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
What’s more, it’s not like everyone playing is a young kid. One of the few bright spots is the .366 on-base percentage of third baseman Ed Lucas, but Lucas is 31-years-old with no track record of success. Veterans Juan Pierre and Justin Ruggiano are in the outfield, as will Chris Coghlan when he comes off the disabled list in the next couple of weeks. Logan Morrison has swung a hot bat in limited duty at first base, but he’s had an up-and-down career of his own.
Miami has one piece on offense that’s Giancarlo Stanton. He’s only 23-years-old, though he already seems like a veteran. In spite of some missed time on the DL this year, Stanton has a stat line of .351 on-base percentage/.480 slugging percentage, with his best work during the team’s recent strong play. Another one to keep an eye on is 22-year-old outfielder Marcell Ozuna, at .330/.427. Beyond that, Miami needs a lot of help here.
Miami’s recent good stretch amounts to winning 11 of 16, and that includes series wins over the Cardinals and the defending champion Giants. I still like Miami’s chances of avoiding 100 losses and getting up into the mid-60s for wins, something that would constitute a level of success, although it won’t get anyone in Miami to move beyond the city’s NBA championship run.
But I like the Marlins, especially if they can trade off some of the role player vets in the lineup and the bullpen, and just take whatever they can get in return. None are good enough to justify keeping the younger kids on the sidelines.
It’s the fate of Nolasco that’s a bigger issue when it comes to this season. They need his stabilizing presence at the top if they’re going to continue improvement. I’m not saying I’d hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal if the right package becomes available—63.5 might be our magic number for the purposes of this article, but if Miami can get a couple good young prospects in the everyday lineup, that would be worth the price.
AROUND THE NL EAST
Atlanta (48-34): The Braves just stay steady, as inconsistency and debate surrounds the other teams in this division.
Washington (42-40): Bryce Harper is back, so if the Nationals are going to make a move—and I think they are—now would be the time.
Philadelphia (39-44): In last week’s MLB coverage we asked if it was time for the Phillies to throw in the towel and trade players like Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. The Phils have done nothing in the past week to suggest that going for it is an intelligent solution.
NY Mets (34-45): A lot of players come back from the disabled list in July—Frank Francisco, Justin Turner, Lucas Duda and Jonathan Niese. Maybe the Mets can still make a run at .500.