After two seasons of lackluster hitting, the Marlins made several moves in the hopes of finally turning around their offense. The question now becomes if those offensive additions will provide enough help, and whether or not the club’s pitching and defense might take a step backward.
Major league signings
2023 spending: $12.5M
Total spending: $25.5M
- Declined $6.3M mutual option on IF Joey Wendle, $75K buyout (Marlins retained Wendle via arbitration)
Trades and claims
Notable minor league signings
- Yuli Gurriel, Jose Iglesias, Garrett Hampson (later added to 40-man roster), Richard Rodriguez, Austin Allen, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Devin Smeltzer, Enrique Burgos, Geoff Hartlieb, Johan Quezada, Alex De Goti
- Jon Berti, IF/OF: One year, $2.125M (includes $25K buyout of $3.5M club option for 2024; if option is declined, Marlins still hold arbitration control over Berti)
- Lopez, Rojas, Bleday, Bleier, Hernandez, Brigham, Henry, Brian Anderson, Lewin Diaz, Nick Neidert, Cole Sulser, Luke Williams, Sean Guenther
The first step in the Marlins’ offseason was the hiring of a new manager, as Skip Schumaker was brought on board as Don Mattingly’s replacement. Schumaker is a first-time manager who has a strong resume as a coach with the Cardinals and Padres. He and a mostly new coaching staff will be fresh voices within an organization in need of a shakeup after a 136-188 record over the last two seasons.
Hiring Schumaker and the coaching staff was basically the biggest Marlins news for the first two months of the offseason, but Kim Ng’s front office was undoubtedly very busy in laying the groundwork for future moves. Heading into the winter, Miami’s game plan seemed pretty apparent — trade from its surplus of young pitching to land at least one quality hitter who could upgrade the club’s stagnant lineup. It isn’t surprising that it took the Marlins until January to finally swing that big pitching-for-hitting trade, as most rotation-needy teams first addressed those in free agency rather than meet Miami’s significant asking price.
Such teams as the Rockies, Cardinals, Red Sox, Mets and Diamondbacks were all linked to the Marlins in trade talks, with players like Brendan Rodgers, Brett Baty and Triston Casas reportedly on Miami’s target list. But it was the Twins who finally found common ground with the Marlins, resulting in the four-player trade that brought Luis Arraez to Miami in exchange for Pablo Lopez and two notable prospects (Jose Salas, Byron Chourio).
The prospect element of the deal shouldn’t be overlooked, as the Marlins’ willingness to part with minor league talent in addition to Lopez indicates just how much they coveted Arraez. The reigning AL batting champ is exactly the type of high-contact hitter the Fish were seeking as the offseason began, and Arraez’s left-handed bat also helps balance a righty-heavy lineup. Arraez’s relative lack of power isn’t as important to the Marlins as his ability to put the ball into play and avoid strikeouts, and his three remaining years of arbitration control make him more of a longer-term solution for Miami.
By the time of the Minnesota trade, Arraez’s addition further shook up a Marlins infield that underwent some other changes earlier in January. Miami traded longtime shortstop Miguel Rojas to the Dodgers in exchange for shortstop prospect Jacob Amaya, and dipped into the free-agent market to sign Jean Segura to a two-year, $17M contract. The infield changes weren’t done there, as after spring training began, the Fish inked veterans Yuli Gurriel and Jose Iglesias to minor league contracts.
The end result is a rather unexpected infield alignment. Segura will be Miami’s starting third baseman, but his career experience at the position consists of 179 2/3 innings in 2020 with the Phillies. Arraez will play second base, despite some relatively mixed reviews on his glove work from public defensive metrics and how Arraez’s knees (which have been an injury concern in the past) will hold up at a more difficult position than first base. Joey Wendle will get the bulk of the work at shortstop, with Iglesias (if he makes the team) and utilitymen Jon Berti and Garrett Hampson providing some support since Wendle has played only 647 2/3 innings at short over his seven MLB seasons. Gurriel could pair with Garrett Cooper for first base duty, with Cooper also likely to see some corner outfield work on occasion.
The name not listed within the infield mix is Jazz Chisholm Jr., as the former second baseman will now move into center field for the first time in his professional career. Center field has been a longstanding target area for the Marlins, so if Chisholm is able to be even a passable option on the grass without losing any of his hitting stroke, that might be a win for the team. Of course, there’s plenty of risk involved in Chisholm adopting an entirely new position, perhaps both health-wise (he played only 60 games last season due to a stress fracture in his back and a torn meniscus) and defensively. “Passable” glove work might not be enough for a center fielder in the spacious LoanDepot Park outfield, especially since Avisail Garcia and projected left fielder Jesus Sanchez are average defenders at best in the corners.
It makes for something of a roll of the dice for Miami, but it is possible some adjustments could be made. Due to their minor league contracts, it isn’t even a guarantee yet that Gurriel or Iglesias will make the roster, so Arraez might end up being the player sharing time with Cooper at first time. That would open up second base for either Chisholm or Segura if one of the two are struggling in their new positions, with Berti, Hampson or (in center field) Sanchez or Bryan De La Cruz able to fill some of the gaps. Amaya might also get the call for his MLB debut if he hits well at Triple-A, since his glove is already considered to be big league-ready.
If the defense does start springing too many holes, it will be easy to second-guess Miami’s strategy in picking which hitters to target. Arraez and Segura are above-average hitters who fit the Marlins’ desire for players who can get on base and put the ball into play, putting pressure on opponents to try and defend at LoanDepot Park. Yet, if their offensive contributions are blunted by subpar defense, it will call into question why the Marlins couldn’t have found hitters who were cleaner fits into their lineup without all of the position-juggling.
This isn’t to say the Marlins didn’t look into other options, as they pursued free agents such as Jose Abreu and Justin Turner but were outbid. Names like Josh Bell, Michael Conforto, Jurickson Profar, Cody Bellinger and even Willson Contreras also drew at least cursory interest from the Marlins before signing elsewhere. On the trade front, Miami certainly discussed so many of their pitchers (besides Sandy Alcantara and Eury Perez) with so many other teams about a wide variety of hitters, that only time will tell if there was ever a better deal out there than the Lopez/Arraez trade.
A questionable defense can also surely lessen the impact of a quality pitching staff. It is a testament to the Marlins’ pitching depth that the rotation still looks like the team’s strength even without Lopez. Alcantara is still a top-tier ace, Jesus Luzardo showed plenty of promise when healthy, Edward Cabrera could be on the verge of a breakout, and Trevor Rogers’ solid 2021 season isn’t a distant memory, even if Rogers has to rebound after a disappointing 2022. Braxton Garrett is the top depth option, but given Garrett’s inexperience and Sixto Sanchez’s uncertain health status, Miami added to this mix with a new face in veteran Johnny Cueto.
After a few injury-riddled and only moderately effective seasons with the Giants, Cueto bounced back with a solid year with the White Sox, posting a 3.35 ERA over 158 1/3 innings. Despite a lack of velocity and one of the lowest strikeout rates in the league, Cueto finessed his way to success by mostly limiting hard contact and still posting an outstanding walk rate. Even if Cueto has moved into the “crafty veteran” stage of his career, he still looks like he has something to offer in his age-37 season if he can stay off the injured list.
The bullpen was a lot less effective than the rotation last year, so the Fish bolstered the relief corps with a trio of interesting deals. Grounder specialist Richard Bleier was sent to the Red Sox in exchange for former closer Matt Barnes, J.T. Chargois (and former top-100 infield prospect Xavier Edwards) were picked up from the Rays in a four-player trade, and former fourth overall pick JJ Bleday was moved to the A’s in exchange for A.J. Puk.
It seemed as though Boston wanted to turn the page on Barnes after two seasons of high volatility, as Barnes sandwiched a brutal four months of pitching (August/September 2021 and April/May of 2022) between otherwise impressive work. The upside is there for the Marlins, and with the Red Sox offsetting the cost between Barnes and Bleier’s salaries, the price was right for the Fish to acquire a reliever with possible closer potential. It could also be noted that a grounder-heavy pitcher like Bleier might’ve been seen as less effective for 2023, given the new rules limiting shifts, and the fact that Miami might have a shakier infield defense.
Chargois has pitched well over the last two seasons in Tampa’s bullpen, and Puk’s first full major league season was a success, as he was one of only a few highlights in an otherwise rough season for Oakland. Although the Athletics spoke of stretching Puk out as a starter this spring, his injury history and Miami’s starter depth probably means he’ll remain as a reliever, and he has already shown signs of being a very effective weapon out of the pen.
The Puk trade is also notable for Bleday’s inclusion, as it was one of a few instances this winter of Miami opting to move on from players who seemed like potential building blocks not long ago. In addition to Bleday heading to Oakland, the Marlins traded Elieser Hernandez to the Mets, put Lewin Diaz and Cole Sulser on waivers to be claimed away, and non-tendered Brian Anderson and Nick Neidert. Although salary and a preference for other positional options factored into some of these moves, the most obvious common element is that none of these players performed particularly well in 2022.
The Marlins are clearly getting impatient with losing, especially after last winter’s steps to acquire Garcia, Wendle, Jorge Soler and Jacob Stallings didn’t pan out. Miami’s ceiling in 2023 may hinge in large part on whether or not any of these players can get back on track, and the Fish have to hope that this offseason’s moves have at the very least elevated the talent floor on the roster. The defensive re-alignment will be a major storyline to watch in the early days of the season, but if the experimentation with the gloves and the bats work out, the Marlins could be a sneaky team to watch in the NL wild-card race.