I find the Miami Marlins to be one of the three most interesting teams in the majors this season because of a certain hitting coach and superstars Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. But can the front office stop messing things up? Can the Marlins keep their stars healthy for once?
Miami was a chic pick last season to contend in the NL East but regressed to a 71-91 record and third in the division. It was the franchise's fifth straight losing campaign and 12th in a row missing the playoffs since taking the 2003 World Series.
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But sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward, and this poorly-run franchise might finally have it right. The team fired Manager Mike Redmond during last season and then somehow let General Manager Dan Jennings leave the front office to manage. As expected, that was a disaster with the team going 55-69 under Jennings. He actually thought he was getting his GM job back, but of course the team then fired him. Who would keep someone who demotes himself?
The upgrades on the coaching staff should be huge, and if the Marlins coaches ever played another team's staff in a pick-up baseball game, then Miami would win for sure. The team hired former Yankees great Don Mattingly as manager. He was a terrific 446-363 in five seasons with the Dodgers and led the team to three straight NL West titles. The problem was that Mattingly was 8-11 in the postseason. Miami would be happy just getting there. Mattingly is the Marlins' eighth manager since 2010 and the 15th since the franchise began play in 1993. Just five of those 15 have managed at least 100 games with the Marlins.
And Mattingly hired Barry Bonds as the team's hitting coach. Was Bonds a drug cheat? Unquestionably, but there's no question he could hit like few others in MLB history. Last year, the Marlins ranked to last in the majors in runs and home runs, and last in walks. Bonds was pretty decent in those areas as a player. I can't wait to see what he does with Stanton, who has more pure power than anyone alive right now.
Miami opens the season Tuesday with an interleague home matchup against Detroit.
Marlins 2016 Projected Lineup
Miami made one of the best trades of last offseason in acquiring All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon from the Dodgers. A lot of people thought Gordon would regress a bit more toward his mean numbers, but he was even better in 2015, hitting .333 with 58 steals. He won the NL batting crown and led in steals and hits. He was the first NL player since Jackie Robinson in 1949 to win the batting and steals crowns in the same season. Gordon also became the first NL player since Honus Wagner in 1908 to lead the majors in hits and stolen bases. The Marlins smartly locked Gordon up long-term this offseason.
Gordon might be the best leadoff hitter in baseball and is followed by solid veteran third baseman Martin Prado (.288, 9 HRs, 63 RBIs) and left fielder Christian Yelich (.300, 7 HRs, 44 RBIs). Yelich took a step back last season but he's still just 24 and the sky is the limit.
Then comes Stanton. It's simply all about health with him. Stanton has played more than 145 games only once in the past four seasons. He was off to a monster start in 2015 with 27 homers and 67 RBIs in 74 games before suffering a wrist fracture that was only supposed to sideline him 4-6 weeks but ended up being the rest of the season.
Center fielder Marcell Ozuna (.259, 10 HRs, 44 RBIs) also regressed in 2015 but also has star power. This can be the best offensive outfield in the majors. The rest of the lineup: first baseman Justin Bour (.262, 23 HRs, 73 RBIs), catcher J.T. Realmuto (.259, 10 HRs, 47 RBIs) and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.281, 5 HRs, 48 RBIs).
This has a chance to be a dynamic lineup.
Marlins 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
Assuming Stanton is playing when Fernandez faces the Tigers in Miami's second regular-season game next Wednesday, it will mark the first time the two All-Stars will appear on the same lineup card since May 9, 2014. Is there a better pitcher/hitter duo on the same team in baseball? Fernandez started last season late off Tommy John surgery but looked just fine once he got going with a 6-1 record, 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 64.2 innings. The shackles should be off him now. But you will continue to hear trade rumors because Fernandez's agent is Scott Boras, and he and the Marlins' front office don't see eye-to-eye. Fernandez can become a free agent after the 2018 season. The Marlins would extract a monster haul if they did put him out there.
Miami's big offseason acquisition was underrated Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen. He went 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA with Baltimore last season and should put up better numbers in the weaker NL. The Marlins needed a starter. They ranked ninth in the NL in rotation ERA in 2015 and returned just one starter -- Tom Koehler -- who made more than 20 starts. Koehler (11-14, 4.08) ERA slots in at No. 3, followed by probably Jarred Cosart (2-5, 4.52 ERA) and someone of Edwin Jackson, David Phelps or Adam Conley. It's probably going to be the lefty Conley.
The Marlins took a hit early this spring when projected closer Carter Capps was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery. Capps had a 1.16 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 31 innings with a fastball that averaged 98.05 mph. So by default, A.J. Ramos (32 saves, 2.30 ERA) will keep that job.
Marlins Futures Odds
At BetOnline , Miami is +6600 to win the World Series, +3300 for the NL pennant, +800 in the NL East and has an "over/under" wins total of 79.5, with the over a -130 favorite. Stanton is the +600 favorite to lead the majors in homers and +650 to win NL MVP. He has a homers total of 36.5, with the over a -135 favorite. Fernandez is +1200 to win the NL Cy Young. He has a total of 11.5 wins.
Marlins 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Miami to finish 80-82 and third in the NL East, nine games behind the first-place Mets. If Stanton plays 150 games and Fernandez makes 30 starts, this team will finish with a winning record. I can't project injuries so simply by going with that idea, go over the wins total and over Stanton's homer total. He should win the home-run title barring injury. It's too bad the team can't stick him at DH more to save him, but it is what it is. Over Fernandez wins.
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