Published March 24, 2014
Philadelphia, PA – (SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Marlins' 2013 campaign began with an offseason fire sale.
It ended with Henderson Alvarez's no-hitter.
So there's that.
What happened in between was a lot of losses for the Marlins, who went just 62-100 under first year manager Mike Redmond as they reached triple digits in setbacks for the first time since 1998.
The Marlins also had gutted their roster ahead of the '98 season, but at least they had won the World Series the previous year. That wasn't the case going into 2013 and in the end, the Marlins finished with the worst record in the National League while posting their third straight last-place finish in the NL East.
It wasn't all bad in Miami as outfielder Giancarlo Stanton shook off an injury-plagued season to hit 24 homers in 116 games. And most importantly, he finished the year still in a Marlins uniform.
Starter Jose Fernandez emerged as one of the top young pitchers in baseball, winning a Rookie of the Year award, and Steve Cishek led a solid bullpen by posting 34 saves.
Those positives weren't enough to outweigh the bad, namely an offense that finished last in the league in runs scored, homers, batting average and slugging percentage among a number of other categories.
In response, the Marlins were very active in free agency, though it didn't feature many eye-catching names. The biggest was catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, signed for three years.
While all the moves the Marlins made last summer involved getting prospects for the long rebuild, this past offseason saw management sprinkle in a number of free agents over 30 in attempt to move forward. Those brought in include infielder Rafael Furcal, first baseman Garrett Jones and third baseman Casey McGehee.
With a solid foundation in the rotation and bullpen, the Marlins are hoping those grizzled additions can get the offense headed in the right direction.
2013 FINISH (62-100) - 5th Place (NL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C), Rafael Furcal (2B), Garrett Jones (1B), Carlos Marmol (RHP), Casey McGehee (3B), Jeff Baker (INF/OF), Brian Bogusevic (OF), Carter Capps (RHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Logan Morrison (OF), Justin Ruggiano (OF), Juan Pierre (OF), Placido Polanco (3B), Matt Diaz (OF), Austin Kearns (OF), Chad Qualls (RHP), Chris Coghlan (OF), Ryan Webb (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Rafael Furcal (2B), Christian Yelich (LF), Giancarlo Stanton (RF), Garrett Jones (1B), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C), Marcell Ozuna (CF), Casey McGehee (3B), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Jose Fernandez (RHP), Jacob Turner (RHP), Nathan Eovaldi (RHP), Henderson Alvarez (RHP), Tom Koehler (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Steve Cishek (RHP)
MANAGER: Mike Redmond
HAVE THE MARLINS IMPROVED ENOUGH ON OFFENSE?
The offensive numbers were ugly in 2013 -- a .231 team average to go along with just 95 home runs, 485 RBI and just 513 runs scored.
Only Stanton and Justin Ruggiano (traded to the Chicago Cubs this offseason for outfielder Brian Bogusevic) hit more than 20 home runs for the Marlins last season and Stanton led the team with 62 RBI despite playing in just 116 games.
It isn't a big surprise then that the Marlins overhauled their offense to go around the core of Stanton, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (a defensive stud who hit just .227) and young outfielder Christian Yelich.
Miami will look to Furcal to add a spark to the top of the order while also asking the veteran to shift from his normal shortstop position to second base. Furcal missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but is a career .281 hitter.
The 28-year-old Saltalamacchia gives the Marlins stability behind the plate as well as some balance in the middle of the order, while Jones and McGehee were added for some potential pop.
Jones has a trio of 20-homer seasons under his belt, but will need to find a way to hit left-handed pitchers to avoid another platoon situation, while McGehee is four years removed from a 23-homer, 104-RBI season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
McGehee did not play in the majors last season, but did manage to hit 27 homers and drove in 90 runs while playing in Japan.
The Marlins lineup certainly has more potential than last season to drive in runs, but it also comes with risk.
WHAT DO THE MARLINS HAVE BEHIND FERNANDEZ?
Miami has already crossed the need for an ace off its rebuild list thanks to Fernandez, an All-Star who burst onto the scene with a 12-6 record, 2.19 earned run average and 187 strikeouts over 28 starts. His bid for a 200- strikeout season and possible Cy Young award ended when he was shut down in mid-September after throwing 172 2/3 innings, but he should have a slightly longer leash this season.
Not counting Ricky Nolasco, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the season, the Marlins had four starters end the season with a sub-4.00 ERA, even more promising due to the fact that all four were 23 or younger.
Jacob Turner won just three times in 20 starts, but had a solid 3.74 ERA, while Nathan Eovaldi's power arm got him 78 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings.
Alvarez also showed promise and Tom Koehler is an adequate option as a fifth starter.
Starting pitching was certainly a strength for the Marlins last season and could be the reason it doesn't reach 100 losses this year.
ARE THERE TRADES COMING?
While the Marlins won't be looking to overhaul things again this season, a rebuild certainly brings about change.
All eyes will be on Stanton, who is perhaps the most affordable power bat in the game right now and could probably land the Marlins a bounty if he stays healthy and produces.
Miami would love to keep Stanton as he isn't eligible to be a free agent until after 2016, but salary arbitration did net him $6.5 million and the value remains high for the 24-year-old.
The biggest reason he could get dealt is his hesitance on signing a long-term deal with Miami as he wants to see the franchise commit to winning.
Odds are that Stanton finishes the season with the Marlins, but that may not be the case for Cishek, who figures to see his salary increase through arbitration if he can follow up last season's 34-save effort.
Cishek has a career 2.48 ERA in 185 games and is just 27.
The Marlins appeared to find their safety valve if they move Cishek, but it is a risky one in reliever Carlos Marmol.
Marmol has closing experience with the Chicago Cubs, but struggles with command. Still, if the Marlins aren't going anywhere by late July, he can fill the role for Cishek.
X-FACTOR: CHRISTIAN YELICH
One factor that may have stayed the Marlins' hand in free agency was keeping a role open for Yelich, one of the top prospects in baseball. The 22-year-old gave Miami a taste of what he can do by hitting .288 with four homers and 16 RBI in 62 games at the end of last season. The left fielder is projected to bat second for Redmond behind Furcal and in front of Stanton. If Yelich can be a consistent presence at that spot, Miami should see its run projection take a spike upwards.
Things may get better for the Marlins in 2014, but the club is still a long way from competing for any kind of playoff spot. In fact, given that the Marlins finished 34 games out of first place last season, even a solid improvement could still land the Fish in last place for a fourth consecutive season. Fernandez and the rest of the rotation will keep Miami in more than a few ball games and any sort of step forward by the offense should get the Marlins into the 70-win range. That's about the best the club can hope for this season.