With Competition Tightening in NL East, Marlins Look For Sustainability

The Nationals won the division last season built on the strength of young pitching and strong offensive assets like Bryce Harper. The Braves are looking to reclaim their ownership of the NL East by signing the Upton brothers this offseason to boost up their offense and defense. The Phillies are always looking for ways to improve and they attempted to do so via a questionable trade with Texas for Michael Young. The Mets traded away their Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, to get a stud catching prospect from the Blue Jays to build a future for their team.

Where does that leave the Marlins?

The Nats, winning 98 games last season, are clearly still the class of the division. They have the best arms and are deep on the field as well. The Braves tried to make a big jump in signing the Uptons, and their pitching can always be expected to be solid. The competition at the top has gotten tougher while the Mets and the Phillies are looking to regroup. The Mets cashed out their Cy Young talent to get Travis D’Arnaud as their backstop for the future and the Phillies still have a pretty formidable starting rotation on paper. So as of right now, it looks like the Marlins are looking up in their division and not necessarily looking to rise up in the standings.

Yet, there is a plan and the Marlins realized something after spending over $100M last offseason on flashy free agent names – it wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t true to their identity. Sure, fans are going to be upset and feel like they were betrayed. How could then not after pulling a ‘just kidding’ after barely one season? Other teams made big changes to payroll heavy assets, but escaped the critical swath of pen and ink in the media.

In order for the Marlins to compete not just for one year, like a blip on the radar screen, but more long term, they have to rebuild. They have to build a strong foundation and you do that by grabbing as much younger talent as you can. This is done for two basic reasons: one, it is cheaper to stock up on young talent and two, you have a chance to rebuild the culture.

The Marlins picked the right man for the job in Mike Redmond. We all know about his connections to this franchise but his experience in coaching younger players will be critical, too. After all, this team does have a lot of younger players and having a manager who can relate to them will help in the marathon-like MLB season.

But the foundation has to go beyond just the man making the lineup cards each day. You need stronger pitching, defense, and hitting. The young arms that the Marlins have acquired over the past season point the way. Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez were all on different teams last season and not options the Marlins had in-house. Now, they will be expected to log about 600 innings over the course of the 2013 season as Chuck Hernandez looks on and guides them. Although the Marlins did bring in some veteran long shots, it seems that Wade LeBlanc, who impressed last Spring Training, should get the nod to fill out the rotation. With familiar face Ricky Nolasco taking over as staff ace, the Marlins have to find a way to also replace the near 400IP from Mark Buerhle and Josh Johnson from last season. If for some reason the starters falter, the Marlins do have options like Jose Fernandez ready to step in – who just may be 2013 version of Dontrelle Willis in terms of making the transition and impact at the MLB level. A guy, mind you, who was scouted by Chuck Hernandez.

Perry Hill makes his return and looks bring the defense back from the dead. The Marlins had a slick glove in Jose Reyes, who is now one of the departed, but the Marlins got back Adeiny Hechavarria who can replace Reyes defensively. Logan Morrison, whatever his fate, moves out of LF and back to more familiar territory to 1B. Placido Polanco takes over at 3B, who is gold-glove caliber (if he can stay healthy). In fact, both Polanco and Juan Pierre add by subtraction as they both come over from the Phillies.

As for the offense, well, this is Giancarlo Stanton’s team in that regard. His 37 home runs and .608 SLG% were impressive especially considering he missed 38 games. Stanton projects to get 45 home runs at that 2012 rate. But who will protect him in the lineup? One thing is for sure, the Marlins are looking to get back to that old formula of speed on the basebaths. They brought back Pierre and now added Chone Figgins as a possible Emilio Bonifacio replacement as a utility player with speed that can play OF to IF and run everywhere between.

Pitching, speed, defense, and timely hitting. If you can do those things, you have a more stable game plan in place to win game to game and from season to season. As a younger team, the Marlins will be expected to put the right kind of culture in place with coaching from Redmond, Hernandez, defensive-guru Hill, and a former Yankee 1B Tito Martinez. The scouting focus is always to get more pitching depth but more importantly the organizational focus is about building with a strong foundation and not through free agency. Free agency has to be a means to supplement your team. The direction the Marlins have chosen is a more sustainable one, albeit a controversial one in light of this past season.