Marlins Offseason Getting Solid Grade

Coming into this offseason, the Marlins needed to upgrade three basic areas – 1B, C, and 3B. They had overhauled their front office and questions abound what exactly this team would do. Would they continue to bottom-feed and be cheap or would they make clear upgrades? If the latter, at what cost would these moves be? Would they trade away their inventory of strong, major-league-ready pitching prospects? Would they – could they – even tempt the free agency route?

We received several answers right away. The Marlins clearly value their pitching prospects very highly and are reluctant to deal them just to make a deal. They want to get back players with team control and they also are not necessarily looking only for stop-gap measures. They also sent a clear message that they wish to build around Giancarlo Stanton and that he is off the block (and never was really on it). The Marlins are also looking for character guys, players who “get it” and want to be a part of a winning system. In potential assets, they are looking for guys with winning pedigrees and who have the experience.

Their catching needs were met via free agency with Jarrod Saltalamacchia who signed and comes over from the champion Red Sox to take over behind the dish for the Fish. Salty was actually one of the prime targets this offseason for teams and the Marlins didn’t waste time focusing in on him as a big part of their offseason. Landing him means the Marlins now have consistency at the catching position and can allow Jeff Mathis to really fill his role as a backup catcher who can call an excellent game. Both backstops will go a long way towards helping develop these young arms and that is really the key to the Marlins potential at returning to the post-season. This is clearly an A grade as the Marlins upgraded their position and did not tap into their most important assets to do it.

At 1B the Marlins replaced Logan Morrison with Garrett Jones in what the team described as “a more proven, consistent player”. In fact, the Marlins brass was very candid in their reasoning with Morrison, admitting they are taking a huge risk in letting a healthy Lomo go because of his offensive potential, but in Jones they feel they are getting a guy who can set a consistent bar in 15-27 home runs per season. Interestingly, the Marlins spent more money to get Jones in at 1B and send Lomo off to Seattle. Jones will cost about $2M for the first portion of his $7.75M 2 year deal while arbitration-eligible Morrison would have cost the Marlins $1.7 roughly. The Marlins opted to better allocate their money on a more proven asset in Jones rather than take another flyer on Lomo as the team has given him 2 years of opportunity despite his knee injuries.

An added bonus to the Marlins’ deal with Seattle was the addition of Carter Capps, a potential backend asset for the bullpen with a plus fastball, and excellent slider. He has a 10.1 K/9 ratio which means he is going to punch out most of his outs but Seattle may have felt he was expendable after a rough 2013 in which he cobbled together a 5.45 ERA while giving up 12 homers in 59 innings of work. The Marlins felt that they can nurse Capps back into a positive asset, “Our scouts identified something in his delivery that we will address immediately, that we think will allow him to return to the dominant form that we saw in 2012″. The deal was made despite offers from reportedly as many as 10 teams interested in Lomo.

The Marlins made this deal to upgrade the offensive production at 1B while also adding a potential asset to their bullpen, possibly to replace Ryan Webb, and the Marlins also get more years of control over Capps contract for the next several years. To do this, it only cost them $300K, plus whatever Capps salary will be (which may still come out under Webb’s asking price). This may not be a flashy move the Marlins’ fans were hoping for, but it does beef up the team’s assets on the field and at the big-league level. This would have to be a shrewd B+. Of course, it could all go to crap if Lomo turns out to be the hitter he was projected and Jones or Capps under perform.

Although never specifically targeted, the Marlins also looked for more potential consistency at 2B when signing FA Rafael Furcal, who had missed all of last season with the Cardinals with an elbow issue. Regarded as one of the best defensive SS to play the game, he will be moved to 2B to pair up with Adeiny Hechavarria in what could be one of the slickest double-play combos to play the game. This means that Derek Dietrich and Donovan Solano are now pushed back towards the bench, which could be a good thing for both players in terms of their development. Solano has utility infielder written all over him and may actually provide more long term value in that capacity. Dietrich, on the other hand, demonstrated pretty good power at his position and although his offense became inconsistent, he does have a plus bat and can field 2B having skill sets similar to that of a Chase Utley. If that is the case, Furcal is a short term solution while the Marlins get more feedback on whether or not Dietrich is the long term answer. The Marlins, meanwhile, get a hungry veteran in Furcal looking to reclaim his career on a one year deal and if all plays out as planned, he could be a trade-able asset while sliding Dietrich into the position in his wake. That said, most likely Furcal offers top of the order speed and a slight upgrade to the offense which, despite how long he stays in Miami, helps extend the lineup and would grade out at a B at the moment.

The Marlins still have to find a solution at 3B – otherwise, this potential offseason doesn’t do a whole lot. In-house solutions have been discussed and Dietrich’s name does resurface but one gets the sense that this was not the Marlins’ ideal plan after all. Juan Uribe was being targeted but his price-range made him a longshot for the Fish, but he re-signed with the Dodgers for 2 years and $14M. Other free agent targets that have been mentioned are veterans Eric Chavez and Michael Young. There are also potential free agent targets in Wilson Betemit, Casey McGehee, and Mat Gamel. As for the trade market, the Marlins have been mentioned in connection with the Cubs in dealing for possibly Mike Olt, the ex-Ranger prospect who is major-league ready at 3B. The Cubs have a lot of 3B prospects at the moment in Olt, Kris Bryant, and Christian Villanueva.

The Cubs become an interesting trading partner. They have ex-Marlin Donnie “The Bat” Murphy playing 3B last season and he had a power explosion at Wrigley hitting 11 HRs in 149 ABs. If one were to look at the depth chart of the future for the Cubs, it would be Bryant, Olt, then Villanueva. Murphy could continue to be a stop-gap until Bryant is deemed ready while Olt could spell time at 1B and 3B; Anthony Rizzo is pretty much entrenched as the starter at 1B though which means Olt could be expendable. Cubs could use some pitching, but it depends on how much the Cubs value Olt in order to get a possible deal done. Joe Frisaro tosses Olt out as a possibility, along with the Red Sox Will Middlebrooks. Either one would cost the Marlins some of their young pitching stock and Olt could be the easier of the two potentials to net as the Cubs already have Rizzo and Bryant pegged in those positions going forward, not to mention Olt could project at a 1B in a few years just in time for Colin Moran to make his jump. For Middlebrooks, the Red Sox would have to sign Stephen Drew to even have that scenario as a possibility.

Speaking of the Cubs, there is the final deal of the offseason so far – Justin Ruggiano for Brian Bogusevic. This was a lateral deal at best, just the Marlins will save money on their 4th OFer and get younger at the position. Both players have similar skill sets but Ruggiano’s 18 home runs will be missed on a team with very few to begin with. That said, getting younger and being a little wiser about where the allocation of money is shows the Marlins are thinking rightly and heading in the right direction – this move should be graded out at a B- because at best the Marlins won’t miss Ruggiano, a guy they picked up off the scrap heap from Houston in the first place.

Overall, the Marlins have made moves, deepened their roster, spent money (gasp!) and improved their offense heading into 2014. How much remains to be seen. Of course, getting a 3B remains critical and one has the feeling the Fish will get that done via a trade. The Fish get a B with a potential for an upgrade depending on what they do with 3B.