Led by a new general manager, the Marlins overhauled their bullpen and added a group of low-cost veterans they hope can supplement a growing core of young big leaguers.
Major League Signings
Trades and Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
The Marlins’ winter began with the news that longtime president of baseball ops Michael Hill would depart the club after the two sides weren’t able to come to terms on an extension. Hill went on to take a job in the league offices, while the Marlins made history by tabbing Kim Ng as MLB’s first female general manager.
Ng has been considered a potential GM for years now, having previously served as an assistant GM with multiple clubs in addition to holding a prominent post within the league offices herself. She’s interviewed for several openings, and she’ll now be given the keys to a promising, up-and-coming club fresh off a surprise postseason berth. A return to the playoffs will be a tall task in a stacked division and with fewer postseason spots up for grabs in 2021.
As is often the case when new front office regimes take over, the first winter was a relatively quiet one under Ng. The Marlins were connected to come notable names — free agent Marcell Ozuna and trade candidate Willson Contreras among them — but the moves the team actually did make were far more measured when all was said and done.
Some of that is surely due to the presence of intriguing youngsters at various positions on the roster, while some is likely due to ownership’s commitment to limit spending early in its tenure. Marlins CEO Derek Jeter sought to distance the organization from a leaked payroll projection plan in his first winter on the job — one in which payroll was to drop from $115M in 2017 to the low $80Ms in 2019-20. However, the Marlins haven’t done much to suggest that plan was not accurate, and last year’s revenue losses couldn’t have accelerated plans to spend.
That being said, the Fish still made a handful of notable additions, beginning with the signing of righty Anthony Bass to a modest two-year pact. Bass has done well in reviving his career after a nice run in Japan, and he parlayed a strong showing in Toronto last year into a guaranteed multi-year pact.
Bass is the favorite to close games in Miami this year, and while he’s not the prototypical high-strikeout, high-leverage reliever, Bass fits a similar profile to that of 2020 closer Brandon Kintzler. The 33-year-old Bass sports a sinker that averages around 95 mph, and last season’s 62.3% ground-ball rate was the 10th-highest among the 490 pitchers who threw at least 10 innings. If you up the minimum to 20 innings pitched, Bass ranked fourth among all MLB pitchers.
While Bass was the most expensive addition to the team’s bullpen, he was far from the only one. In fact, the Marlins added several relievers with a similar profile to Bass, suggesting that while they knew they wouldn’t be able to spend on the market’s top strikeout artists, they’re confident they can build a bullpen that thrives on grounders and weak contact.
Inking journeyman lefty Ross Detwiler to a big league deal came as something of a surprise, but at $850K, the price was minimal. Like Bass, Detwiler was flat-out elite in ground-ball production last year, turning in a 58.3% mark that ranked 30th of the 490 pitchers with 10 or more innings. Dylan Floro, acquired in a trade with the Dodgers, ranked 44th on that same list. Adam Cimber, picked from DFA limbo in a deal that sent cash to Cleveland, was tied for 74th at 52.4%. Rule 5 trade acquisition Zach Pop has a career grounder rate north of 60% in the minors.
The exceptions to the ground-ball rule were righty John Curtiss, acquired in a small trade with the Rays, and Rule 5 pick Paul Campbell. Curtiss hasn’t established himself in the big leagues over a large sample but was the stingiest reliever in the game in terms of walks last year. Campbell is a spin-rate darling who doesn’t miss as many bats as one would expect.
Miami completely overhauled its bullpen mix without spending much money or surrendering much in the way of prospects, as Ng and her staff bucked the industry trend of paying up for late-inning whiffs. The Marlins aren't not the only club to invest in this area this winter — the A’s also went heavy into weak contact, at least prior to inking Trevor Rosenthal — but it’ll be telling to see if the club succeeds with this approach. There are too many weak contact/ground-ball specialists here to think it’s mere coincidence, so it seems like the Marlins made a deliberate bet on a skill set they felt was undervalued.
Beyond that slew of bullpen additions, the Marlins’ primary add was former division-rival slugger Adam Duvall. Non-tendered by the Braves on the heels of a productive 2020 season, Duvall now figures to slot in as Miami’s everyday right fielder, with 2020 deadline pickup Starling Marte in center and 2019-20 offseason signee Corey Dickerson in left field. It’s a veteran group that ought to provide some value on both sides of the ball. Duvall is a low-OBP, high-powered slugger with a strong glove in the outfield corners, and the Marlins landed him at a rather reasonable $5M rate for the upcoming season.
That the Marlins are trotting out a trio of veterans to serve as their starting outfield in 2021 highlights the disappointment stemming from a group of prospects once considered to be the future there. Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, Monte Harrison and Jesus Sanchez were all billed as top prospects at various times and were all key pieces in the Marlins’ last tear-down. To this point, none of the quartet has solidified himself as a big leaguer or really even come close to doing so. Each of Brinson, Harrison and Sanchez at least has a minor league option remaining, so there’s still some leash yet to break out.
Sierra, meanwhile, is out of options and struggling in spring training. We’ll find out before long whether the restructured front office is as bullish on his outlook as the regime that acquired him as part of the Marcell Ozuna trade with the Cardinals (alongside Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen). Miami already parted with one semi-notable piece of its rebuild haul, as righty Jordan Yamamoto was sent to the Mets after being designated for assignment to clear space on the roster for Bass. Yamamoto was considered the fourth-best piece in the Christian Yelich swap behind Brinson, Harrison and Isan Diaz, but he was the only one of the four to find some reasonable big league success to this point.
Elsewhere in the lineup, there’s a good bit of continuity. Brian Anderson will reprise his role at third base and in the heart of the order, providing the Marlins with a solid, underrated cornerstone. He and the former front office discussed an extension last spring, but Ng suggested over the winter that she wants a chance to evaluate Anderson firsthand before determining whether to sign him to a long-term deal. The third baseman is currently controlled through the 2023 season.
Team leader Miguel Rojas is back at shortstop, and he’ll pair with Anderson to form a strong defensive tandem on the left side of the infield — one that bodes well for the Marlins’ grounder-heavy bullpen. At second base, the hope is that Diaz can cement his spot after opting out of most of the 2020 season, but he’ll compete for time with veteran Jon Berti and have prospect Jazz Chisholm looming as well. Jesus Aguilar and Garrett Cooper will hold things down at first base, and Cooper can play some corner outfield should an injury arise. Cooper drew some offseason trade interest once Duvall was signed, but the Marlins opted not to move him.
Speaking of offseason trade interest, the Marlins’ catcher position was the source of some intrigue early in the winter. Reports of the team’s interest in Contreras led to plenty of speculation and even elicited a reaction from Contreras himself on social media, but a deal never came to pass. Miami was linked to some other options behind the dish, mostly in more speculative fashion, but in the end they’ll give another chance to Jorge Alfaro and Chad Wallach. It seems fair to believe that pairing doesn’t take a step forward in 2021, changes could be on the horizon.
As it stands, Sandy Leon was the only backstop option brought in from outside the organization, and that came on a minor league deal. He’s one of just two prominent names in camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, joining hometown “kid” Gio Gonzalez. The veteran lefty inked a minor league deal not long after camp began and is in the mix for a rotation spot. Given every team’s need for depth and innings to exercise caution ramping pitchers back up, Gonzalez ought to have a decent chance to make the club. He’s competing with prospects like Trevor Rogers, Nick Neidert and Braxton Garrett for that spot, but he’d be a sensible add to the Opening Day roster even as more of a long reliever.
All in all, it was a relatively quiet winter for the Marlins. The bullpen has been turned over considerably, but much of the club’s fate lies with the development of burgeoning young rotation cogs like Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and the tantalizing Sixto Sanchez. Elieser Hernandez, fresh off a strong but abbreviated showing in 2020, is likely to start plenty of games this season as well. It’s an interesting and exciting mix of young arms for the Fish — one that could very well be the foundation of a more competitive wave of clubs than we’ve seen for years in Miami, with new ownership and new management now fully entrenched. The odds are against them for a playoff berth in 2021, but the future still looks bright.