“Just Keep Swimming”

They’re almost there. Just a few finishing touches needed.

Of course, I’m talking about the Miami Marlins. I’m not going to pretend to be a huge Miami Marlins fan, but I am a supporter and a watcher from afar. I think they have an intriguing young core and an excellent front office that is never shy to shake things up and make calculated roster moves to add to it.

I guess the Marlins appeared on my radar during the Giancarlo Stanton days. He signed a major deal with the Marlins in 2014 for 13 years which was worth $325 million. Those numbers were astronomical for the Marlins organization but his production at the plate was about to match the enormity of his contract. He won NL MVP in 2017 with an outstanding season at the plate, totalling 59 home runs and 132 runs batted in. Just when you think the Marlins organization would give him a pat on the back and try to put all their chips in around Stanton, they shocked the world and went back to the drawing board. In December 2017, following his MVP season, he was traded to the New York Yankees for second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects, which turned out to be Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. They gave themselves breathing room on the contract as well, agreeing to pay the Yankees $30 million; $5 million biannually in 2026, 2027, and 2028. At the time, this was an “excuse me” moment because it seemed that the Marlins gave away their MVP for practically nothing, but in retrospect, this was probably the smartest, gutsiest move they’ve made in the history of their franchise.

Being a Yankees fan, I can come out and confirm that the Marlins won that trade. Following the move to New York, Stanton had seen a decrease in production, but was still respectable in the 2018 season with 38 home runs and 100 runs batted in. Then in 2019, injuries began to plague Stanton and the New York Yankees aspirations to utilize a former MVP for his absurd batting capabilities. Since being traded to the Yankees, Stanton has only played in 250 games in 4 seasons. Shipping Stanton to the Bronx in 2017, at the time, seemed ridiculous to Marlins fans everywhere. But it was as if the Miami Marlins organization got a telepathic message from the future about Stanton’s injury vulnerabilities. It was a very risky, but necessary, chess move and it is starting to work out in the favor of Miami.

Let’s fast forward to 2021. The potential of the young core that the Miami Marlins have developed and nurtured over the last 4 years brings a tear to my eye. The Marlins are playing great baseball this year, but the results so far have not amassed to what they hoped for or what is expected with the roster put in place. Let’s break this down into three categories: front office/management, pitching, and the field.

FRONT OFFICE/MANAGEMENT

The Giancarlo Stanton trade gave the Miami Marlins breathing room financially to recourse and plan out where they wanted to take this ball club. When Derek Jeter, former New York Yankee and most recent Hall of Fame inductee, traded Stanton to the Yankees, it rubbed some people the wrong way. Many people, including myself, felt that Jeter was simply blessing his former franchise, but in many ways, he was just giving himself a clear plate to work with. With the Stanton contract not staring him in the face at every corner, he could begin to give his insight on rebuilding this team from the ground up for future contention. I’m not going to pretend to say that Derek Jeter is the end-all-be-all of the Miami Marlins baseball decisions, but it would be ridiculous to assume that he has no involvement in team decisions and player movement. He has won 5 World Series as a player so he knows how a championship team is assembled. It takes time and execution to put the perfect pieces together that complement one another in order to win. 

The first piece of the puzzle starts with the front office and then it’s a trickle down system from there. In the managerial position, the Marlins elected Don Mattingly in 2016. He is a man with immense baseball knowledge who brings a winner’s mentality with him. He served as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2011 to 2015 and accumulated a managerial record of 446-363. Mattingly could never seem to get his team over the “hump” in the postseason, losing in the NLCS to the Cardinals in 2013, and losing in the NLDS in 2014 and 2015. Now, Mattingly is faced with a new task: turning a struggling Marlins ball club into a team that can compete for the NL East division. He has all the intangibles: himself as a manager, a front office that has provided their support to him, and a team that, on paper, has the potential to snatch a NL Wild Card position at the end of the 2021 season. As long as injuries don’t steer the Marlins away from their goal entirely, they have the capability to secretly climb the ranks of the National League.

PITCHING

The rotation and bullpen of this team are a true highlight to the success they have, and that is even with a few crucial pieces plucked away. They are 7th in the MLB in ERA, 7th in WHIP, and have only allowed 55 home runs so far this season, which is 1st in the major leagues. There are many names that truly excite me for the future of the Marlins like Pablo Lopez, Jordan Holloway, Trevor Rogers, Elieser Hernandez, Yimi Garcia, and Sandy Alcantara. Unfortunately, Hernandez landed on the 60-day IL in early June with a quadriceps injury, which may have some lasting effects for the Marlins. Holloway went down in May with a groin injury, but is expecting to make his return to the rotation soon. I am expecting to see an increase in production in Alcantara after a less-than-expected first half to the season, hosting a 4-6 record with 23 walks and an ERA of 3.09 in 93.1 innings pitched. When healthy, this pitching core can be some of the very best in the MLB, which will be a requirement to be a successful ball team this year. 

There is one looming question that picks at me every time I talk about the Marlins: where in the hell is Sixto Sanchez? I know he is recovering from a lengthy shoulder injury and is almost ready to come back to the majors, but with Hernandez on the 60-day IL, this would have been the best time to plug in Sanchez if they could have. Once the injury dust settles for this pitching staff, I have only two words for the rest of the league: look out.

THE FIELD

Looking at this ball club from a slight distance, this is where the team needs a spruce-up in order to reach the postseason again. They are just 22nd in the majors in runs produced, 21st in on-base percentage, 28th in slugging, and 26th in home runs. These numbers almost halfway through a season are alarming and if a playoff push in the second half of the season is an option the Marlins wish to exercise, either the players need to step up the bats or a move may need to be made at the All-Star break. Don’t get me wrong, the Starling Marte injury is a major factor to this lack of offensive production, as well as another key piece in Brian Anderson. 

There needs to be more support offensively for Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Starling Marte for the bats to truly complement the pitching, which will in turn create a successful ball team. The Marlins are one piece away from going to the next level and competing for the National League Wild Card spot or even the NL East on a consistent basis. With Marte hopefully remaining healthy for the remainder of the season, this team can see what they have offensively and make adjustments in the off-season or take another risk and move players around at the All-Star break to get that last piece of the puzzle to push for the playoffs.

Some may look at the Miami Marlins being 5th in the NL East and say that this is as expected, “the Marlins are the Marlins”, and the list usually goes on. But they don’t know Miami. Even being 5th in the division, they only remain 8 games off of the top seeded New York Mets and with tons of season to gain ground. Looking at their run differential in comparison with their record is the biggest shock to me so far as we approach the halfway point in the 2021 season. They are +18 in their runs for/runs against differential, which is one shy of the division leading Mets. This tells any person with statistical sense that this team should be winning more games than they have. And they will.

Lastly, I firmly believe that the Marlins have what it takes to really shock the world this season and for seasons to come. I am beyond excited to see the Marlins top prospect Sixto Sanchez back to work on the mound. One more bat on the offense would surely help them win more games, but you can’t ignore how much the Marte injury impacted this ball club. With him back in the lineup and looking to pick up where he left off, I believe the Marlins are capable of being hot in the months of July and August. They need to take advantage of the surprisingly mediocrity of the Phillies, Braves, and Nationals in the division and I believe they will do so. Mattingly can guide this offense to take even more pressure off of the pitching squad, which will translate into immediate victories and success. All the pieces of the puzzles are on the table and set. To the Miami Marlins, I simply say: just keep swimming.

Brandon McFayden

South Florida Tribune

Potty Mouth Sports

https://linktr.ee/pottymouthsports

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