The Miami Marlins began the 2019 season in a worse position than they did in 2018. After dealing their biggest stars to other squads, they were then forced to watch as Christian Yelich won the 2018 MVP, as Giancarlo Stanton played in the postseason for the first time in his career, and they got to watch the Atlanta Braves host a playoff series.
And somehow, things felt more bleak than usual.
But honestly? That’s okay.
The Marlins are going through some serious changes within their franchise, and often what might seem like a minor shift, is actually a major change.
So let’s talk about Lewis Brinson.
Lewis Brinson is not a good baseball player. But all of 2019, the Marlins were forced to make him work. In response, the 24-year-old Brinson hit just below the Mendoza line, notching only 26 of his 76 hits for extra bases in his first season with the Fish.
Once hailed as the main piece coming to Florida in the Yelich/Brewers deal, Brinson looks like a career minor leaguer at this point. Even when sent back down to Triple-A New Orleans in 2019, Brinson failed to meet his north-of-.300 numbers from his previous stints in the extremely hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. In 2019, he’d finish the season with a .178 average in the majors. Not ideal for the Fish.
When 38-year-old Curtis “How Can You Not Like Him?” Granderson is outplaying you, it might be time to rethink some things. And with a team-lowest -2.2 WAR, it might be time to rethink Lewis Brinson playing in Miami.
Which is why I want to talk about the subtle shifts in the organization.
The Marlins had a great year for their young pitchers, in many different ways. The average age of a Miami Marlin starter was 25.1-years-old, and that number would probably be lower if it weren’t for the four games started by 32-year-old geriatric Hector Noesi.
Sandy Alcantara had the best year on the mound for Miami. The 23-year-old right-hander finished the year with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.318 WHIP, the only Miami starter with a sub-4.00 ERA. While Alcantara’s 6-14 record doesn’t shed light on anything of value to his season, for a pitcher on a terrible team, Alcantara sure did put up a fight. If it weren’t for a tough August where he faced the Braves twice and pitched at Coors field, it’s possible Alcantara’s numbers wouldn’t appear so swollen. But then again, when you represent the Marlins at the All-Star Game, you’re doing something right.
Another bright spot for the year was Caleb Smith. The former 14th round selection by the Yankees pitched his first full season in 2019, and at first, things looked to be going well, perhaps a little too well. Smith ended the first half with an incredibly solid 4-4 record, 3.50 ERA, and a very nice 1.014 WHIP. The second half wouldn’t be so kind. Going 6-7, and posting a 5.42 ERA with a ballooned 1.414 WHIP, Smith’s first full-frame fell off the charts.
But then again, 10-11 and 6-14 records from your two best pitchers is not indicative of their skills, but more a sign of the team on their jersey. These two will be back, and they’ll get better as time goes on.
In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say it: This rotation has the potential and youth-driven talent of the 2015 New York Mets, with possibly more talent than they know what do with.
Zac Gallen is a perfect example of exactly that. Beginning the season in Triple-A New Orleans, Gallen was electric. Posting a 9-1 record with a 1.77 ERA, and an otherworldy 0.712 WHIP in 14 starts, Gallen’s Marlins debut was hotly anticipated. Remember when I said that Brinson was garbage in a very hitter-friendly league? That’s the same league Gallen was suffocating hitters in.
So, Gallen’s a guy you hang onto right? Build your rotation around? Replace the gaping hole left by José Fernandez?
No way, you flip him to Arizona for Jazz Chisolm and bolster your future.
That’s the subtle shift happening within the Marlins organization. It’s not about building from the ground up, it’s about exponential growth on the move. The Marlins could have kept Gallen and been successful in the future, but instead, they saw his value as a way for them to add another roster piece for 2024. Should Chisolm work out, the Marlins could potentially have another roster full of studs like the one they sold off, but without the insane Jeff Loria aided price tag.
Embrace the Darkness
That being said, the Marlins will not be good for a while, and even then it’s uncertain if they’ll truly be able to compete with teams who are willing to spend rather than grow. However, in the meantime, Miami can do something even more important: play spoiler.
The Philadelphia Phillies made moves in the offseason, with all of the signs pointing to October Baseball, yet they finished the season with a clean .500 record. In a hotly contested division, one that would eventually produce the 2019 World Series Champion, you can’t finish .500 and say it wasn’t a disaster.
The real disaster came from their time playing against the Marlins. The other NL East teams combined for a 43-14 record against the Fish, good enough for a .747 win percentage, all of them posting double-digit wins. The Phillies weren’t so lucky, going 9-10 against Miami.
If the Phillies took as little as four more games, their season looks a hell of a lot more different and it’s possible things change down the stretch for them. However, the Marlins played spoiler, and crushed their dreams, even in a meaningless Game 162, beating Philly to give them an awful 81-81 finish.
And that’s what they need to become over the next few years while this team gets sculpted into a contender. The Marlins need to become pesky heartbreakers.
Look for more of that in 2020.
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