Wait 'Til Next Year: Miami Marlins
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait 'Til Next Year series.
Current Record: 52-86 (.377, 5th in the NL East)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 3
What went right in 2013: Jose Fernandez, the team's top prospect, made the club out of spring training despite never pitching above High-A, and, at the age of 20, emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Since start of June, he has gone 8-3 with a 1.61 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings over 16 starts. For the season, he is third among qualified major league pitchers with a 2.33 ERA and 9.8 K/9 and fourth with a 1.00 WHIP. He's likely to win the National League Rookie of the Year award and will be among the favorites for the Cy Young award heading into next season at the age of 21.
There is a huge drop off from Fernandez to the other things that went right for the Marlins this year. Righty Jacob Turner, who is just a year older than Fernandez and was acquired from the Tigers in last year's deadline deal that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit, has posted a tidy 3.13 ERA in 17 starts, albeit with poor peripherals. Miami's pitching as a whole was a tick above league average, allowing just 4.06 runs per game compared to the NL average of 4.09. Of course, the team's ERA of 3.58 (compared to a league average of 3.76) inflates to 3.95 if Fernandez is removed.
The team's second-best prospect, 21-year-old Christian Yelich, took over leftfield in late July and has acquitted himself well. Prior to that, the Marlins had a fluky performance spike in June, going 17-10 from May 31 to July 1, a .630 winning percentage over a month of games that included a 4-2 mark against the Cardinals and Braves, the only winning teams they faced during that stretch.
Also, Fish fans must have enjoyed a nice bit of schadenfreude watching the Blue Jays spend all season in the AL East basement. Among the top names sent from Miami to Toronto in last December's monster trade, Jose Reyes lost most of the first half of the season to injury, Josh Johnson was alternately injured and awful, and Mark Buehrle went 5-7 with a 4.83 ERA in his first 20 starts for the city that banned his dog.
What went wrong in 2013: Coming into the season, it seemed like the only reason to watch the Marlins this season was going to be 23-year-old budding superstar Giancarlo Stanton, but after getting off to a slow start due to a sore shoulder, Stanton pulled a hamstring on April 30 and missed five weeks. Even his .255/.372/.491 line since his return has been disappointing, and given that he missed a month due to knee surgery last year, one has to wonder if fragility is going to be an issue for the hulking slugger whose 18 home runs this year are a career-low.
Without Stanton propping it up, Miami's offense has been historically bad. As a whole, the Marlins have hit .231/.292/.336, which translates to a team OPS+ of 72. Only four teams have ever posted a worse collective OPS+, and the most recent of those was the 1924 Boston Braves. The Marlins have scored 3.25 runs per game this season. The second-worst offense in baseball has scored 3.77, a mark achieved by both the Phillies and White Sox thus far. At one point Miami went 37 innings without scoring a run, the longest scoring drought in 28 years, and its season-long offensive woes haunted rookie manager Mike Redmond's dreams.
Overall outlook: Fernandez has as bright a future as any pitcher in baseball, but doubts remain about the Marlins' ability to build a team around him and what they hope is a healthy and productive Stanton, who is under team control for three more years. Fernandez, Yelich and Turner, not to mention 22-year-old centerfielder Jake Marisnick, who was acquired in the Toronto trade but has struggled since his major league debut in late July, are the first wave of a talented farm system that should continue to yield fruit. The big questions are, Will owner Jeffrey Loria have the patience to build a contending team and will he spend what it takes to fill in the holes as they develop? History says he won't. Stanton's arbitration, which starts this winter, and looming free agency after the 2016 season will be the first big test. Given the benefit of a year of hindsight that includes the Blue Jays' failures and the specific struggles of the players dealt to Toronto, it's difficult to slam the Marlins for that trade as so many did at the time, but as I wrote then, Miami remains a long way from convincing me that it is an organization capable or even willing follow through on the necessary rebuilding that blockbuster initiated.