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Marlins Retain Their Top Starter to Signal a New Era

With Sandy Alcantara's reported $55 million contract, GM Kim Ng is indicating Miami's rebuild is almost over. Plus, the Giants and Angels add arms.

Four years ago, the Marlins had the best young outfield in baseball, and they knew they couldn’t win with the three of them on their roster. So, after the 2017 season, Miami traded them all. That winter, the team sent reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for salary relief, and then dealt the other two—Marcell Ozuna, who’d just hit 37 home runs and made the All-Star team, and Christian Yelich, who’d win the 2018 MVP—for prospects.

The Yelich move was a notable flop, but in exchange for Ozuna, the Marlins received right-hander Sandy Alcantara, with whom they are nearing a five-year extension worth more than $55 million, according to The Miami Herald’s Craig Mish. If completed, this deal is a win for both sides. The Marlins retain one of the game’s best and most durable pitchers for two additional years in his prime; meanwhile Alcantara, 26, gets a significant raise and security amid baseball’s uncertain economic climate. He’s also happy playing for Miami.

“I just want to be here for a long time,” Alcantara said last week. “If we get an agreement, I will feel blessed, because I want to be here for the rest of my life.”

Sandy Alcantara pitches

Alcantara was quietly one of the top NL starters in 2021, when he posted a 3.19 ERA, a 1.075 WHIP and 201 strikeouts across 205 ⅔ innings. The only blemish was his 9–15 record, which reveals more about the Marlins than it does him.

Extending Alcantara also signals the next phase of the rebuild the Marlins began with their 2017-18 outfield fire sale: contention. They loaded up their farm system over the last few years, and while not every prospect has panned out, they have developed a talented core of young pitchers and position players.

Behind Alcantara, Miami’s rotation next season should feature some combination of the following starters (though not necessarily right away): Trevor Rogers, Pablo López, Jesús Luzardo, Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera and Max Meyer.

Rogers, a 24-year-old left-hander, went 7–8 with a 2.64 ERA and 157 strikeouts across 133 innings in 2021; he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. López is 11–9 with a 3.26 ERA over the past two seasons, while Luzardo, a one-time top prospect who floundered with the A’s, was acquired in late July via the Starling Marte trade and could benefit from a fresh start with the Fish.

Sánchez didn’t pitch at all last season because of a shoulder injury, which required surgery, but he was electric in 2020 and helped the Marlins reach the postseason. Cabrera, their No. 3 prospect per FanGraphs, struggled last year in his first big-league stint but displayed some seriously nasty stuff in the process. Meyer, their top-ranked prospect and first-round selection in the 2020 draft, dominated in the minors last season. He should get called up sometime in 2022, though he’ll almost certainly begin the year in Triple A.

Jazz Chisholm Jr. is already one of the most entertaining players in the league. Last season, the 23-year-old second baseman hit 18 homers, stole 23 bases and played strong defense. Right fielder Jesús Sánchez, 24, provides plenty of left-handed power; he hit 14 homers in 64 games in 2021. Bryan De La Cruz, acquired at the trade deadline from the Astros for Yimi García, immediately took over as Miami’s starting center fielder, slashing .296/.356/.427 in 58 games. First baseman Jesús Aguilar and shortstop Miguel Rojas are the veterans anchoring this young lineup.

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Outfield prospect J.J. Bleday underwhelmed this year in Double A and worked to fix some of his mechanics. Coming out of Vanderbilt (drafted fourth overall in 2019), Bleday had a wide stance and he had a lot of head and body movement during his swing, which made it more difficult for him to track incoming pitches. Now, he stands more upright, with less head movement, which has given him a better feel for the strike zone and has improved his timing. Those adjustments paid off in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named one of the two hitters of the year; he batted .316 with a 1.035 OPS in 24 games. Like Meyer, Bleday probably won’t be in the big leagues to start the season, but he’s expected to be a middle-of-the-order mainstay for Miami over the next five years.

With Alcantara's extension, Miami has locked down a top-of-the-rotation mainstay, too.

One of the main reasons the Giants won the NL West was their starting rotation, which featured a trio of veteran starters on one-year deals—Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. 

The Giants and DeSclafani agreed to a three-year, $36 million deal on Monday night, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. Less than a half hour later, Passan reported that San Francisco and Wood were finalizing a two-year, $20 million contract. It could also look to bring back Gausman, who was an All-Star and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting this year, though many other teams are also interested in signing him.

Whatever happens with Gausman, the Giants could follow the same strategy that worked out last year and add a veteran on a short-term contract. One pitcher they are actively pursuing, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, is 34-year-old right-hander Alex Cobb.

Across 18 starts with the Angels last season, Cobb went 8–3 with a 3.76 ERA. Cobb relies primarily on his sinker and split-finger fastball, and this year he was one of the best pitchers at avoiding barrels (4.5% barrel rate, 94th percentile), per StatCast. His 9.45 K/9 and 0.48 HR/9 were the best single-season marks of his career.

The Angels announced Monday that they signed lefty reliever Aaron Loup to a two-year deal. The contract is for $17 million with a $7.5 million club option ($2 million buyout) for 2024, according to Jack Harris of the L.A. Times. A 10-year veteran, Loup had a 0.95 ERA in 65 games last season with the Mets.

He is not a closer, the Angels shouldn't expect him to replicate his ridiculous 2021 performance. Still, this is a smart move. Loup is consistent (3.05 career ERA) and helps reinforce a bullpen that could lose closer Raisel Iglesias in free agency.

Also on Monday, the Angels acquired former Yankees utility man Tyler Wade after New York DFA’d him last week to clear space on the 40-man roster.

Wade, who turns 27 on Tuesday (happy birthday!), is a speedy, glove-first guy who plays every position except first base and catcher. He always raked in the minors but mostly struggled in the majors, hitting .212/.298/.307 across five years with the Yankees. However, he seemed to figure things out at the plate last season. His .354 on-base percentage in 145 plate appearances was a career high. It’ll be interesting to see what he does if he gets to play every day with the Angels, who gave up almost nothing to get him (either a player to be named later or cash). He feels like a Joe Maddon player.

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