This past season, the Marlins hitting continued its struggles that rolled over from the 2011 season. The only difference was that hitting was supposed to be a strength of the team because of the assumptions of continued growth by the young hitters, return to form of established hitters, and the addition of a big name piece. It never transpired, and the only return was a high level of disappointment, that was capped off with the added insult to injury of seeing how ineffective this offense was in a season when a former Marlin won the Triple Crown in the American League, while currently leading his team to a trip to the World Series. Ouch!
While the continued struggles are cause for concern, the Marlins can correct the hitting issues with the right moves this offseason. To get the hitting to that point, there are a few things to consider or do.
First, I’ve made my point about the coaching situation in other articles, so I won’t continue here. The things to be considered in this article would be with the personnel on the field.
The lineup structure and the Marlins table setters
The Marlins have a surplus of table setters with the trio that includes one of the fastest men in M.L.B. in Emilio Bonifacio; one of the better rookies this season in Donovan Solano; and the former All Star, Stolen Base Champion and Batting Champion, Jose Reyes. Now as much of a surplus as this may be, the wonder has to be there about whether the Marlins are being hurt by having three table setters. The reality may be that the design may not work as constructed. A National League lineup can only have eight position players in it and then the pitcher, so every spot that is taken up by a table setter is one less spot available for a run producer, which hurts in a league that starts with one “automatic out” already in the lineup. If a team has a middle of the order that features multiple top level run producers, they can do well with three table setters, but when a team is like the Marlins and only has one top level run producer and a bunch of mediocre ones, three table setters can be a hindrance. This is because of such a lineup needing to make up the difference by having more sufficient caliber type of run producers, rather than one of their table setters occupying the seventh or eighth spot in the lineup, and the team being limited to less run producers than they would need to be an effective offense. This may have been the design that failed this past season, as indicated with the Marlins struggles with driving runs in. In fact, the Marlins may be better off trading one of these table setters in a package to bring in a run producer to change the design of the lineup from one with three table setters and five potential run producers, to a lineup that flirts with being more traditional with two table setters and six hitters following that are various styles of hopeful run producers. They certainly need to think about it considering that the eighth spot will be occupied by Rob Brantly, who doesn’t seem ready to be a true run producer, and/or John Buck, who will never be an impacting run producer. Changing the lineup structure from having a surplus of table setters to being more deep with run producers is a design that is probably the best way to go with the Marlins situation.
Giancarlo Stanton and his help?
For the Marlins, the biggest key to their offense comes down to getting Giancarlo Stanton the protection and help that he needs to see more pitches and not be the end all and be all of the run production for this team. This would also need to include a hitter that is a prototypical #3 hitter. Internally, the Marlins have some decent options surrounding Stanton with Logan Morrison and, to a certain extent, Justin Ruggiano, but this is nowhere nearly enough. The Marlins need at least one major bat or two very strong run producers to help Stanton. Those solutions would have to be added externally unless the Marlins feel that prospects like Christian Yelich, Zack Cox, or even Marcell Ozuna can come up and have an impact. However, that is unlikely. So the real chance to add run producers would be through free agency or a trade or both.
With the free agent market for run producers, while Josh Hamilton is the prize of the class, he isn’t a realistic possibility for the Marlins. Even if he was, it would be too risky of a move to bring a player with Hamilton’s past to South Beach with the salary that it will require to sign him. So the Marlins will need to look elsewhere on the free agent market. The two players that could be fits for run production and due to age would be B.J. Upton or Delmon Young. Both of these hitters have a world of offensive talent that have only started to show as they enter their prime years. They both have been key offensive cogs to playoff teams. Both will enter free agency with World Series experience. They also fit position-wise as, with them, Ruggiano can play either left or centerfield until Yelich is ready to come up and take over. However, neither could be the only move. The Marlins would also need to look at a trade, especially with their need at third base, which is very thin in free agents this year.
For trade targets, unless the Marlins feel Zack Cox is capable of helping, they would in all likelihood be looking at a third-baseman. There are options available, but the right fits are few and far between. And the Marlins should be willing to trade any prospect other than Yelich or pitcher Jose Fernandez to get that third-baseman.
The first option that the Marlins should look at would be Chase Headley. He’s the ideal fit as he just had a breakout season, he’s fairly inexpensive, and he’s the ideal #3 hitter to compliment Stanton as he is a switch hitter who can combine with Morrison to offer left-side protection and balance, while Headley can still keep the offense strong from the right side with Stanton. The only thing is whether or not the Marlins can be a match with the Padres for a trade.
Another possibility that the Marlins should at least inquire about is David Wright. If the Mets are willing to part with him, he’d be a nice fit. He provides power and some base-stealing savvy, along with a consistently good batting average through his career that can be of true help for Stanton. The only thing is that the Marlins would have to pay far more in trade chips than probably most other teams in order to convince the Mets to trade Wright within their own division.
If these two players cannot be acquired, there is the possibility that has recently been mentioned in rumor – Alex Rodriguez. If he’s truly available, he could be a solid fit and probably can be had for the least amount of trade pieces and may actually allow the Marlins to clear a bad contract or two, such as Heath Bell or Ricky Nolasco. As an addition, the respect for Rodriguez’s bat from the #3 spot would be felt throughout the lineup and protect Stanton just about as well as can be had in this game. As a box office draw, it can be expected that the hometown superstar would have tremendous impact at the gate for Marlins Park and with securing more endorsement deals. On the surface, this is the ideal situation for the Marlins as a franchise. However, for the team side, there are the other aspects to consider such as Rodriguez’s age, remaining salary even after the Yankees pay a huge portion, and of course the clubhouse atmosphere and drama that surrounds Rodriguez.
In regard to these three players, no matter what direction the Marlins take, they need to enter 2013 with one of these guys batting in the #3 spot, ahead of Stanton. They have to be willing to trade any prospect that isn’t Yelich or Fernandez and they’d have to be willing to part with either Bonifacio or Solano in a package, depending on which of these three they will add. Adding one of these three pieces would bring this lineup together from that much needed #3 spot.
As a whole, the combination of a #3 hitter and either of the free agent outfielders would provide Stanton and the Marlins with the needed punch to drive in their efficient table setters. It’s definitely something that needs to be done.
When looking at the bench, the Marlins have one of the better pieces in the game with Greg Dobbs. He is the centerpiece of this bench and fortunately is signed through next season. Along with him, we can expect John Buck to return in more of a bench role to support Brantly. While many are disappointed with Buck, he’s in the final year of his contract and definitely helps coming off of the bench, so a return for 2013 is likely and shouldn’t hurt. Then there are still the minor questions of whether Ruggiano and Solano will be starters or bench players next season. Ideally, a team with both of them on the bench is a very talented and deep team. However, with the team’s payroll commitments and constraints, both are more likely to be starting, if not used as trade bait. So those bench spots need to be filled. For a fourth outfielder, the Marlins can look internally at Bryan Peterson. Right now, he makes the most sense. He can play all three outfield positions solidly and can help a little bit offensively in short spurts. If the Marlins don’t go with him, there aren’t going to be many upgrades available for a fourth outfielder that are better than Peterson, unless the Marlins are willing to pay a bit more for marginally better performance from a part-time player. For the middle infield and utility role, the Marlins need to look for another option other than Donnie Murphy. Murphy is good for organizational depth, but he does very little for a Major League roster. The Marlins would be better served getting a veteran that can provide a legit right-handed bat off of the bench, who can also handle the middle infield and other utility roles. Every offseason, there are always those types available to help fill that role. There is really no reason to stick with a player on the M.L.B. roster like Murphy, who is nearly an “automatic out”, who is living off of his 2010 success. The Marlins also won’t benefit much by bringing Carlos Lee or Austin Kearns back in any bench role, so a parting of the ways is best. After filling the key bench roles, the Marlins can go ahead and see who wins out the final spots in Spring Training, and then also add organizational depth in the Minors to be more prepared for eventual injuries than they were this past season.
Once the Marlins have sorted everything out with the position player personnel along with the coaching situation, they should feel the impact immediately considering that most of their problems were rooted in the inadequacy of their offensive output. They should see the difference in how they respond to falling behind in games knowing that they can come back or when pitchers are now having solid outings with more run support to back them. There should also be a huge impact on the bullpen due to having fewer nights of pressure situations because of the offense being able to have games that keep the bullpen from Hold or Save situations as often. Fixing the hitting will be a major key offering a positive domino effect to bring everything together.
Once everything has come together with the issues addressed in these three articles, the Marlins and their fans can look forward to what may be an intriguing and rewarding 2013 that leads to a true rebirth of a new franchise.