The Marlins, have been a mess so long, and in so many different ways, that it's occasionally difficult to remember that there is a core of championship caliber players in Miami. Nevertheless, injuries and meddling have prevented them from posting a winning record since 2009, one of only six seasons the Marlins have finished above .500 in 23 chances.
Last year was little different. Jose Fernandez started the year recovering from Tommy John surgery and Giancarlo Stanton's hand injury kept him off the field for the last three months of the year. Owner Jeffrey Loria fired manager Mike Redmond after 38 games and installed his GM, Dan Jennings, as the placeholder/sacrificial lamb. Then Loria decided that he'd had enough of Marcell Ozuna's struggles, and had him banished to the minors. Even after Ozuna had earned his recall, Loria refused to allow him back, blatantly manipulating his service time and alienating the young and promising center fielder. This offseason, the Marlins were shopping both Ozuna and Fernandez, as both had wound up in Loria's doghouse.
The good news for what few fans remain in South Florida (this is in no way a criticism of Marlins fans; I'm sorry for everything you've endured) is that cooler heads prevailed and the offseason is defined even more by the moves the Marlins could have made and didn't than by those they did make. Ozuna and Fernandez will both be in the Opening Day lineup. So will Stanton. Dee Gordon signed an extension to hopefully continue his unexpectedly high level of play. Plus, Christian Yelich remains an excellent young player, J.T. Realmuto is improving behind the plate, and Adeiny Hechavarria has developed into a fine shortstop. The problem is surrounding that core with competent Major League pitching.
The Free Agents
The Marlins opened up their wallet to bring in Wei-Yin Chen on a five year, $80 million deal, with an opt out after year two. It's kind of an ingenious contract. The real money is in the last two years of the deal, so Chen would have to pitch through one more year of below average compensation if he doesn't decide to leave. And, of course, there's the distinct possibility that he finds playing for the Marlins brass intolerable. Chen has been very underrated over the last four years for the Orioles, providing solid mid-rotation work, and has become very stingy with bases on balls, while maintaining a strong strikeout rate. A move to the NL will make him look even better.
The rest of the offseason was filled with smaller deals to guys who might bounce back a little, including Edwin Jackson and Chris Johnson, but who are likely just cannon fodder.
There were no trades. Indeed, the word out all offseason was that the Marlins were asking for a ridiculous return for Fernandez and/or Ozuna. Which, to be clear, they absolutely should have. Fernandez is a legitimate ace and Ozuna profiles to be an above-average center fielder once he's finally left alone.
It's not really a trade or a free agent, but the Marlins did bring in Don Mattingly from the Dodgers, after he negotiated a release from his contract. That he was going to Miami, and probably winkingly negotiating with Miami while he was still employed by Los Angeles was not a secret.
Reasons for Hope
Again, it's that core. The Marlins have four players projected to be worth four or more wins, and two of those projections (Stanton and Fernandez) are muted by their past injury problems. A full season from both of them would be huge for Miami. Yelich, Gordon, Martin Prado and a surprisingly strong bullpen also are huge assets worth three wins or better, and Hechavarria, Ozuna, and Realmuto all project as solid contributors. Honestly, it would not take much luck for the Marlins to find themselves as surprise contenders for the NL East, as long as they can stay out of their own way and they stay on the field.
Reasons for Worry
They always do seem to trip over their own feet though, don't they? The Marlins have the worst ownership situation in baseball, aimless, fickle, petty and paranoid, and it always seems to come back to bite them. Concerns about Stanton's injury risk are overblown, as his biggest injuries have been freak broken bones, but if he or Fernandez goes down again, this club would be shot.