On the line in Marlins’ finale

PHILADELPHIA — Not all was lost for the Marlins this year. Their impressive finish brought excitement in the final weeks, and clearly showed the core is in place for a much improved 2016.

Still, there is unfinished business. Some individual and team accomplishments will be on the line Sunday in the finale against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Dee Gordon, the team’s MVP, is going for the National League batting title. The All-Star second baseman and Bryce Harper are neck-and-neck with one game to go. Harper is hitting .3307 to Gordon’s .3306.

Gordon has already wrapped up the stolen base crown, but if he gets two today, he will finish at 60. With 202 hits, Gordon is the likely hits champ, unless Jose Altuve (197) has a five-hit day and Dee is shut down.

Christian Yelich also is seeking to finish above .300 for the first time since breaking into the big leagues in 2013. The 23-year-old raised his average to .302 after his eight-hit doubleheader on Saturday.

As a team, the Marlins are 71-90. Obviously, not the goal. But considering where they were early in the year, they’ve made major strides.

The Marlins will end the year having won eight of their final 10 series.

Since Aug. 31, the Marlins are 19-11. To put that into perspective, they are among five teams with that many wins in the same time frame. The Cubs are 22-10, Angels 20-11, Dodgers 19-13 and Blue Jays 19-12.

The Marlins have outscored their opposition 130-123 in that stretch.

Another interesting fact, since Giancarlo Stanton (broken left hamate bone) went down on June 26, the Marlins are 41-45.

Obviously, that’s not to say Stanton’s absence helped. What it means is the team has found a way to compete and improve without their All-Star right fielder and most feared player. Imagine what the lineup could look like with Stanton?

The Marlins clearly are trending in the right direction.

Joe Frisaro

What a strong finish means for Marlins

ST. PETERSBURG — Nothing goes unnoticed over 162 games, which is why you evaluate the entire season — not cherry pick parts or select sample sizes along the way. It’s about the entire body of work.

The Marlins are evaluating that way, which is why they’re paying as close attention to the final month as they did the first or any other one. So September games indeed are meaningful.

Unfortunately for Miami, it has taken until September — we can back it up to Aug. 31 — for them to play their best ball. The Marlins are 16-8 in September, already their winningest month. They’re 17-8 since Aug. 31.

Everyone can make of it what they want. But this stretch is helping to determine the direction for where the offseason is headed.

At least one National League East manager sees something brewing in Miami.

“They have a pretty good lineup over there,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I think when the big boy comes back — and Hechavarria didn’t even play — they’re a very formidable team going into next year.”

Gonzalez’s Braves were swept over the weekend at Marlins Park. And yes, Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t played since June 26. And shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria, has been out since Sept. 2.

We can safely say this, what the Marlins are showing is they weren’t as bad as they appeared for five months. They had some bad luck. But more telling is they had a bad mix.

Not all the new pieces fit. That happens. It didn’t work. Those who were moved out in late July, it was time for them to go.

The culture around the club was negative. It pretty much was that way from Opening Day. Everything was a distraction early on, and there was high drama. Constant drama.

Some argue chemistry doesn’t matter. Well, it does. At least it did to the Marlins. You literally had players — pretty much all of them — dreading being at the ballpark. You can’t win that way.

Dismissing a popular manager like Mike Redmond on May 17 didn’t make things easier. Dan Jennings was put in a tough spot because he had no previous managing or coaching experience at the professional level. What Jennings has been throughout is upbeat and supportive of the players. He has their backs, and they know it.

The players responded in the final weeks, not giving up on their manager or a situation that would have been easy to mail it in. For almost five months, it appeared the Marlins had a much better chance of finishing with the worst overall record than securing third place in the National League East. But they did.

Why the turnaround?

Basically, the players united together. They were tired of losing. Tired of the internal bickering. It wasn’t getting them anywhere. So they responded by staying loose, having fun, and the wins followed. They started showing what they could have been all along.

Martin Prado has become the unofficial captain, a title he isn’t totally comfortable with. Prado prefers being low key, yet doing his thing. Jeff Mathis’ impact on the roster can’t be understated. The players want Mathis, soon to be a free agent, back. Prado and Mathis are regarded as a good a teammates as any Marlins player has ever had. Without them, this final month may have looked like the previous five.

The front office will be mindful of Mathis’ impact when they decide what to do about backup catcher. They need to think this through if they move in another direction.

And let’s make things clear. Just because Miami is doing well in September doesn’t automatically mean this team is ready to contend in 2016. There is plenty of work to be done to fill in holes. They will search for a couple of starting pitchers and explore the market for closer candidates. They need depth.

They also need a belief that as soon as they face some adversity that players won’t be shipped out.

What September seems to have done is show the front office they need to add rather than blow the roster up — yet again, and go through another fire sale.

The team also would be wise to listen to what Prado has to say, because the veteran has a pretty good read on the situation. Prado isn’t looking at September as a players making a statement for 2016. What happens next will be up to the front office.

“Those decisions, I don’t get into that,” Prado said. “I let those guys make their call, whatever they want to do for next year.”

Still, Prado knows the Marlins weren’t at full strength all year. You can’t be without a Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Fernandez as long as they were and still expect to contend.

“If my teammates stay healthy the whole year, we can do something special,” Prado said. “We’ve got to make it happen. Be quiet. Be a sleeper team and just play. Play 162 games and see what happens.”

Miami’s unofficial captain has spoken.

Joe Frisaro

More than pride on line for Marlins

NEW YORK — Don’t look now, but the Marlins are making their push.

No, they’re not making a miracle playoff run. But they’re not playing for nothing either. Far from it. They’re playing to see what is salvageable in one of the wildest seasons in club history.

Since Aug. 31, you have to like what you see. The Marlins are 11-4 in that span, 10-4 in September, and 2-0 since they cloned Christian Yelich.

Well, not exactly cloned. But on Tuesday, Yelich lookalike, Pete Davidson, of Saturday Night Live fame made a surprise visit to Citi Field. In one of the most refreshing moments of the season, Davidson — dressed in a Yelich No. 21 uniform — emerged on the field during batting practice. He spilled sunflower seeds everywhere, and loosened the mood around an otherwise uptight year.

Call it the “Pete Davidson Factor,” but the Marlins needed some levity. It ended up working, because Miami went out and roughed up Cy Young-candidate Jacob deGrom. Then on Wednesday, rookie left-hander Adam Conley, had the pitching performance of his life, and got the best of 41-year-old Bartolo Colon.

Manager Dan Jennings and the players pointed out, keeping things loose makes it easier to play. There is a lesson there, but more is going on with the organization right now.

These final 16 games will help determine what is next heading into the offseason.

At stake here is the direction of where all this is headed, and how the clubhouse, coaching staff and front office will shape up.

Perhaps owner Jeffrey Loria has already made up his mind about what he will do. As far as everything else, it’s all speculation. It starts with Jennings, who many assume will just return to the general manager’s chair. But nothing has been firmly decided on whether Jennings will be managing the club, or general manager or perhaps pursue opportunities outside the organization.

The same is true with the front office. The chain of command remains unclear.

If the Marlins continue to play at a high level, maybe it will give an indication of whether this core is worth holding together. Repeatedly, the club says it will stay in tact. But if Jennings departs the organization, then anything is possible. That includes trading core pieces.

It’s no secret the club is open to dealing Marcell Ozuna. But if the club tanks in these last few weeks, would others be on the block? I doubt they’d consider trading Giancarlo Stanton, who hasn’t played since June 26, this offseason. But if they break things up again, then it is fair to ask where does Stanton fit in, if the club isn’t ready to win in 2016. Same holds true with Yelich, and others.

Martin Prado, who has stepped up in a big way during the hot stretch, has taken on a leadership role. Prado likes what he sees right now, and it is starting with the chemistry in the clubhouse. Without question, it is much better than before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

“This is a great group of guys,” Prado said. “They’re willing to play the game the right way. That’s what we’re doing now. We’re coming to the field. We’ve got chemistry. One player accountable to the other. Nobody is an individual. We’re caring about each other, and we’re having fun. Somebody is picking the other guy up. When you’re thinking like that, good things happen. The way these guys are going out and competing is fun to watch.”

All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon, who has been Miami’s MVP, has never lost the passion to play, regardless of how down the season was before. Of late, you’re seeing Gordon as loose as ever. Getting multiple hits a night, and dancing behind second base with Miguel Rojas after wins.

“We’re playing hard,” Gordon said. “We’re trying to have a good end of ’15 so we set ourselves up for high hopes in ’16.”

Right now, the Marlins are playing for more than finishing in third place. They playing to see how ’16 may look. Right now, nothing is set in stone.

Joe Frisaro

Teammates support Ozuna staying

NEW YORK — Each day Marcell Ozuna is not starting raises speculation about what the future holds for the 23-year-old outfielder.

It’s no secret the Marlins were open to dealing Ozuna before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Indians were among the clubs that showed interest.

The fact Ozuna is healthy and he’s still not a regular has a number of Miami players wondering if he will be gone in 2016. The Marlins saying they’re going with a rotation, and sometimes it is Ozuna’s turn to sit. They club also is evaluating Derek Dietrich in left field, to see if he can be an every day option at some point.

As for Ozuna, several prominent players would like to see him back as a regular. They’ve expressed the team would be better next year with Ozuna staying — noting he is highly popular in the clubhouse, and also is a good teammate.

So why even consider a trade?

It started last offseason. At the time, the Marlins were hopeful to work out at contract extension, but talks between the club and Ozuna’s agent, Scott Boras, didn’t go very far.

Then there was the issue of Ozuna being optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on July 5. He stayed in the Minor Leagues until Aug. 15. The extended stay changed the outfielder’s service time clock. Now, instead of being a Super 2 arbitration-eligible player in 2016, he won’t start arbitration until 2017.

When called back up in August, Ozuna posted on Instagram that he felt he was finally “out of jail.” In the heat of the moment, sometimes things are said that probably shouldn’t be.

To the Miami players, Ozuna is an impact player who has tremendous upside. They’d like for him to remain, but it isn’t their call.

Ozuna also happens to be one of the few viable trade pieces the Marlins have, because their Minor League system is thin. So to land a front-line starter, it may take moving a player of Ozuna’s talents. The fact he’s affordable also helps.

If the Marlins do end up dealing Ozuna, they’d like to get a high-end starter under club control. Miami swung such a deal with the Astros in 2014, getting Jarred Cosart, who has middle-to-top of the rotation stuff. But those trades are hard to swing.

Because Ozuna has had a down year, it is questionable if Miami can land someone the caliber of Carlos Carrasco.

The Marlins, of course, will say Ozuna hit 23 homers and drove in 85 in ’14. But clubs, wanting to hold onto their high-end starters, will point to eight homers and 36 RBIs in 2015.

Like so many Marlins, it’s been a down year for Ozuna. He’s hitting .249/.296/.369. Just one of his homers has come at Marlins Park.

Ozuna also hasn’t torn it up since returning from New Orleans. In 26 games, he’s .247/.278/.473 with four walks. Before being sent down, he was .249/.301/.337 with 21 walks.

Down year or trending downward?

In the eyes of his teammates, it’s a down year. They’d like to see their teammate, nicknamed “Big Bear” back refreshed and ready for 2016. The front office, however, may have other ideas.

Joe Frisaro

Stanton update, Cosart could start Sunday

MIAMI — Today was supposed to be the day Giancarlo Stanton returned to the Marlins’ lineup. Now, it doesn’t look that way.

Stanton’s left hand bothered him during a rehab assignment game on Tuesday at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. The All-Star right fielder had three plate appearances for Class A Advanced Jupiter, drawing a walk, striking out looking and popping out.

He removed himself from the game because his hand didn’t feel right.

Before playing again, Stanton has been taking swings to test the hand/wrist.

With the Marlins off on Thursday there were no updates on how he is progressing. But it would be highly surprising if Stanton is in the lineup Friday, facing the Mets and Jacob deGrom at Marlins Park.

Stanton has been out since June 26 when he broke hamate bone in his left hand.

Whether Stanton is available to play during the weekend series at all remains to be seen. My guess is no.

While Miami probably won’t have its top slugger back for the series, it looks like Jarred Cosart will be called up on Friday, and he probably will start on Sunday in the series finale with New York.

Cosart has been in the Minor Leagues since July 4. He had a relapse of his vertigo problem, which first plagued him in May.

In August, Cosart saw a specialist in Chicago, and he was diagnosed with a left inner ear disorder. The condition may have been bothering him all season.

Cosart pitched in a rehab assignment game with Jupiter on Monday. He’s feeling fine, and should ease back into the rotation, probably on Sunday. Chris Narveson would be lined up for that day, but he’s dealing with a blister on his left middle finger.

The blister isn’t considered serious.

The Marlins have been considering going with a six-man rotation this month. That could be the case with Narveson, who could be back on the mound next week.

Joe Frisaro

What could be on agenda in October

MIAMI — I know we’ve just entered September, and there is still a month remaining in the season. But since the Marlins themselves have already started the evaluation process for 2016, the time is right to also look at what may be on the horizon, especially in October, in the early stages of the offseason.

Of course the Marlins are meeting on Thursday to determine how the front office will shape up. Will Dan Jennings smoothly transition back from manager to general manager? Will he be back under certain conditions, or reassigned, or simply move on to pursue options outside the organization?

Perhaps we’ll have those answers later today.

How the front office shapes up aside, there will be other key issues to follow in the offseason. Here’s some of the hot topics.

* Manager: Priority No. 1 will be the manager search. The Marlins are looking for someone with previous big league managing experience, and perhaps a high-profile name. The thought process is they’ve gone with an inexperienced voice in Mike Redmond, who made the leap from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues. Going with Jennings was an “outside the box” idea.

The next manager promises to be one with a track record. But the candidate also must buy into the organizational philosophy, which right now the Marlins don’t really have.

In the age where MLB front offices are having an increased say in not only roster construction, but who plays and bats where, having a manager in step with the GM is critical. Although the Jennings experiment didn’t produce the bottom line results the Marlins wanted, the concept of a general manager-thinking manager is something the industry is trending towards.

* Payroll: The Marlins have long been among the lowest payroll teams, and coming off a rough season, they didn’t get the attendance bounce they were expecting when they assembled what they thought was a roster that could contend.

If revenue streams stay as is, it is likely payroll will stay in the $60 million to $70 million range.

However, payroll could get a boost, perhaps a significant one, if the Marlins are able to reach a new local television deal with Fox Sports Florida. The contract runs through 2020, but it’s no secret the Marlins have been hoping to renegotiate.

There are rumblings talks have been ongoing. If so, at the end of the season, the Marlins may be looking at a TV deal that could resemble some similar-sized markets.

I don’t have this number completely confirmed, but it was my understanding that the Marlins this year received $17.5 million from their local TV deal. Other teams with relatively new deals receive $90 million or more a year.

We’ll see. To me, any hope of signing Jose Fernandez or an upper-tier free agent, the Marlins will need a new TV deal.

* Advanced metrics: The Marlins have long lagged far behind in adapting advanced metrics in their evaluations. Look for that to change. I expect to see the creation of a advanced metrics department.

* Fences: We’ve covered this topic before. The Marlins are open to moving in and lowering the fences. I think that will happen. Not significantly. My guess is you’ll see them move in the walls in center field to where the Marlins’ bullpen ends in right-center.

Joe Frisaro

Fifth anniversary of ‘The Clothesline’

ATLANTA — Five years ago today it was “go time!” when the Marlins squared off against the Nationals at Sun Life Stadium.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of one of the most memorable melees in Marlins’ history.

Marlins-Nationals memorable melee

Marlins-Nationals memorable melee

Nyjer Morgan took exception to Chris Volstad’s purpose pitch that sailed behind his back. Morgan charged the mound, Volstad spiked his glove, and from out of nowhere, Gaby Sanchez delivered one of the most famous “clotheslines” in baseball history. The takedown set off a massive pileup of players, coaches and managers.

The date was Sept. 1, 2010.

The Marlins, stewing over Morgan’s vicious collision at home plate the night before, had payback on their minds.
Morgan’s excessive hit left catcher Brett Hayes with a separated left shoulder, and the Marlins vengeful.

Tempers boiled over in the sixth inning the next day when Volstad threw at Morgan. In seconds, the teams went at it.

The altercation was just part of the wild night. The Marlins prevailed 16-10.

Mike Stanton (now Giancarlo) belted his 15th homer of the season in what was his rookie year. Stanton is the only Marlin remaining from that game.

The Nationals started lefty Scott Olsen, the former Marlin.

Jim Riggleman managed Washington. Edwin Rodriguez was at the helm for the Marlins. There may be a twist to this, because Riggleman is a potential candidate to manage the Marlins if Dan Jennings goes back to the front office, which is expected after the season.

The game also featured Marlins infielder Donnie Murphy dislocating his right wrist after making a nice catch in short right field.

Dan Uggla, out with a groin strain, didn’t let his injury stand in the way of sticking up for his teammates. When the benches cleared, Uggla was in the thick of the action.

The altercation lasted several minutes, but the memories are still fresh five years later.

Joe Frisaro

What change at Marlins Park may look like

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Changes may be on the way at Marlins Park.

As team president David Samson said the other day, the Marlins are considering moving in and lowering the fences at one of MLB’s toughest places to generate power.

Marlins considering moving in fences, possibly from in front of HR Sculpture to 392 foot sign in right.

Marlins considering moving in fences, possibly from in front of HR Sculpture to 392 foot sign in right.

From what I’m hearing, the modifications may not be too drastic. One consideration is tucking the fences in from basically where the yellow home run line is in front of the Home Run Sculpture in center to the 392 sign at the corner of the Marlins’ bullpen. So the trimming appears to be to center and right-center.

Unless the fences are lowered throughout, it won’t really impact the gap in left-center. Also, no scenario that I’m hearing would involve the walls in front of both bullpens.

If that is all there is for now, it’s a start towards making the ballpark play more fairly.

Other big parks, like Safeco (Seattle), Citi Field (New York Mets) and Petco (San Diego) have already moved in the fences. The Mets have done it twice.

It was obvious Marlins Park played big from the day it opened in 2012. Still, the team maintained it would give it three or four years to assess the power numbers. We’re wrapping up year four.

Not only is the park spacious, the ball simply doesn’t travel like in pretty much every other stadium. That fact is not surprising considering the park is at sea level.

The high fences — going from 11 1/2 feet to 13 feet — also make it even tougher to hit balls out. Now, obviously hitters are rewarded for monster shots.

Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates cleared the center field wall on Thursday in the Pirates 2-1 win over the Marlins. But Statcast projected that blast at 445 feet from home plate, making it one of the longest shots of the season in Miami.

In the same series, Andrew McCutchen had a 416 foot fly out to center. During the homestand, Miami’s Dee Gordon had a 409-foot fly out. Neither of those shots were even close to being gone.

Obviously, bringing in the fences, even to one side of the stadium isn’t going to automatically improve the club. But it is a start to creating a more consistent approach for the Marlins hitters. Some argue that the Marlins don’t homer much at home or on the road.

What statistical data doesn’t measure is the mental state of a player. This is the ballpark that the Marlins players are in most often, so why repeatedly frustrate your own players? Because, even if players aren’t publicly griping, they are privately. They’re trying to figure out approaches at home and away. This game is played best when players simplify. Having a home approach and road approach only complicates things.

One former Marlin recently told me, that “No place is worse than Miami,” in terms of home run difficulty.

Some suggest get new players. Well, they have, and the results have been similar. Hanley Ramirez (2012) was repeatedly frustrated by the building. Logan Morrison (2012-13) was outspoken about the place, and was traded. Justin Ruggiano in 2013 hit 18 home runs, with 15 on the road.

This year, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna each have one homer at home. That alone should say something.

Even if the home stadium isn’t homer-friendly, as an organization the Marlins felt their home park would produce plenty of doubles. Well, that hasn’t happened either.

The reason?

Normal depth for outfielders is like playing “no doubles” in most stadiums. Defenses will give up bloop hits over balls into the gaps.

The Marlins rank near the bottom in doubles at home. The other day, they had five in a win over the Pirates, but only one of those was a ball hit into the gap, by Yelich to left-center. The others were balls placed down the line, which would be doubles anywhere.

In terms of total doubles, there have been 205 hit at Marlins Park, with 87 by the Marlins. That number actually stacks up around the middle of the pack for all ballparks. So it’s not like no doubles are ever hit.

You have places like Coors Field, which is spacious, but the ball travels there. There have been 269 doubles hit in Colorado.

Marlins Park actually lines up closely with the other parks that recently moved in the fences. There have been 214 doubles at Safeco, with 109 by the Mariners.

Like the Marlins, the Padres made a number of offseason moves, and thought they’d contend this year. There have been 189 doubles at Petco — 86 by Padres.

Citi Field has had 200 doubles — 112 by the Mets. The Mets have great pitching, and they aren’t giving up much of anything.

Again, the park dimensions alone won’t improve the Marlins. The organization clearly need improvements across the board. But the fact the team isn’t producing doesn’t change the fact the ballpark has been an issue.

As for the theory, moving in the fences will somehow hurt the pitching. Should pitchers repeatedly be rewarded for giving up 418 foot shots?

Also, I expect the Marlins to rely more on analytics next year. With that being the case, then target ground-ball pitchers or pitchers with power arms. Simply, find pitchers who fit your park.

The plan can’t be to keep the status quo, and hope your pitchers can repeatedly rely on getting away with 400-plus foot fly outs.

Joe Frisaro

Figuring out who is in Marlins’ “core”

MIAMI — We’ve repeatedly heard the Marlins intend to retain and build around their “core.” Before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline there was a lot of talk that the club wasn’t going to deal any players in that core.

The “core,” as identified a few weeks ago, consisted of regulars either signed or under club control through at least 2016.

The question I’m dealing with now is figuring out if that “core” indeed has remained the same. There is just over 40 games to go, and in my opinion (based on observations and conversations) is some of the core pieces may become trade pieces in the offseason.

The way I see it, and this is my take, not necessarily the organization’s, the core consists of Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, Dee Gordon, Adeiny Hechavarria, J.T. Realmuto, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Martin Prado, Tom Koehler, A.J. Ramos, Carter Capps, Jarred Cosart and Mike Dunn.

I’m not counting players not yet eligible for arbitration, guys like Derek Dietrich and Justin Bour, or rookies like Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena.

Of the main core, players I see back automatically are Stanton, Fernandez, Gordon, Hechavarria and Realmuto.

Likely back, but not automatically are Yelich, Ozuna, Prado, Ramos, Capps, Koehler, Cosart and Dunn.

Why are Yelich and Ozuna not automatics? For one, the Marlins need front-line starting pitching. I don’t see them winning any bidding wars for top-tier free agents like David Price or any of the other big names on the market, so a trade is most likely. With that being the case, they may need to part with a core position player or two.

As for Prado? The Marlins really don’t want to move him, and it would take a significant offer. That may or may not come in the offseason.

The club would like to see more productivity from Prado. I think one reason it isn’t a bit higher is because his shoulder hasn’t been completely right since he missed a month from mid-June to mid-July.

The Marlins don’t have a rotation that compiles a bunch of strikeouts, so they need to play great defense. Having Prado at third is critical. He makes the entire infield better, and has been a huge influence on Hechavarria’s improvements.

Dietrich, meanwhile, deserves a lot of credit for the improvements he has made this season. He has shown more plate discipline, and he’s open to moving around to other positions. Even if Prado is dealt in the offseason, it is doubtful Dietrich would automatically play third base every day. Again, defense is a priority.

Dietrich is finding a nice role playing left field, third, second and some first. Depth is key, and Dietrich basically is a left-handed hitting version of Enrique Hernandez, a super utility player the Marlins included in the trade for Gordon and Miguel Rojas.

Bour has the inside edge to return at first base. But first base is definitely a position the club may look to add from the outside.

Frontrunners for bench jobs next year are Dietrich, Cole Gillespie and Rojas.

The organization is open to bringing back Ichiro Suzuki, a free agent who turns 42 in the offseason.

Right now, the team is evaluating whether Casey McGehee could fit into a bench role.

The backup catcher also must be decided as Jeff Mathis is a free agent, who still could return. Tomas Telis is a possibility.

There is a lot of baseball still to be played, and the organization is using these final six weeks to better identify which parts of the core will return in 2016.

— Joe Frisaro

Hechavarria, Gordon prime extension candidates

In a season where so much has gone wrong for the Marlins, the club’s flashy middle infield is an example of what has gone right.

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Dee Gordon have become the best double-play combination in the National League East, and arguably the top tandem in the entire National League. Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik of the Giants are the only duo with a higher WAR.

Defensively, those two don’t match Miami’s middle infielders.

The play Hechavarria made to throw out Jonathan Lucroy to end Monday’s 6-2 win at Milwaukee is another example why the slick-fielding shortstop is so valuable.

Hechavarria and Gordon are regarded as the two most likely contract extension candidates for the Marlins when they enter the offseason. There is still plenty of games to go, but internally those two are the ones considered priorities to lock up long term.

The Marlins approached Hechavarria last offseason, but talks didn’t go very far. Now, with the shortstop about to enter arbitration, the time is right to get a deal done. Gordon, a Super 2 arbitration player, is making $2.5 million this season. He has three more seasons of arbitration, unless he agrees on a long-term deal.

More than any free agents who may be on the market, retaining these two is a higher priority for Miami.

What about Jose Fernandez?

There is plenty of speculation about if or when the Marlins will be able to secure Fernandez to a long-term deal. Before those thoughts gain any steam, foremost, everyone is waiting to see when Fernandez will be healthy.

On the disabled list with a right biceps strain, Fernandez played catch on Monday. He hopes to pitch before the season ends.

Many are saying Fernandez shouldn’t risk anything and be shut down. That may end up happening. If there are any red flags, then obviously, the 23-year-old shouldn’t pitch.

If that is what happens, though, I don’t see the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year being a realistic contract extension candidate.

The Marlins have always been hesitant to sign pitchers long-term anyway. In Fernandez’s case, you have injury to weigh in. He missed nearly 14 months due to Tommy John surgery. Now the shoulder/biceps.

Yes, the Marlins approached Fernandez and his agent, Scott Boras, last offseason, about making a deal. That was coming off Tommy John surgery. Even that was risky.

Now, there is a shoulder issue to go along with previous elbow surgery makes it more likely that Fernandez will wind up going through at least one year of arbitration in 2016. If a multi-year deal could be worked out, it would appear to be for 2017 and beyond.

Now, if Fernandez does pitch again this season, and there is confidence he is healthy, then an extension this offseason may be possible.

Marcell Ozuna?

Many have asked about Ozuna, who recently rejoined the team after spending more than a month at Triple-A New Orleans. Clearly, the 24-year-old wasn’t happy about his extended Minor League stay, which likely now means he won’t be arbitration eligible until 2017, not ’16, as he was trending.

Now another full season away from arbitration, it appears the Marlins are less likely to consider making a long-term deal with the outfielder this winter. Also represented by Boras, it makes little sense for both sides to do something.

Could Ozuna be dangled as a trade piece? Of course. He drew interest at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Unless Ozuna finishes strong, and shows higher value, don’t expect him to be moved.

Ozuna is not untouchable. But to move the outfielder for a top of the rotation starter without him first posting bigger power numbers is not realistic.

Joe Frisaro


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