MIAMI — Pitchers and catchers workouts get underway in exactly one week (Feb. 19) at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. When they take the field, it will officially launch Spring Training for the Marlins. Actual baseball is just around the corner.
The Marlins had a relatively quiet offseason, but they did strike with some well-measured moves, headlined by the signing of Wei-Yin Chen as a top of the rotation addition.
With baseball activities set to begin, the time is right to make some early predictions. Here are a few random thoughts I have regarding what may transpire once the players take the field.
* Christian Yelich will bat third and Giancarlo Stanton, who hit third last year, will slide into the cleanup spot. Of course, manager Don Mattingly will make the call. But my guess is the organization believes the time is now for Yelich, 24, to move down from second (where he primarily hit in 2015) to No. 3.
Yelich is regarded as the best pure hitter on the club. I think this is the year his power starts to emerge. Granted, he has just 20 career home runs in 332 big league games. Get this, just three have been at Marlins Park. Want to know why moving in and lowering the fences finally occurred? A look at Yelich’s power splits was one reason.
Now, to increase his home run production, Yelich also must add more drive the ball more. According to Fangraphs, in 2015 Yelich had a 62.5 percentage ground ball rate.
Working with new hitting coach Barry Bonds, my guess is Yelich will start driving the ball more into the gaps and eventually over the wall.
* Predicted batting order. Again, Mattingly will decide. But I’m going with this order, and the second hitter may surprise some.
1) Dee Gordon, 2B
2) J.T. Realmuto, C
3) Christian Yelich, LF
4) Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5) Martin Prado, 3B
6) Marcell Ozuna, CF
7) Justin Bour, 1B
8) Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
Why Realmuto second and not Prado? J.T. is athletic, runs well, and can hit behind the runner, if necessary. And he showed some pop last year. Prado hitting fifth, behind Stanton, gives the lineup a proven situational hitter in a place he frequently could have runners on base. Ozuna could end up there, but he is more of a free swinger.
* Going out on a limb. I can see Dee Gordon stunning some people and belting at least seven or eight home runs in 2016. That’s right. I know he has eight total homers in 474 big league games, but four came last year. Off the top of my head, in 2015, he hit one drive to very deep right center at Marlins Park that was caught. There may be more examples, but that one is clear. With the fences moving in, the same ball that was caught would be gone now. Like Yelich, working with Bonds, I could see Gordon flashing a little more power.
Knowing Dee, I also predict, he won’t be totally happy with this prediction.
* When Opening Day rolls around, Miami’s fifth starter will be – (envelope, please) – Edwin Jackson. Vice president of pitching development Jim Benedict pushed for the Jackson signing. We’ll see what tweaks are made in Jackson’s mechanics to make him one of the surprise additions this year.
* Bold prediction. Nefi Ogando, who threw four innings of relief with the Phillies last year, will win an Opening Day roster spot in Miami’s bullpen. Ogando has a power arm. He’s already on the 40-man roster.
— Joe Frisaro
BOCA RATON, Fla. — The Marlins aren’t expected to finalize any major moves at the General Managers Meetings, but the organization continues to round out its scouting department.
Miami has four new additions to their staff. Willie Fraser has been hired as the advance scout. Also joining the organization are Paul Ricciarini (special assignment scout), Jim Cuthbert (special assignment scout) and Gary Pellant (pro scout).
GM Meetings buzz
* There is plenty of speculation that center fielder Marcell Ozuna, who turns 25 on Thursday, will be traded. The club is willing to listen on potential offers, but the sentiment is Miami is leaning heavily in favor of retaining Ozuna. It would take a really attractive package for Ozuna to be moved.
* It’s no secret the Marlins covet a front-line starter, but the reality is the club may wind up making a bigger push for a closer. Yes, this is a deep starting pitching free agent market, but the club has made it clear it will not compete for the top-tier starters like David Price or Zack Greinke. Miami isn’t willing to go into the $180 million or higher range for any pitcher. But what about, say, Yovani Gallardo? There are reports he could be signed in the five-year, $75 million range.
Miami could be willing to sign a starter to that type of deal. But Gallardo doesn’t appear to be the target. The concern with Gallardo is he is more of a five or six-inning starter than someone who regularly logs seven or more innings.
The Marlins also are being careful about signing pitchers who have been extended qualifying offers. Because the Rangers made a qualifying offer to Gallardo, if he were to sign with Miami, the Marlins would have to part with their second round pick as compensation.
By rule, teams picking in the top 10 of the 2016 MLB Draft don’t lose their first-round pick when signing players extended qualifying offers. Miami has the seventh overall selection.
The Marlins may be more willing to lose their second-round pick for a position player (power bat) granted a qualifying offer than a pitcher.
— Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — More organizational turnover is taking place with the Marlins. On Friday, Minor League hitting instructor Andy Barkett, who managed Double A Jacksonville to the Southern League championship in 2014, handed in his resignation.
A Miami native, Barkett turned down an offer to stay with the Marlins. Currently, Barkett is managing in the Dominican Winter League. He plans to pursue other opportunities.
Barkett managed a number of players on Miami’s roster, including J.T. Realmuto, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino. He managed Jacksonville four seasons, compiling a 294-262 record, before accepting a role to work with Minor League hitters.
The Marlins have made a number of changes in their Minor League staff since Marc DelPiano was named vice president of player development in September. Former big league infielder, Joe Dillon, was hired last month to be a Minor League hitting instructor. Also, Lenny Harris, who coached third base for the Marlins this year, is expected to take a Minor League assignment.
— Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — Dan Jennings, dismissed as general manager of the Marlins on Thursday, issued a statement on Friday thanking the organization and wishing them luck in the future.
Miami’s general manager since Sept. 29, 2013, Jennings was asked by team owner Jeffrey Loria to replace Mike Redmond as manager on May 18. The club finished 71-91, and on Oct. 6, the Marlins announced Jennings would not return as manager. He was expected to go back to the front office, but those plans changed this month.
Team president David Samson and president of baseball operations Michael Hill spoke with Jennings by phone on Thursday, and informed him he was being relieved from his position. Hill will assume the team’s general manager duties.
“After 13-plus years with the Marlins organization, I received a phone call yesterday from David Samson and Mike Hill informing me that I was being relieved from my position as general manager. While this was certainly sad and regrettable news, I respect their prerogative to make changes and listen to new voices. It has been a fun ride during my time with the Marlins. Having the opportunity to serve as vice president of player personnel, general manager and field manager, and being part of the 2003 World Series championship.
“However, nothing is more special than the people. I would like to thank Mr. Loria and David Samson for employing me, and the wonderful Marlins office staff I was afforded the opportunity to work with. And most importantly, the Marlins players for their energy and effort and the opportunity to win their trust and respect this season. I wish the Marlins’ players and the organization the best as we all move forward with our careers.”
MARLINS — Long overdue, but ultimately the Marlins have made the right call to address the dimensions at Marlins Park.
Team president David Samson confirmed the fences will be moved in and lowered at the retractable-roof building before the 2016 season gets underway. After seeing how the ballpark played in its first four seasons, the decision was made to make the stadium play more fairly, yet lean more towards pitching.
We’ll see how it turns out.
Quite frankly, the way it is has played in its first four seasons had hitters eager to be on the road. Maybe we will stop seeing players slamming their bats to the ground in BP after blasting a drive to deep center only to fall shy of the warning track.
Giancarlo Stanton is basically the only player to have any type of power success in Miami. The three-time All-Star has 68 of the 412 overall home runs at Marlins Park. Marcell Ozuna (14) and Justin Bour (11) are the only other players to reach double-digits. And that’s in four seasons.
When Christian Yelich, arguably Miami’s best pure hitter, has three total home runs in 163 games at Marlins Park, that should tell you changes are necessary.
Exactly what changes will be made remains to be seen. One area definitely being addressed in center field, which extends to the 418 sign in the triangle area. Rounding off that alone will produce better results for core players.
As for the pitchers frowning on the fences coming in, the solution is simple — don’t give up 410-plus feet fly balls to center. It actually should help pitchers too because outfielders won’t have to cover as much ground. But this is not about making yourself weaker in one area or strengthening in another. Plus, I think pitchers would appreciate a little more run support.
This is about not having two different approaches, one for at home and the other on the road. Miami’s lack of power production was glaring, and it isn’t entirely because of the players in the lineup.
Miami was last in the Majors in doubles, overall (236) and at home (110).
The fact the Marlins are about to do something in an effort to improve is a big step forward. Next, we will see what exactly is done. Should be interesting.
Here’s a look at total home runs in all big league parks since Marlins Park opened in 2012.
According to STATSPASS research
Camden Yards 855
Rogers Centre 807
Yankee Stadium 803
Coors Field 788
Miller Park 773
Great American 731
U.S. Cellular Field 715
Minute Maid Park 706
Rangers Ballpark 671
Citizens Bank Park 664
Wrigley Field 631
Chase Field 624
Fenway Park 621
Target Field 612
Angel Stadium 610
Progressive Field 607
Comerica Park 607
Safeco Field 606
Citi Field 598
O.co Coliseum 588
Tropicana Field 584
Dodger Stadium 574
Nationals Park 571
Turner Field 527
PETCO Park 522
Kauffman Stadium 506
Busch Stadium 480
PNC Park 479
Marlins Park 412
AT&T Park 411
— Joe Frisaro
MIAMI — After leading the National League in batting average, stolen bases and hits, what should Dee Gordon aim to do differently in 2016? Nothing. Stay the course.
Nothing is broken, so don’t fix anything. Gordon, 27, is entering his prime. Keep doing what he’s doing, and allowing his game to mature. Of course, everyone is striving to improve. And, of course, there will be the tired argument that Dee needs to walk more. Generally speaking, that is true for many players. Whatever helps your OBP, go for it.
Gordon’s case is different, because if he strives to walk more, that means he will have to change his approach.
Gordon’s approach doesn’t need to change, unless opposing pitchers change their approaches with him. The reason? Only one player in the Majors saw a higher percentage of fastballs than Gordon. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu saw 66.9 percent, compared to Gordon’s 66.5 percent.
Simply put, opponents pound the strike zone with Gordon, because they’re rather have him put the ball in play than risk walking him. Aware pitchers are seeking to get ahead, Gordon was aggressive, attacking early in counts instead of falling behind.
Keep Gordon the way he is, and then let Christian Yelich, who bats second, do his thing.
Yelich saw fastballs 60.5 percent of the time, and he had a .366 on-base percentage. Power guys see less fastballs. Giancarlo Stanton, for instance, saw 56.4 percent fastballs.
Gordon was a model of consistency. What he did at home is pretty much what he did on the road. The All-Star second baseman batted .333 with a .366 on-base at home. On the road, he was .333/.351.
Compare Gordon’s splits to, say, LeMahieu, and you see a more consistent hitter. LeMahieu, who had a strong year batting .301 with a .358 on-base percentage, was clearly more productive at hitter-friendly Coors Field. At home, he hit .321/.379, while going .281/.337 on the road.
Gordon finished with 25 walks, and had an on-base percentage of .359.
The .359 OBP was just fine. It ranked 33rd in all of MLB, tied with Manny Machado and Jason Heyward. As long as Gordon stays over .350 on-base, he will give the Marlins exactly what they need from the leadoff spot.
Looking at the metrics, one area of improvement we saw from Gordon this year is how used the entire field better than in 2014 with the Dodgers. In Los Angeles, they encouraged Gordon to slap the ball the other way and try let his speed get him hits. The Marlins didn’t put any restrictions on Gordon. They let him be him. He ended up using the middle of the field much more than in ’14.
According to Fangraphs, Gordon pulled the ball 30.1 percent, used the center of the field 38.5 percent, and went to the opposite field, 31.4 percent. In 2014, he was 29.5 (pull), 31.7 (center), 38.8 (oppo).
Defenses had to play him straight up more, although left fielders were more shallow and shifted towards the line. Otherwise, infields were more traditional, except when third basemen played in for bunts. This helped Gordon because anything not sharply right at someone was a chance for a hit.
— Joe Frisaro
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
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
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
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