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The Jeffrey Loria era is almost over, Marlins fans. Breathe a sigh of relief because The Marlins are close to being sold and brighter days should be ahead. Nonetheless, the team is currently stuck in no mans land. Despite winning the World Series in 1997 and 2003, the franchise has never been in the playoffs in any other seasons. 2017 is likely to be no different and the playoff drought for the fish is likely to continue.

The Players

Martin Prado will be the regular third basemen once again for the Marlins. The 33 year old is still holding his own and continues to have a good eye at the plate. He can still hit for average and take a walk which is good, but his limited power is now on the decline for the past two years. His defence is still above average and he has now posted two consecutive 3.2 WAR seasons which are his best outings since 2012. However, I would expect that this season is when he begins a permanent regression. It probably won’t be a noticeable decline in 2017 but his limited power will continue to either decline or remain stagnant and his defence is likely going to diminish. Prado will remain on the Marlins payroll for three more seasons so he isn’t in jeopardy of being supplanted but his best days are likely numbered.

At shortstop, former Toronto Blue Jay, Adeiny Hechavarria, is set to begin his fifth season in Florida. Once considered a top prospect and dealt to Miami as part of the infamous Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle Blue Jays trade, Hechavarria has shown us now who he is. He is a phenomenal defensive shortstop who has absolutely no major league offensive prowess. In 2016 he ranked as the second best defensive shortstop but offensively he has been a black hole at the end of the Marlins order. He holds a career .254/.292/.336 slash line and has only 14 career home runs. At the age of 27 I don’t expect a sudden power surge and he will likely remain one of the weakest hitters in baseball.

Starting second basemen, Dee Gordon, is set to begin 2017 hoping to forget a terrible 2016 season where as he served an 80 game PED suspension and performed well below average offensively. The 28 year old speedster busted out with the Dodgers back in 2014 and built upon that success in 2015 where he had his best major league season. Gordon is a three trick pony as he offers speed, high batting average and slightly above average defence.

Dee Gordon does not possess any power to speak of as he only has 9 career home runs in 6 MLB seasons. In his MLB career he has a career 16% hard contact rate. Considering that league average hard contact rate is usually around 30% this is horrible. It’s not like he makes medium contact either as evidenced by a 24% soft contact rate over his career. He’s essentially making it on base by beating out a lot of weak infield grounders so thankfully he has wheels to do so. Any drop off in his speed would be disastrous, but The Marlins are banking that his batting average can recover (as it should albeit not to 2015 levels) and that he will get on base and steal some bags. It’s totally possible that he can steal 40 to 50 bases in 2017 but outside of the steals and runs that will come with being a leadoff hitter he leaves a lot to be desired.

Justin Bour is currently cemented as the everyday first basemen. The 28 year old lefty slugger has some upside and possible break out potential. Over the past two seasons he has been an average first baseman defensively, has an average an isolated power rate of .216 which is great, he takes walks (9.5% over his career), has a reasonable strike out rate for a slugger (20% over his career) and hits the ball hard (34.5% career average which is above league average). Bour was basically on pace to break out last year but a trip to the 60 day DL with an ankle injury disrupted those plans. Like most lefty sluggers, he does struggle against lefty pitching and actually has zero career home runs against them. However, he crushes rightys almost as good as anyone in the game. If he can even slightly improve against lefty pitching and find a way to move up in the batting order a breakout really should be in order. But if he continues to hit 6th he will be more limited run producing opportunities due to the weak batters behind him.

The strength of the Marlins team is in their outfield where they have a young core of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna. Let us also not forget that that “the real” hit king, Ichiro Suzuki is still around and is the team’s fourth outfielder at the youthful age of 43.

The heart of the batting order and this outfield is the multi-million dollar man, Giancarlo Stanton who is in the midst of a 325 million dollar contract until 2027. Stanton is one of the best power hitters in baseball but has a hard time being healthy as his 150 games in 2011 and 145 games in 2014 are his career highs. Nobody in baseball hits the ball harder than Stanton. If you watched the 2016 All-star home run derby his raw power was on display as he crushed what seemed like a million baseballs over the fence.

His 2016 season was however the worst of his young career where he actually struggled defensively and posted his lowest batting average and on base percentage of his career with a final slash line of .240/.326/.489. In a “disappointing season” he still hit 27 home runs, but only managed to score 56 runs which is testament to the poor hitters behind Stanton in the Miami batting order. A rebound from 2016 is due and I expect his average to rebound closer to his career norm but it will never be a strength due to his 28.5% career strike out rate. If it’s home runs you seek then home runs you shall receive as Stanton should hit closer to 35 home runs for the Marlins if he avoids an extended visit to the DL.

In centre field, Christian Yelich will look to build upon his impressive 2016 season where he hit .298/.376/.483 and added 21 home runs, 78 runs and 98 RBI’s. Over the past three seasons Yelich has continue to enjoy a well above average BABIP so his average should remain fairly close to what he posted last year. The power he flashed in 2016 was not observed at any other point in his career and was aided by a career high 38% hard hit % which is a few percent higher than his career average so some regression should be expected there. Yelich should be sandwiched somewhere in the 3 or 4 spot in the batting order thus his run and RBI totals are sustainable.

Marcel Ozuna is still pretty young as he just turned 26 years old, but he has four full MLB seasons under his belt. He has endured some ups and downs throughout his short career but overall he is an above average corner outfield defender and has shown flashes of offensive potential. 2017 will be a big year for Ozuna as he will enter his second year of arbitration eligibility and a strong season will merit a healthy pay raise. Ozuna has some healthy power in his bat as he has now twice hit 23 home runs in a season (2014 and 2016). For a young guy he does not possess a lot of on base speed as he has only stolen 10 bases in his entire career. I feel like he has the ability to do more at the plate but he has a career 8.6% in field fly ball percentage, thus has a lot of unproductive at bats. He does hit the ball harder than average (37.4% in 2016) but his power ceiling is likely around what we’ve already seen. Ozuna should provide better defence now that he is likely to spend more time in left field as well. I anticipate that he can flirt with 25 home runs, 75 RBI’s, 80 runs and a 0.270 average again this season.

To round out the starting roster, the Marlins have J.T. Realmuto behind the dish. In 2016 Realmuto was the Marlins 2nd best position player. As a catcher his claim to fame is that he likes to run on the base paths (8 SB in 2015 and 12 SB in 2016). Realmuto is also a solid catcher and has performed well two years in a row. I don’t expect the batting average to remain above .300 as his BABIP was very high, but a drop to the 0.280 range is still very good. The young catcher will have his hands full in 2017 as I cannot say many good things about the Marlins starting pitching.

The Pitching

The Miami Marlins and baseball community suffered a devastating loss when 24 year old pitcher, Jose Fernandez, was killed in a boating accident last fall. Fernandez was a generational player and cannot be replaced, but baseball goes on and the Marlins will try their best to honour their fallen team mate in 2017 albeit with a much different rotation than 2016’s squad.

By default Wei-Yin-Chen is now the team’s top pitcher on paper. The former Oriole had a 2016 to forget as he had his worst major league season to date. Over the past 5 years he has been relatively solid, but last year Chen’s home run rate jumped considerably and he was hit harder than at any other point in his career. This is concerning considering that Marlins Park is one of the more pitcher friendly diamonds in baseball. His fastball and slider in previous seasons were above average in terms of effectiveness, but both pitches were less than effective for Chen. What’s also concerning is that his average fastball velocity dropped almost 1 Mph over his previous career average. Chen was never a flame thrower but he is now throwing 90.7 Mph. He ended up hitting the DL in July with an elbow injury, but returned for three games late in September. As a betting man I would suspect his elbow issue will flare up again this year and he will not remain the number one starter for the Marlins as another trip to DL is looming.

Tom Koehler has been a pretty durable pitcher during his MLB career as he has not missed a start since making the rotation in 2013. Outside of that fact, Tom Koehler is pretty mediocre. He has trouble at times with command and offers up too many walks. He also doesn’t strike out enough batters to get out of jams. Expect an ERA in the 4.55 range and a WHIP of 1.41. Gross.

Edinson Volquez was signed as a free agent to a two year deal this past off season. He’s basically Tom Kohler but older and is another guy who does not strike out a ton of batters and at times has issues with offering up walks. He has made over 30 starts every season since 2012 but posted an ugly 5.37 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in his 2016 campaign. The ERA will improve to probably 4.2 but that WHIP will still hover around 1.4 due to the command issues. There is little to no upside here but he will keep Miami in some ball games as long as the offence can put up runs.

Miami’s fourth starter is likely to be former Cincinnati Red, Dan Straily. The Marlins acquired Straily late in the off-season for three prospects. In his first full MLB season, Straily appears to have had a good season as he recorded 14 wins, an ERA of 3.76 and a WHIP of 1.19. What the advanced stats tell us is that he was a recipient of very favourable BABIP of .239 and an 81% strand rate, so needless to say he’s likely to regress quite a bit. His strike out potential is already likely capped out at 7.5 K/9, he is too home run prone and needs to do a better job limiting his walks. I’d expect the ERA to regress down to 4.55 and his WHIP to fall to 1.25. As a number four starter, the Marlins could do worse, but considering he’s probably a bit better then their number one starter…ouch.

To round out the rotation is lefty, Adam Conley. In his season and a half in the bigs, he has done a great job limiting the long ball and hovers around 8 strike outs per 9 innings. But similarly to the rest of the Marlins rotation Conley allows far too many walks. As I reviewed Conley’s advanced stats it feels like he is due to improve, but his issue appears to be that once he gets to the order a third time he falls apart. He possesses a plus slider but its effectiveness appears to only be against lefties, and his fastball which he throws 64% of the time is his least effective pitch. Conley is at the back end of the rotation for now, but if he can find a way to improve against rightys and get through an order a third time he instantly becomes the Marlins top pitcher. I wouldn’t expect a lot of quality starts from Conley as he is a 5 to 6 inning pitcher max. I’m not holding my breath this his development will be linear, but there’s a chance he takes a step forward. Out of the Marlins rotation Conley is probably the only guy I would want to own in fantasy baseball and it would be as one of my last pitchers.

At some point in the season I would expect that prospects Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino become part of the rotation due to injuries or poor performances from the aforementioned starters. Both pitchers are very limited in their ability to get strike outs so they will project to be no better than the options currently employed in the starting five.

Bullpen

The Marlins closing role will remain in the hands of A.J. Ramos who secured 32 and 40 saves in consecutive seasons. Like every other Marlins pitcher he offers up way too many walks throughout his career but he does have the ability to get out of jams as evidenced by his career 10.39 K/9 ratio. What scares me about Ramos is he only throws 91 to 92 Mph and he has been extremely lucky as of late because in 2016 he only allowed one home run. Any regression to his strike out totals or ability to keep the ball in the park will be disastrous since he will often gives up those free passes which will result in a few ugly blown saves.

The Marlins best reliever in 2016 was hard throwing righty, Kyle Barraclough. He should be the set up man for the Marlins in 2017 and this kid can hum it and rack up strike outs. Like Ramos he offers up too many walks but can strike out batters at a 13.27 K/9 ratio. Also like Ramos he was lucky in 2016 and only allowed one home run. I would expect some regression here as well. If Ramos is to lose his closing job this is the guy who likely gets a crack at the job.

Former Diamondbacks closer, Brad Ziegler will enter his first season with the Marlins. The submarine specialist finished off 2016 with the Red Sox where he had a decent run up until the playoffs. He will likely pitch out of the 7th inning but could see some closing duties if the bullpen needs a shake up. Zeigler has done a decent job limiting walks for a reliever and might end up being trusted by Don Mattingly over Barraclough. Also coming over from the Red Sox is Junichi Tazawa who offers a nasty split-finger fastball out of the pen and although he has never been a traditional closer, he could be in the mix for high leverage pitching as well.

The last pen pitcher of importance is former Yankee, David Phelps who has been converted from starter to bullpen long man. He will likely see a few spot starts this year but will mainly be used in long relief or early high leverage situations before the back end of the pen is required. This transition to the pen seemed to bode well for Phelps as he posted some of his best ratios of his career.

Outlook

The Marlins will put up some runs and play decent defence in 2017 but their starting pitching is one of the weakest in the league. The upside isn’t there from anyone currently on this staff and the loss of Jose Fernandez will be deeply felt. The Marlins will be in tough to win close games because of this and I expect them to once again finish outside of the playoff picture with 77 wins.

Fantasy Stud

Giancarlo Stanton – I personally will probably not end up with Stanton on my roster simply due to his cost on draft day, but if he can stay healthy he will be a huge addition to any fantasy squad. Expect a slash line of .261/.351/.536 with 35 homes, 90 RBI’s and 75 runs to boot. Injury is always a risk with Stanton so if his price on draft day falls to a realistic level and you feel like rolling the dice, giver!

Fantasy Bust

Dee Gordon – As I wrote earlier, Gordon only has 9 career home runs and at the age of 28 and after coming off a PED suspension there’s no indication that this limited power will ever develop. If he were to go cheaper in drafts I’d say go all in on Gordon to boost your average, runs and steals, but he is going anywhere from the 20th to 60th pick in drafts which is too steep for me and should be for you too.

Fantasy Sleeper

Justin Bour – The first basemen easily has 30 home run and 90 RBI potential if he can move up in the batting order and play every day. He has proven that he cannot hit for power off lefties but if you platoon him on your fantasy team you will be rewarded. He will likely be going cheap in drafts so keep an eye on how his spring training goes.