Revamped lineup makes Marlins optimistic for 2014
Miami hopes Salty, Jones, Furcal, McGehee will boost offense, complement hurlers
MIAMI -- Considering all the struggles the Marlins went through this past year, it is understandable why they eagerly await 2014.
Actually, there are 100 reasons the organization is ready to turn over the calendar. Miami lost 100 games in 2013.
Calling the record "unacceptable," new president of baseball operations Michael Hill and his staff have spent the past few months formulating a plan to make improvements.
Thus far, we've seen some results. The Marlins were among the more active teams at the Winter Meetings, announcing the free-agent signing of first baseman Garrett Jones, while also completing two trades. Logan Morrison was sent to Seattle for reliever Carter Capps, and Justin Ruggiano was dealt to the Cubs for Brian Bogusevic.
In the days leading up to the Winter Meetings, Miami also signed free-agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and former All-Star shortstop Rafael Furcal, who is converting to second base. And a week after the Meetings ended, the Marlins used free agency again to sign third baseman Casey McGehee, who belted 27 home runs while playing in Japan last season.
After finishing last in the Majors in runs scored, home runs and batting average, the Marlins focused on upgrading the offense.
"I think we've done a lot to reshape our roster and prepare us for 2014," Hill said. "Are we finished? No. But we've changed the look of this roster from 2013, and added pieces, we think, will help us win more games in 2014."
Pitching was the strength in 2013, and Miami's best chance to make steady improvement starts with the players who will take the mound.
In Jose Fernandez, the NL Rookie of the Year, the Marlins have one of the rising stars in the game. In Giancarlo Stanton, they have one of the most feared power threats around. And Steve Cishek has become a lock-down closer.
There are enough core pieces in place for optimism. Manager Mike Redmond, entering his second season, has more weapons and options to compete in the tough National League East.
"Improve our offense," Hill said. "That was our primary goal."
Have the Marlins done that?
The answer won't be entirely known until the Marlins report to Spring Training on Feb. 16 in Jupiter, Fla. Clearly, the organization feels it is moving in the right direction. Still, like all teams, Miami has some questions that need to be answered. Here are a few:
1. Will Stanton bounce back? Some new faces have been brought in, but the club maintains Stanton is the face of the franchise. Will he live up to the billing after a subpar 2013? Like the rest of the club, Stanton had a rough year. The slugger missed more than a month due to injuries, and he never got into a consistent groove. This is a big season for the 24-year-old, who saw a decline in his power numbers. The offseason moves should give Stanton more protection. It's also up to him to make the adjustments to become the threat everyone expects. If Stanton becomes a force in the middle of the order, chances are the Marlins will enjoy a bounceback season. If not, and the team flounders, look for the trade rumors to surface around the All-Star break.
2. What can fans expect from Fernandez? The reigning NL Rookie of the Year may have been a feel-good story in 2013. Next year, he won't be a secret. The league is well-aware of his talents. Now, it is up to the 21-year-old to take the necessary steps to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump." There also is a question about how many innings Fernandez will throw. Although it is expected to go up from the 172 2/3 he threw as a rookie, it is unclear if he will be pushed to as many as 200 innings. Perhaps he will be, but the Marlins again will handle their young star with care.
3. Can Furcal play second base? Signing Furcal to a one-year, $3 million contract is a low-risk, potentially high-reward move. Furcal's track record speaks for itself. He's been in the big leagues 14 years, and he's been to the playoffs 12 times. But he's been a shortstop. He's agreed to switch to second base. Furcal also is bouncing back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, which forced him to miss all of last year. Miami is banking on Furcal being healthy and productive at the leadoff spot while handling a new position.
4. Is Garrett Jones ready to face lefties? During his years with the Pirates, the left-handed-hitting first baseman belted more than 20 home runs three times. Even in a platoon situation last year, the 32-year-old connected on 15 homers. The Pirates rarely used Jones against lefties in '13. The Marlins, at least for now, say they are willing to let Jones play every day, regardless of who is on the mound. So at least early on, Jones will get a chance to show what he can do against lefties on a regular basis. If he struggles, then a platoon situation becomes inevitable.
5. How will McGehee handle third? All offseason, third base was listed as the top priority. It was that way heading into the Winter Meetings and coming out of them. The club weighed a number of free-agent and trade options. Miami ended up rolling the dice by signing free agent Casey McGehee, the 31-year-old who spent 2013 playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. McGehee adjusted his swing and produced big power -- batting .289 with 27 home runs and 90 RBIs in 137 games. McGehee's best big league season came in 2010 with the Brewers, when he belted 23 homers and drove in 104 runs. But he tailed off in 2012, combining to bat .217 with nine homers for the Pirates and Yankees. McGehee appears to be a low-risk, high-reward signing.
6. How will Marcell Ozuna handle center? Full of energy and enthusiasm, Ozuna made an immediate impact after he was called up from Double-A in late April. Initially, he was brought in to take over in right field after Stanton hurt his hamstring. Like many rookies, Ozuna had his struggles. On the day he was set to be optioned back to Jacksonville, he sustained a left thumb injury that required season-ending surgery. Heading into Spring Training, Ozuna is the frontrunner to be the starting center fielder. Ideally, he may be suited to play a corner outfield spot. But he's been playing center in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and his thumb seems to be fine.
7. Can Adeiny Hechavarria's offense improve? Defensively, the Marlins believe Hechavarria is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Hitting remains a question. In time, the club feels its flashy shortstop will become productive at the plate. At some point in his career, he could fit the mold of a No. 2 hitter. That won't be the case until he gets better plate command. In the offseason, Hechavarria has been working on an up-the-middle approach the team hopes he carries over into next season.
8. How will the rotation shape up? Barring anything unforeseen, the top three starters are in place -- Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez. Aside from Fernandez being the ace, the other two could flip-flop. The fourth and fifth spots are up for grabs. Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler are the incumbents, but they will have to earn their places. There are several promising prospects who are close to being big league ready. Andrew Heaney is one of the more highly touted lefty prospects in the game. Chances are he won't be ready until around mid-season. Brad Hand and Brian Flynn are two other left-handed candidates in the mix for rotation spots.
9. Will Capps lock down the eighth? Trading a popular player like Logan Morrison wasn't easy. In return, the Marlins are hopeful they've brought in a dominating reliever. Capps joins Miami after being part of the Mariners' bullpen the past two seasons. The 23-year-old was highly coveted. He boasts a fastball that has reached triple digits to go along with a deceptive delivery. If Capps becomes what the Marlins hope, the right-hander could handle the eighth inning, setting up Cishek in the ninth.