Jeter and Pals Ruin a Baseball Team
It’s well-known that the Miami Marlins are an awful baseball team. After Jeffrey Loria sold the Marlins to Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter (among others) in 2017, the new management team immediately embarked upon the Fourth Great Marlins Fire Sale. The entire outfield (including 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton and 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich) was sold off for spare parts and salary relief. The Marlins, unsurprisingly and deservedly, went on to be pretty terrible in 2018.
The 2018-2019 offseason brought about the trade of J.T. Realmuto, Miami’s last star-caliber player. Aside from that trade and the addition of some veteran depth in Neil Walker and Sergio Romo (among others), all was quiet on the southern front before the 2019 season.
The Marlins of Baseball Present
This offseason, however, Jeter et al. are making additions to the team rather than subtractions. Smart additions, no less! There haven’t been any splashy trades or free agent signings thus far (spoiler alert: there won’t be), but teams in the midst of scorched-earth, beginning-of-Major-League-style rebuilds aren’t going to make the playoffs by signing Anthony Rendon. The Marlins are, instead, making the exact moves that every tanking restructuring team should be making: low-cost, high-upside deals that will make the team more interesting to watch in the short term and perhaps yield prospects via deadline trades.
The Section About Yimi García
The Marlins’ recent signing of Yimi García is a perfect example of a smart move by a rebuilding team. The Dodgers non-tendered García in December, and Miami signed him soon afterward. García is a perfect play for upside. He’s a durable reliever who throws mid-90s heat with a gnarly slider. And, more appealingly for many of MLB’s owners, he’s signed to a contract worth barely more than the league minimum.
If García pitches well, Miami can flip him to a contender at the deadline for a prospect or international bonus money or some other handy baseball asset. If García gets hurt or pitches badly, it’s no big deal from management’s perspective since he’s signed for basically nothing (in baseball-salary terms, anyway). García is a perfect signing by a rebuilding team: he’s cheap and durable and has potential to bring in useful future assets.
Cervelli and Dickerson and Villar, Oh My!
Miami has bought low on other established veterans in the past few months as well. Arguably the most prominent names among them are catcher Francisco Cervelli, outfielder Corey Dickerson and second baseman Jonathan Villar. Cervelli is on a one-year, $2 million deal, and figures to slot in as the team’s backup catcher. Cervelli spent most of 2019 on the IL, but he was a solidly above-average option behind the plate as recently as 2018. He doesn’t project to be an everyday player in 2020, but he should be a decent backup for Jorge Alfaro.
Dickerson is also a quality signing for Miami. Before his addition, Miami’s outfield projected to be very non-good (to say the least). Now, Miami’s outfield will be very non-good but with Corey Dickerson! Dickerson’s Fangraphs page pegs him as a 1-WAR player in 2020, but that seems somewhat pessimistic based on his recent performances. According to Statcast, his .906 OPS in 2019 was pretty lucky, but he didn’t outperform his batted-ball metrics by much. He’s signed for a total of $17.5 million over the next two years, which shouldn’t strain any team’s wallet. He’s also one of the more fun hitters in the league, which has to count for something.
Finally, Jonathan Villar got to move from one tire fire to another after Baltimore shipped him off to South Beach ahead of the non-tender deadline. Villar was worth 4 WAR last season thanks to his stellar baserunning and above-average offense. He’s projected to provide the Marlins with solid value from all over the diamond for the low, low (okay, not that low) price of $10.4 million in 2020. He’s projected to regress pretty hard (all the way down to 1.7 WAR), but he’ll still be plenty useful as a utility guy even if he can only match that projection.
The Reclamation Projects
On the fringier side of things, the Marlins also brought on some less-sure talents for 2020. The most prominent of these is Jesús Aguilar, who was a slugging All-Star for the Brewers in 2018. However, a 2019 season fraught with injuries and underperformance led to a midseason trade and an end-of-season DFA. Miami’s paying him $2.5 million in 2020, which is an eminently reasonable rate for a formerly fearsome masher who’s only just turned 30. Seriously, this guy was a monster.
They also signed Matt Kemp, for reasons that probably make perfect sense to the Marlins’ front office execs.
Over on the pitching side of things, Jeter and Friends have signed an assortment of interesting relievers. The most interesting of these is probably Pat Venditte, the (in?)famous switch-pitcher. They also signed Josh Smith, who washed out of the Red Sox organization after a brutal 2018, and pulled formerly high-ranked prospect Sterling Sharp off the Rule 5 scrap heap. None of these are moves that will get the Marlins to a World Series, but they are smart, cheap moves that only have the potential to help the team in the present and future.
What Happens Now?
The Marlins have done well so far this offseason. The road ahead is long and hard and full of terrible baseball, but Miami’s current M.O. of making small-time signings with upside is exactly what they should be doing at this phase in their rebuild. Even if none of these moves end up working out, well, at least they tried (which is a lot more than a lot of teams can say). And if all of their new major-league signees become All-Stars, then hurray! Maybe the new talent can bring some fans into that massive, empty stadium.