Between the impending doom of a lockout that threatens the 2022 MLB schedule, the Texas Rangers spending half of a billion dollars, and the New York Mets forming the best pitching duo of recent memory, there’s been a lot to process over this last week. The hot stove is scorching, teams are panicking to get medicals done before the lockout, star shortstops are coming off the market at a rapid pace, and for some reason, players like Kris Bryant are being linked to the Rockies. Among all of that, it would not be that shocking if you missed the rather solid offseason the Miami Marlins are putting together.
The Marlins, although outpaced in spending by the division-rival Mets, have clamored together an impressive group of acquisitions through both trade and free agency, as well as locking down one of their current stars for a few years to come through extension. Whether that means they’ll compete for a playoff spot in 2022 remains a point of contention, but they sure seem to be setting up like a rather solid ballclub. You shouldn’t be shocked if within two years the Marlins are talked about as the team with the best rotation in all of baseball, spearheaded by Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and NL ROY runner-up Tyler Rogers. Sixto Sanchez, Max Meyer, and 2021 debutant Edward Cabrera remain in the wings, and that’s STILL excluding players like Elieser Hernandez and recent trade acquisition Jesus Luzardo. All that remains is a strong core of batters, and you’re looking at a great baseball team. The Marlins front office, led by groundbreaking GM Kim Ng, seems to see the same picture as they’ve gone out and done exceptional business to this point.
SP Sandy Alcantara:
When you’ve got exceptional talent in-house, it’s best if you lock it down for the long haul. Ng and the Marlins did just that, inking a five-year, $56M extension that includes a club option after the 2026 season. In Alcantara the Marlins get a relatively proven commodity. Elevating his status from innings-eater (one of seven SP to throw 200 IP in 2021) to bonafide ace, Alcantara has the makings of a top tier starter in the national league. The 26-year-old relies primarily on a four-pitch mix, alternating between a four-seamer, sinker, changeup, and slider, none of which he throws more than 30% of the time.
As you can see from Alcantara’s Savant percentiles, he excels in most categories, but where he thrives is chase rate, throwing pitches outside of the zone likely to produce either a whiff or weak contact, thus his above average Whiff% and average exit velocity. Alcantara fits the mold of a ground ball pitcher, producing a GB% of 48% or above on three of his four main pitches, the one exception being his four-seam. His ability to generate grounders is so good in fact, that when it comes to his sinker and changeup both have negative average launch angles. Pair those with a slider that misses nearly 40% of bats when swinging at it, as well as a .189 BA against, and you’ve got the makings of one nasty pitch repertoire. The Marlins locked up their ace, and they did it for significantly under market value.
The first of two players acquired via trade as to this point by the Marlins, the former Pirates catcher provides a veteran presence, as well as defensive excellence. Stallings, 31, was acquired for three players, namely pitcher Zach Thompson, as well as Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott. Nicolas and Scott both are ranked in the top 20 of Fangraphs prospect rankings in the Marlins system but the presence Stallings provides behind the plate seems worthwhile enough to forego whatever future those three names had in Miami.
What you can expect from Stallings is simple. He’s not going to provide much offensively, definitely a bottom of the order bat who can get on base a good chunk thanks to a pretty hefty walk rate, but defensively the Marlins just acquired one of the better catchers in the game. Fresh off of an NL Gold Glove win, Stallings was second in DRS (defensive runs saved) according to Fielding Bible among all players, bested by Ryan McMahon of the Rockies by a single run. Stallings will provide an excellent veteran presence to that aforementioned young staff, hopefully mentoring them to their full potential along the way. Stallings is by no means a marquee piece, but you don’t need stars at every position to compete, just guys who can offer you a little bit of something that others can’t, and Stallings fits that niche perfectly.
RF Avisail Garcia:
Joining Stallings on the procession of talent moving from the NL East to the Marlins is former Brewer Avisail Garcia, who signed a four-year deal worth $53M. The 30-year-old only qualified for free agency this year on account of a stipulation in his contract that a certain amount of plate appearances would convert the final year of his deal into a $12M mutual option, one in which he declined, betting on a larger haul by testing the waters. Garcia provides a power bat that the Marlins are sorely lacking, with only Jesus Aguilar hitting more than 20 homers for the Marlins this season. (Adam Duvall did too, but has since been traded) Perhaps Garcia and Aguilar can form a dynamic duo of power bats that have been funneled down the Brewer to Marlin pipeline. Expect his HR number to drop a little bit on account of park factors, with the Marlins stadium less hitter-friendly than the confines of American Family Insurance Field.
Fangraphs STEAMER tool, used to project what a future season is likely to look like for a player expects Garcia to hit for a 109 wRC+, but keep in mind that that’s his median projection, there’s a 50% chance according to that projection system that he can outperform that, which would be amazing for the Marlins. With another year of development for rookie Jazz Chisholm likely to lead to an uptick in offensive production, the Marlins are beginning to assemble the foundations of an effective order with the likes of Garcia, Chisholm, Brian Anderson and Aguilar. Now if only they had another piece, perhaps an average to mildly above-average bat that can also play some stellar infield defense. Maybe someone like…
3B Joey Wendle:
Last, but assuredly not least, is 2021 AL All-Star Joey Wendle. Wendle was acquired via trade with the Rays earlier today, exchanging him for MiLB outfielder Kameron Misner. The Marlins were the benefactors of the Rays penny-pinching ways, as Wendle found himself on the chopping block after the signing of Corey Kluber by the Rays left him a likely non-tender candidate ahead of the non-tender deadline that takes effect at midnight tonight. While he isn’t exactly a name that puts folks in seats, Wendle is incredibly valuable. Take Jason Collette of Fangraphs tweet as proof.
Similar to Stallings, Wendle is likely to provide more of an impact on the defensive end of his game than with his bat, but he’s more valuable there than some may think. Capable of playing 2B as well as his home at 3B at an above average level, the former Ray is versatile in the infield. What’s most interesting about him is his home/road splits. Willy Adames spoke on how hard it is to hit in Tropicana Field earlier this year before breaking out with the Brewers after a trade, and there’s reason to believe Wendle is capable of the same. With nearly equal games played at home/away, look at Wendle’s splits per Fangraphs:
If you’re looking for a 2022 breakout candidate, look no further. Wendle provides so much more value than meets the eye, and the Rays choosing not to pay him is going to pay dividends for the fish of south Florida.
What To Expect:
Are the Marlins in the collective group of teams likely to be competing for the World Series come 2022? Not just yet. Competing for the playoffs? Absolutely. Kim Ng, Derek Jeter, and co. have this team about one to two years away from being a serious contender but expect a large step forward this year. Youth development remains the primary focus of this year, with a core of homegrown players likely to be the foundation of any future success. With this large jump forward, You can now effectively claim that four out of the five teams in the NL East are competing for the division next year, leading to one of the more enticing divisional races of the season.
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