Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin Wednesday in San Diego, and as buzz builds around potential trades and signings across the sport, the Miami Marlins are among the clubs to watch.
The Marlins’ offseason is already well underway, complete with a new manager, a new front office staff, and a few question marks around the team’s composition. But one thing is for certain. As the club looks to create a winning culture, these next few weeks could be critical in their efforts to complete the picture.
One area of immediate concern for the Marlins is at the plate. Last season, Miami’s offense ranked 27th in baseball in batting average and on-base percentage, and scored the fewest runs in the National League. The nadir for the offense came in the form of a 37-inning scoreless streak in July which was the longest such streak in the major leagues since 2013.
“I don’t think that the record is necessarily indicative of the talent that we have here, based on the injuries that we had, based on the idea that we were trying to get young, young players experience in August and September,” Marlins general manager Kim Ng said. “Again, the record’s not indicative.”
Last year’s free agency sought to address the Marlins’ offensive needs with the additions of Avisaíl Garcia and Jorge Soler; however, both suffered forgettable campaigns. Soler, who spent much of the season on the injured list, suffered back and pelvis injuries. He was limited to just 72 games, while Garcia was ineffective for long stretches of the season and dealt with a lingering hamstring issue in the second half.
Indeed, the Marlins were unlucky on the injuries front. Miami players missed the eigth-most games in the majors due to injury, and Ng believes that contributed to the underperforming offense.
A significant casualty to that injury crisis was All-Star second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. Chisholm was far and away the best Marlins’ offensive player before a CT scan revealed a stress fracture in his back on July 29 that ended his season. Despite only playing 60 games, he led all Marlins in home runs (14).
“We’re monitoring everybody’s rehab process,” Ng said. “Obviously, that was a big point to the story last year in terms of injuries, and really trying to get those guys and keep them out on the field.”
In addition to keeping those players on the field, the Marlins in 2023 will also have new faces in the clubhouse. New manager Skip Schumaker not only got the stamp of approval from former manager Don Mattingly, but he’s also been building up his coaching staff in order to bring back that winning culture to Miami.
“He’s going to be great,” said Mattingly, who was in transit when the hire was made, but planned to reach out to Schumaker. “I think the people of Miami will like him. He’ll do a great job. He’s going to be good.”
Schumaker has already welcomed former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Jon Jay, as Miami’s new first base coach. Ng and club owner Bruce Sherman have put full faith in Schumaker and his ability to take the Marlins to the next step.
“I’m very excited and grateful that Bruce, Kim, and the Marlins organization have given me an opportunity to manage a very talented team,” Schumaker said. :Delivering a winning, sustainable culture with the expectation of getting into the postseason is the next step for this organization and South Florida—and I can’t wait to get started.”
In addition to Jay, Schumaker also added Luis “Pipe” Urueta as his bench coach. Urueta had previously been a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and was the manager of Columbia’s World Baseball classic squad, a position he will likely have to resign from.
Urueta is well respected across baseball. He interviewed for the Boston Red Sox’s managerial job after the 2020 season, and now takes his place as Schumaker’s right-hand man in the dugout. It is also of note that Urueta is fully bi-lingual, which will help Schumaker’s stated goal of effective communication.
The Marlins have also welcomed Caroline O’Connor as their president of business operations. Per CNBC, they’re the first team in major U.S. professional sports to have a woman as both general manager, and president.
“We are fortunate to have someone with Caroline’s business acumen and vision leading our day-to-day business operations,” Sherman said. “Her passion and drive for success is unmatched in our game and the South Florida market. Her leadership will continue to guide the Marlins organization toward our goal of sustained success while strategizing additional new ventures to grow our business and enhance our brand recognition.”
The Marlins also announced the arrival of new assistant general manager Oz Ocampo. Ocampo spent the previous decade with the Houston Astros and was integral in building that team into perennial championship contenders. Of particular note is Ocampo’s ability to find talent in Latin American Countries. Specifically he was integral in the signings of Frmaber Valdez, Christian Javier, and Jose Urquidy. This move amplifies the investment the Marlins have made into the Dominican talent, as the club announced the opening of a brand new $15 million academy in Boca Chica.
With the season assessed and new faces added in both the front office and the clubhouse, the team still has questions to answer in the coming offseason. Despite her optimistic outlook on the talent the team currently has at its disposal, Ng is cognizant of the need for the team to improve. And perhaps some of those answers begin to show up in California next week.
“We are going to do what we can to improve this club,” Ng said. “I don’t think that we can just sit here on our hands and think that everything’s going to be better. We are going to explore a lot of different items during the course of the offseason to improve this club.”
If there are trades to be made, the most likely direction is to deal a piece of the team’s deep starting rotation for offense. One particularly popular name is Pablo Lopez. The 26-year old has the perfect blend of proven success at the big league level and team control on his contract that makes him a valuable trade chip.
If free agency is the path toward more offense, it seems unlikely that the Marlins will be able to compete for the big prizes of the offseason like Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, or Trea Turner.
However, this year’s free agency class has tantalizing options for the Marlins. Josh Bell, Jean Segura, Will Myers would all be reasonably priced in free agency and would each immediately improve the Marlins offense. The Marlins could even take a flier on Joey Gallo, who might benefit from the league’s banning of the shift in the upcoming year.
Fans may bristle at the idea of the Marlins not splashing tons of money, but ownership has been clear. This organization will build through development.
“Obviously, last year, disappointing, and we have to not only bring people in from outside the organization via free agency, via trades, via development, but if you look at the success of some of the smaller- and medium-sized clubs, it’s come through development,” Sherman said. “So, I think that’s going to be an increased emphasis. And we made a financial commitment in the front office for that.”
One recent example of this model is the Cleveland Guardians, who ranked 27th in overall payroll last season and still made a playoff run that ended one game shy of the AL Championship Series. The Tampa Bay Rays, 23rd in payroll, also made the playoffs and for many years, have sustained winning records with limited resources.
The new-look Marlins could be on the same path. And they may take another step next week.