Getting the Marlins to 94 Wins

It would take many drastic moves — like trading for Nolan Arenado — to get the Marlins even close to 94 wins. (via Jennifer Linnea)

My girlfriend is a Marlins fan…sort of. She doesn’t really follow baseball, but she’s from Miami and has a custom Marlins jersey, so the trappings are there at least. And she knows I love baseball, so she calls herself the “Beisbol Girl in Training,” BBGIT for short.

I mention her because not long ago I was fumbling around for a Valentine’s gift, hopelessly looking for something original and special and affordable to no avail. And then, in my darkest hour, the Cupid of FanGraphs floated down to shoot me with an arrow of inspiration: Ben Clemens published his piece, Let’s Get the Rockies to 94 Wins.

That’s it! That’s the gift! Screw 94 wins, let’s just get the Marlins into the playoffs! That shouldn’t be too hard. I mean how bad could they really be? And no one signs free agents until spring training anymore, right? Right?

Okay, apparently teams decided to sign free agents this time around. And the Marlins are really quite terrible. But the lengths we’ll go to for love, I guess. 

Following Ben’s template, we need to establish a baseline first. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts page has projected 2020 win totals against neutral opponents, which for the Marlins comes to a 70-92 record. Depth Charts has an intra-division rival, the New York Mets, sitting in the second Wild Card spot with an 87-75 projected record. So the Marlins need to add 17 wins.

Desperate for a second opinion, I looked to Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA standings, which boosts the Marlins to a more respectable 71-91 record. PECOTA is also less bullish on the Braves, projecting the Cubs to take the second Wild Card with 85 wins. That’s only 14 wins the Marlins need to add! All hope is not lost! But for the sake of consistency (and maybe a misguided attempt to make things harder for myself), I’ll stick with the 17-win mark because I’ll be using the Depth Charts player projections instead of PECOTA. 

Luckily for me, the Marlins, despite their commitment to the tank, actually did more than the Rockies this winter. The Fish picked up Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar, and Jonathan Villar, two of whom have made All-Star teams while the third slid face first into Brandon Phillips’ derriere once. The Marlins picked up some actual quality players in other words. 

Two assumptions I’ll be making in this little experiment: 1) the Marlins are willing to use their payroll ~f l e x i b i l i t y ~ and 2) other teams are willing to trade this close to the season’s start. On the first point, the Marlins have $75 million in committed payroll. Let’s see if we can double that. And on the second point, I’m going to focus only on players who have been mentioned in trade discussions already and avoid any pie-in-the-sky, fantasy-baseball, Mike Trout-for-Isan Diaz “Who says no?” type deals.

With that said, my first move as GM of the suddenly not-tanking Marlins is…

Sign Yasiel Puig

This one is a no-brainer. The Marlins’ current right fielder is Garrett Cooper, a 29-year-old with 134 career games to his name. Cooper did put up 1.3 WAR for the Marlins in 2019, but Depth Charts expects only 0.6 WAR from him this season. 

Puig, meanwhile, has that electric quality that can change games, series, and entire seasons if he’s riding high. The problem with Puig, and the reason he’s the only remaining unsigned free agent from the FanGraphs Top 50 list, is his inconsistency. As Sheryl Ring broke down at Baseball.FYI, Puig goes through stretches where he swings at everything and others where he swings at nothing. Also, he struggles when opposing pitchers use offspeed pitches as putaways. Jay Jaffe also pointed out Puig’s wildly inconsistent swing rates here at FanGraphs and noted his defense has fallen off since his Dodgers peak.

All of which means Puig might be too much of a risk for a methodically built contender. But for our phoenix-like Marlins, he’s perfect. He provides the perfect blend of boom-or-bust, and if his personality can mesh anywhere, it has to be Miami. Let’s say Puig settles for a one-year deal for this Marlins experiment at $10 million. It’s a small pay raise and essentially a bet-on-yourself contract for Puig. 

For the Marlins, Puig’s projected 1.6 WAR gives us exactly one of our 17 wins when replacing Garrett Cooper. But for the sake of the exercise, let’s say Puig doesn’t press in his second consecutive contract year and thrives in South Beach. Instead of 2018 or 2019 Puig, we get 2017 Puig and his 2.9 WAR. With that extra win and change, our Marlins need only 15 more wins to make the playoffs.  And for me, it’s a nice bowtie to this Valentine’s present because Puig is my girlfriend’s favorite player. 

Raid the Rockies for all they have

You know how I said I wouldn’t do any of those who-says-no trades? Well, we’re going to get dangerously close on this one, but I’m trying to make it fair. Ultimately, the Rockies still probably say no, but here goes nothing:

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Colorado trades Nolan Arenado and German Marquez to Miami for JJ Bleday, Jazz Chisholm, Monte Harrison, Nick Neidert, Jordan Yamamoto, and the 68th pick in the 2020 draft.

Does that deal get anywhere close to a Rockies asking price? I have no idea! Maybe! I’m basing it on the Rockies-Cardinals trade Bruce Levine reported in January, which would have sent Carlos Martinez, Dakota Hudson, Tyler O’Neill, and Matthew Liberatore to Colorado for just Arenado. Obviously that rumored trade included more big league talent than prospects, but because my Marlins are focusing on the now, we’re thoroughly punting on the future. What that hypothetical Cardinals trade does show is a preference for pitching and desire for a power-hitting outfielder. 

In my deal, Neidert and Yamamoto provide the pitching upside, though not quite as much as Liberatore and Hudson would nor with the immediate impact of Martinez. Still, it’s something. The prestige of Bleday, a power-hitting outfielder and recent draftee, hopefully makes up for the pitchers’ lack of luster, and if not there’s always the lottery ticket of Harrison. Because I added Marquez to the equation, I’m also adding the Marlins’ top prospect Chisholm, FanGraphs’ 33rd overall prospect, and the Competitive Balance Round B draft pick. 

The longer I look at this trade, the less I know what to make of it. All I know is if the 2020 Marlins are going to make the playoffs, they need an impact bat and a rotation upgrade. Arenado and Marquez provide that. In the real world, the Marlins never would mortgage their future on a trade like this. But the Rockies have publicly put Arenado on the block, and Arenado has stated his unhappiness with management, so there’s room to be opportunistic. And worst-case scenario: If the Rockies say no, throw in Sixto Sanchez. Prospects don’t matter anyway.

So where does this leave our 2020 Marlins? Well first, the addition of Arenado pushes Brian Anderson to the outfield, which pushes Puig to center (Oh, no!), which pushes Villar back to shortstop, which replaces Miguel Rojas. Optimistically (very optimistically), let’s say Puig’s fading defense is equivalent to Villar learning a new position, so that change washes out. Therefore, Arenado’s projected 5.0 WAR replaces Rojas’ projected 1.5 WAR, giving us an extra 3.5 wins. With Yamamoto sent to Colorado, his projected 1.1 WAR is replaced by Marquez’s projected 4.0 WAR, another 3 wins. Only 8.5 wins to go!

As for payroll considerations, the Marlins are taking on almost $40 million in this trade and outlaying…basically nothing. Plus $40 million it is then. Who knew it was so easy to spend $50 million on three baseball players? Not major league owners that’s for sure!

Dickerson and Aguilar find their All-Star form

I thought about going after Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling here — a trade that would have been more economical but less impactful than our Arenado blockbuster — but neither really moves the needle that much. Platooning Pederson and Puig could add some value, but we’re already assuming Puig plays at a 3.0 WAR level, and why tinker with that? Also surprisingly, the remaining Marlins pitchers project to have better seasons than Stripling. Why overpay for bullpen depth?

Instead, I looked inward and found two All-Stars, wouldn’t you know it. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, I’ve been told, so let’s make it count for a whole lot more than it should.

Dickerson is projected for 1.1 wins, but when he made the All-Star team with the Rays, he was worth 2.6 wins, so let’s say he does that again. Aguilar has an even higher peak to realize, projected for 0.7 WAR this season but recording 3.1 WAR in his All-Star season with the Brewers. Neither player is that far removed from his peak — 2017 for Dickerson; 2018 for Aguilar — so this improvement isn’t even age-defying wish fulfillment. Aguilar has even said he’s in the best shape of his life! By losing 20 pounds this offseason, Aguilar added 2.5 wins for our Marlins, meaning we’re only 4.5 wins away from the second Wild Card spot. 

Villar doesn’t regress THAT much

I know I mocked Villar earlier when comparing his achievements to those of Dickerson and Aguilar, but in fairness, Villar has had a higher peak than both of them, AND it came more recently. Depth Charts expects Villar to regress this season, worth 2.1 WAR instead of the 4.0 WAR he put up for the Orioles last year. 

But let’s say Villar outplays his projection and records 3.0 WAR this year. Not quite what he managed for the Orioles but still respectable. Better than Dickerson even. If Villar can cling to his breakout a bit more tightly than he’s expected to, we’re only 3.5 wins away from a Marlins October. 


When doing this exercise for the Rockies, it was at this point Ben Clemens, having run out of player improvements, turned to Lady Luck for help. He wrote that one standard deviation of magic fairy dust gave the Rockies an extra 6.5 wins, which would be more than enough for our Marlins to make the playoffs.

But luck is a fickle beast, and magic fairy dust usually comes with caveats. You know how you can make your own luck? Cold, hard cash. To hit the goal of doubling payroll, our Marlins still have $25 million to spend. But with the free agent pool largely empty and our prospect reserves depleted, there’s nowhere to spend that money. Why not line some pockets for those 3.5 wins?

The Marlins play the Astros in early September for a three-game set. The Astros, projected for 97 wins, most likely will have already locked up a playoff berth. And given the general *gestures at everything,* we know the Astros have no problem with cheating. All the Marlins have to do is cut a check for $15 million, let’s say, to convince the Astros to turn a deaf ear on a certain banging scheme and groove a fastball or 30. Is it a smart use of $15 million? Absolutely not, but it guarantees an easy series sweep for the Fish. 

But we still need one more win to get over the 87-win threshold. We could leave that one to chance or…

Give the Mets $10 million to throw the last game of the season

Tell me the Wilpons wouldn’t do this. It almost assuredly would cost the Mets a playoff spot, but I fully believe the Wilpons would take money on the table over on-field success. The Marlins could pitch the $10 million as cover for the remainder of David Wright’s contract and most of Bobby Bonilla’s yearly payment. 

A bribe like this would be the absolute antithesis of good sportsmanship, but isn’t that the Mets’ entire ethos? Just think if the baseball world caught wind of this bribe. The banter, the tweets, the Metsy-ness. 

In the end, the Marlins making the playoffs only took $75 million, a healthy amount of greed, and a bald-faced willingness to break the rules. The funny part is, the least realistic of those three is an owner choosing to spend $75 million on winning baseball games. 

Regardless, even if I can’t engineer a Marlins’ playoff berth as my girlfriend’s Valentine’s present, I can take solace in the fact that, despite the team’s aversion to self-improvement, frugality against better reason, and admittedly destructive tendencies, she still loves them. Maybe there’s hope for me after all. 

Wes Jenkins is a staff writer at Redleg Nation and freelances when he can. You can follow him on Twitter @_wesjenks or check out more of his writing on his website,
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2 years ago

Always a good article when we can work a Bobby Bonilla payment reference in

2 years ago

So….did your GF like her gift?

Jetsy Extrano
2 years ago

Nice. Now try the Mariners.