The Miami Marlins finished 2016 3rd in the National League East with a 78-83 record. The Marlins were one of the best teams in the MLB making contact as they finished 4th in batting average. However, due to injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and a lack of power from the infield, they struggled to drive those guys in ranking 27th in the MLB in terms of runs scored and 25th in OPS.
Miami's pitching was a tale of 2 parts. Part A) Jose Fernandez, one of the best young arms in the entire MLB capable of shutting down an offense every time he was out there....and Part B) Everyone else NOT named Jose Fernandez, a collection of arms that combined for a 26-34 record with a 4.61 ERA and a 7.2 K/9. Stats that would have placed them among the bottom 10 of the MLB in those categories. Sadly for Miami, and quite frankly all of baseball, the tragedy that occurred with Jose is reality and leaves Miami in a very vulnerable state in the rotation.
Despite a clear need to improve the rotation, the Marlins were not in a position to make any significant free agent signings due to the fact that the owner of the team, Jeffrey Loria, is actively looking to sell the team in order to move into the world of politics. The club does deserve credit though for filling every hole that was opened by the departure of Andrew Cashner, Mike Dunn, Jeff Francoeur, Chris Johnson, Jeff Mathis, and Fernando Rodney.
To fill the void left by Fernandez, the Marlins traded 3 prospects to Cincinnati for RHP Dan Straily. After dealing with injuries for the prior 2 years, Straily finally was healthy and performed very well with a 14-8 record with a 3.76 ERA although that did come with a 4.88 FIP due to a league high 31! HRs allowed. Moving from Great American to Marlins Park will mitigate that problem though.
The team also signed RHP Edinson Volquez to a 2 year/$22M contract free agent contract to be their innings eating mid rotation arm. The 33 year old has been quite durable as he has made 30+ starts each of the last 5 seasons. His 2016 season with the Kansas City Royals was not his best performance though as he led the MLB in ERs allowed leading to a 10-11 record with a 5.37 ERA.
The Marlins will trot out the same exact line-up in 2017 as they did in 2016. hoping for some better results from the group. Getting a full season of work from Dee Gordon will provide a substantial boost over last year as he missed 80 games due to a PED suspension. A full healthy season of Giancarlo Stanton should also go a long way in improving the team's ranking. Stanton was on pace for his 4th career 35+ HR season before he suffered a groin muscle tear that cause him to miss the last 6 weeks of the season.
The club also has high hopes in a pair of young players taking the next step in their development. First, Marcell Ozuna coming off his first All-Star caliber season will be looking to solidify his status as a strong HR hitting middle of the line-up bat to protect Stanton from getting pitched around. Second, budding catching star J.T. Realmuto will look to build on his break-out 2016 season that saw him post a +3.5 WAR which was 2nd best on the team behind Christian Yelich. In fact, Realmuto's 2016 performance was only bested by All-Star catchers Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy.
I fully expect the Marlins to have one of the better offenses in the MLB this season capable of finishing in the top half of the league. Personally I think Realmuto has more value in the 2 hole than Martin Prado does....but that speaks to the strong balance throughout the entire of their line-up.
As poorly as the rotation projects...the Marlins bullpen still looks as strong as it was in 2016. The "for some odd reason" always under pressure A.J. Ramos returns as the closer for his 3rd season; a role he has excelled in with a 2.55 ERA and 72 saves over the past 2 seasons. The pressure probably comes from the fact that his set-up guy, and both 7th inning guys, have all been strong in their own rights. Barraclough and Ziegler both posted strong 2016 numbers with sub 2.90 ERAs and Junichi Tazawa, even though his ERA was 4.17, has closer type stuff as well.
The one weakness the club's bullpen does have though is a lack of a premium Lefty One Out GuY (LOOGY). With so many strong lefties in the division, they LOOGY role is of heavy importance if the Marlins wish to close games out without any drama in the late inning. They will turn to the MLB sophomore Hunter Cervenka to try and fill this void. In 2016, Cervenka faced 99 left handed batters allowing only a .200 batting average against him and K'ing 20% of those batters. Those K's also came with BBs to 12% of the batters. Cervenka's performance in 2017 will be just as important as the late innings guys