2014 Marlins Preview: Veterans Add Much Needed Experience to Young Team


Mar 6, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (left) talks with starting pitcher Nate Eovaldi (right) in the dugout during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins are the youngest team in the Major League at exactly 26 years old and have the second lowest average salary per player in the Majors at $1.135 million per player . This is not a coincidence, the 2014 Marlins even more so than the 2013 edition is a team on the crossroads.

Young raw talent meets wily veterans trying to give their careers one last chance. Any team with as many prospects and post prime players as the 2014 Marlins will most likely not end up being too successful and will wallow somewhere in the calm and uninspiring waters of mediocrity. This Marlins season will be the story of three teams playing together, guys all wearing the same uniform, but off different minds about what that means to them. In a three article series that will serve as sort of season preview, I will detail those three teams and how they will impact the Marlins overall record and production this year. First with the veterans, I will explore how these older players have come to this point, how the Marlins acquired them and what we should expect from them.

The future, will analyze the players that Miami fans and the front office hopes will take the Marlins to October and maybe even to a World Series. Finally I will discuss the Marlins pitching as a subset of the “future” given how young and the amount of potential all those guys have.

There is a weird mix of hope and gloom when watching what everyone knows will be a bad team for the better part of six months. There are amazing flashes of brilliance and frustrating moments that will make you question why you even watch baseball at all. Building a winner is painful and the only way to get to the future is to go through the present.

Here it is, how the past, present and future of the Marlins intersect. For better or worse the Marlins future will have to wait as many good things do. There is optimism in believing in youth but in realistic terms it is much more practical for a team with limited financial resources to go about building a somewhat “competitive” team, veterans, especially veterans who are past their primes.

With the exception of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, every one of the position players the Marlins acquired are older than 30, past their primes. What’s even more deflating is that the Marlins have to hope that guys like Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones to take them from a woefully bad offensive infield to a mediocre one. I don’t want to bore everyone with overly specific statistics so my aim here is to give a quick breakdown of the major moves that Marlins made this off-season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia – 3 years/ $21 million.
Last year Brantly and Mathis were bad, not just bad, the worst catching combination in the Major Leagues coming in at a .235 wOBA and a 42 wRC+. This off-season the Marlins went out and acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Considering how bad the Marlins were in 2013 at catcher acquiring a legitimate power hitting catcher who in his time in Fenway park was good for 15 to 20 home runs a year. Decent OPS and wOBA in the high .700s and mid .300s, respectively.

He is also a decent defensive catcher and a good pitch framer according to research by Baseball Prospectus.
It is hard to speculate on projections outside of the work done by experts, who expect him to keep up his performance much the same as it was in Boston, which along with David Ross combined to be the fourth catching combo by wOBa at .339 and fifth by WAR at 4.7. Considering that a win player is Major League average a backstop who will probably contribute around 3 wins is great for a team that so struggled at the position.

Garrett Jones – 2 years/ $7.75 Million
The biggest change in my opinion this off-season for the Marlins is the end of the Logan Morrison era. LoMo was the great hope for the future, a consummate hitter, with a great eye and scrappy and gritty as a player could be. Then his knees happened and what was hope became despair.

The Marlins traded LoMo to the Mariners for Carter Capps and thus created an opportunity for somebody to take his place at first base. The Marlins tapped the former Pirates 1B Garrett Jones to be at least one half of the solution to the Marlins first base puzzle. Jones is a left handed hitter who has struggled mightily against left handed pitching and in his age-32-season is on the wrong side of his prime.

The upside to this is that at $7.75MM for 2 years his contract is a relative bargain. Furthermore the Marlins can’t be picky when it comes to possible left handed power bats and for better or worse at least he has that going for him.

Jones has declined in recent years with walk rates decreasing and strikeout rates increasing since 2011 as well as having a career low wOBA of .309 in a full season in 2013.
Another downside of Jones is that he is a below average defensive first baseman which doesn’t help his case as an upgrade after the conclusion of the LoMo experiment.

Jeff Baker – 2 Years/ $3.7 Million
I argued in an earlier article https://marlinmaniac.com/2014/01/31/2014-preview-garret-jones-left-handed-pitching-platooning/ that the Marlins to be successful must platoon Jones with a another hitter who was much better against left handed pitching. This was around the time when there were rumors that Baker would sign with Miami. Baker ultimately did sign with the Marlins and will most likely slot in at 1B as a partner to Jones.

Since 2011 Baker has averaged 196 plate appearances a year the majority against left handed pitching. 60% in 2011, 68% in 2012 and 70% in 2013. Both Wrigley Field and the stadium formerly known as the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington now Globe Life Park in Arlington are good to great hitters’ parks, Baker’s 2013 stats were unreasonable and will most likely regress. In 175 PA, 70% of them against lefties, Baker hit 11 HR, with a .905 OPS and a .389 wOBA and a 30.6% HR/FB rate

I presume he will be as protected this year as he was last owing to his role as a platoon partner with Jones but more likely than not because of a change of home field the odds of him having a HR/FB rate in the 30s is nearly impossible. There is much upside to the Baker signing after having what seemed like a career year in his age-31-season even though the odds of him replicating this is nearly impossible.
Ultimately, there should be little to expect in the long term from the Jones/Baker platoon. But that is exactly the point they are a stop gap until the future actually comes. First base will be an intriguing conversation to have but now is not the time for that discussion.

Casey McGehee – 1 Year/ $1.1 Million
Casey McGehee’s career was marked by the highest highs that a young player can have hitting in a lineup with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart in front of him. McGehee proves that its important to be in the right place at the right time.

It is easy to drive in runs and be offensively skilled in a stacked lineup. His time in Pittsburgh and in the Bronx was not nearly as good bad enough that he had to go to Japan to find employment in 2013

McGehee’s 2013 numbers in Japan maybe proves that NPB pitching outside of Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and the Yankees hope Masahiro Tanaka is not nearly as good as Major League pitching and is most realistically a AAAA quality league. McGehee’s .292/.376/.515 2013 NPB triple slash line puts him near Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria levels. Among the best 3B in the league.

It is unrealistic to expect that a 31 year old who is no superstar to have numbers like that in the Majors in 2014. A fair expectation for me would be if he slashes .250/.320/.440 or even a little less, around Major League average for a third baseman, I think would be not good but it would serve as a good enough bridge. The future is close, Colin Moran will soon be manning the hot corner for the Marlins and taking them to a brighter place

Rafael Furcal – 1 Year/ $3 Million
Sometimes statistics are a little meaningless often it is about nothing except perception. The symbol of the Marlins lack of commitment to put a legitimate Major League product on the field last year was the signing of Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco, there was no realistic expectation that they could contribute.

The Furcal signing is slightly better but not by much, it is trying to put what was once a big name and give him one last chance to play for a Major League team. Furcal will most likely not be very healthy this year and Derek Dietrich, Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas will probably take a whole lot of plate appearances at 2B

Veterans, wily veterans are key to building a roster, especially on a budget, the Marlins did the best they could. There is no expectation of real success and 2014 will be nothing more than a bridge to the future. This rings true to me and at least there is hope for the near future even if 2014 will be painful but it won’t be as bad as 2013.

What do you think of the Marlins off-season acquisitions? Do you think that they can contribute enough to make the team at least somewhat competitive? Are these guys all past their primes? Tell me what you think in the comments.