As Spring Training inches ever closer, the Miami Marlins continue to sort their way through the 2020 free agency class.
Having already acquired first baseman Jesus Aguilar, reliever Yimi Garcia, infielder Jonathan Villar, catcher Francisco Cervelli, and outfielder Matt Kemp, the Marlins are widely expected to continue their pursuit of outfielder Yasiel Puig and others.
But would the Marlins be better served looking elsewhere for a “diamond in the rough?” Although improving from a 57-105 record should be a cinch, they’re still in no position to compete for a playoff slot, at least not as it currently stands. Most of their solutions in the minor leagues are still a season or two off.
Who are the biggest names still available through free agency as we sneak up on another season?
Josh Donaldson is far-and-away the highest rated free agent left on the open market. His 2019 WAR total of 6.07 (as calculated by Sportrac.com) outstrips the second place player by over two wins. The now-34-year-old third baseman is coming off his best season since his four 7+ WAR seasons ending in 2016 between the Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Offensively Donaldson’s offensive production ranked right up there with his better seasons. A .259/.379/.521 slashline, 37 home runs, and 94 RBI go hand in hand with his 15 DRS above average on the other side of the ball.
As with all free agents, the point of contention in signing a still-in-his-prime Donaldson will be the sticker price. With a “market value” in the neighborhood of $18 million, Donaldson would probably sign for two years and $40 million. The Marlins are not likely to pony up that kind of scratch.
With a 3.81 WAR in 2019, catcher Robinson Chirinos is the second most valuable player left remaining in free agency. The 35-year-old right-hander is coming off his best season, with a .238/.347/.443 slashline in 114 contests, along with 17 homers and 58 RBI.
Much of Chirinos’ value lies in his defensive prowess. Last season, he was six total zone runs better than the “average” catcher. Although his 21 percent caught stealing rate wasn’t elite by any measure, he was guilty of only four passed balls and finished with a .994 fielding percentage behind the plate.
With Jorge Alfaro written in pen as the Marlins starter, Chirinos may be a better change-of-pace backstop than the recently acquired Cervelli.
Next up on the available free agent list in none other than former Marlins starter Andrew Cashner. Marlins fans likely remember Cashner’s underwhelming showing for the 2016 team. A trade-deadline acquisition that season, he went 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA over 11 starts, with a would-be career-low 66 ERA+.
Since then, Cashner has played for the Texas Rangers, the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. He’s gone 26-34 with a 4.43 ERA in that time, with a 1.414 WHIP to his credit. Maybe most impressively, he went 9-3 for the last-place Orioles last season, with a solid 3.83 ERA in 96 1/3 pre-deadline innings.
Late of the New York Mets, 33-year-old corner infielder Todd Frazier is coming off his best season since 2016, while with the Chicago White Sox. For the Mets last season, Frazier hit .251/.329/.443 with 21 homers and 67 RBI in 133 games.
A now-nine-season major league veteran, Frazier has clubbed 214 homers through his career and finished with above average OPS in each of his last six seasons save a mark of 93 in 2018. Last season, he was worth 2.2 WAR and finished with a 106 OPS+. He hasn’t lost a step defensively either, holding down a .964 fielding percentage and slightly above average “advanced” defensive metrics.
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Another starting pitcher the Marlins should consider is 33-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova. He’s coming off a career-high tying 187 innings in 2019, with a Major League-high 34 starts. Over his 10-season career, he’s accrued a 89-76 record, a 4.32 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, and 954 K’s in 1328 2/3 innings.
Each of these possible additions would be considered “stopgap” measures, at best, considering the average age of these five is 34-years-old. As to those who say, “trust the process,” it’s a long process. None of these players, if signed, would offer a significant holdup to the cavalry currently marinating in the Marlins minor league affiliate system.