With the final out of the 2016 World Series, the Chicago Cubs made history on Wednesday night and put every other Major League team on notice this could be a special team that could win a few more championships before they are done.
General manager Theo Epstein repaired the issues in Boston and brought World Series rings to the AL East team. He came to Chicago and erased the curse of the Billy goat and Bartman and erased years of doubt about “when” it would happen. For a team like the Miami Marlins, there is a plan moving forward. Getting to the playoffs is the first step – and after that, some many great things can happen.
First on the list of progress is free agency, both giving new contracts to roster players and attempting to gain a few more arms and potentially a bat or two. The 79-82 record is not indicative of the progress this team made as a hitting club, albeit a slight move upward. The pitching staff, as we seem to talk about every day, is a work in progress due to injuries and the loss of Jose Fernandez. I can say I am excited about what’s to come. Maybe that’s the euphoria of watching the Cubs finally win, but Miami has some solid pieces in their lineup that give me hope.
Now, the team must fix its pitching staff.
Joe Frisaro of MLB.com broke down the Marlins free agency situation. Now that the World Series is over (I am quietly weeping over this) all clubs have five days to exclusively negotiate with their free agent-eligible players. After that period, pending free agents are permitted to talk with all clubs.
Seven players who finished the season with the Marlins fall into that category, and the organization is open to bringing back at least a few of them.
Initially, the Marlins had nine pending free agents, but the team signed third baseman Martin Prado to a three-year, $40 million deal in early October, and they also picked up the $2 million club option for outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. There are other players on the current roster the team must address.
Andrew Cashner might be the biggest name the club must work with to decide if he is part of the plans for the coming season. Cashner was a mid-season pick up and said he would like to come back to play in south Florida if a deal could be worked out and the team would relent on its policy of no beards. Cashner was pretty attached to the one he grew in San Diego and yes, it is a big deal to him.
His time in Miami wasn’t the most successful. Cashner appeared in 12 games (11 starts) for Miami, going 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA. Starting pitching is a high offseason priority for the Marlins, but bringing back Cashner appears to be a long shot. He made $7.15 million in 2016, and if another club offers a multi-year deal, the Marlins will likely look in another direction.
Fernando Rodney was brought in from San Diego as well prior to the All-Star game to help with a bullpen that dealt with an ailing AJ Ramos. Rodney is not expected to be back, but could be part of a package to bring in other pitching help.
Rodney has a $2 million club option for 2017. The Marlins may have considered picking that up, but it is doubtful now because of bonuses that raise that figure to about $5 million. The Marlins acquired the veteran reliever in late June from San Diego. Like Cashner, he had his struggles in South Florida, posting a 5.89 ERA in 36 2/3 innings with the Marlins.
While he was dynamic on the left coast, everything changed once he made the move to Miami.
Jeff Francoeur said all the right things when the Atlanta Braves traded him to Miami in the wake of the injury to Giancarlo Stanton. The right fielder may have very well been a rent-a-player for the team, but he does add value as a reserve and solid veteran in the clubhouse. The problem Miami has – which many other clubs which they could have – is a surplus of outfielders, which makes a trade very possible. The name most discussed in Marcell Ozuna.
Francoeur is both open to returning to the Marlins and playing some first base. He also made it clear at this stage of his career, he'd like to be on a contending team rather than a rebuilding club. Because he is from Georgia and spent so much of his career in Atlanta, the Braves have interest in reuniting with Francoeur.
Mike Dunn has had injuries that have affected his career in Miami. Per Frisaro, with 405 appearances, Dunn is the Marlins' all-time leader in that category. The 31-year-old has been a staple in the bullpen since 2011, but his two-year, $5.8 million contract has expired. Durable throughout his career, Dunn missed nearly the first two months of 2016 due to a left forearm strain. The organization doesn't have many lefty relief options, and Dunn isn't a pure specialist.
This year, lefties batted .278/.310/.392 compared to right-handed hitters (.263/.341/425). Even if Dunn returns, the Marlins will still likely seek other left-handed relievers. He is a nice safety gap to have, but he also may not be on the opening day roster.
Jeff Mathis is a name not mentioned often on this team in the news, but his importance to the team goes beyond the diamond. He is a respected veteran and has been helpful in developing JT Realmuto’s career acting as a mentor. Much like veteran players on other teams, his experience is more important than his bat. In 310 innings behind the plate in '16, Mathis' catcher ERA was 3.28. Mathis made $1.5 million in 2016, and chances are he will return to the Marlins for a contract about, if not, exactly the same as his current deal.