NL East Preview: Miami Marlins

Greg Fiume

Once again, youth will be served by the Miami Marlins in 2014, but how well with youth serve them?

Trades

Miami sent 1B/Twitter presence Logan Morrison to the Mariners for RHP Carter Capps, and shipped CF Justin Ruggiano to the Chicago Cubs for LF Brian Bogusevic. Otherwise, all was quiet on the trading front.

Free Agent Signings

Echoing the curtain call contracts handed out Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre last season, the Marlins signed Rafael Furcal to play second base, despite the fact that he hasn't played a major league game since August 2012 and his normal position is shortstop. (Glove-first prospect Adeiny Hechevarria is set occupy that spot.) Jeff Baker was signed as an insurance policy at second against Furcal, which has already proven wise (see Injuries below). Everyone's catcher of the future Jarrod Saltalamacchia was inked to a three-year deal for some reason. Former Pirate Garrett Jones signed on to play first, and Casey McGehee—last seen toiling for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the NPB—moved from Japan to South Beach to play third. Well-balanced reliever Carlos Marmol reupped for the Marlins' bullpen.

Free Agent Departures

2009's Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan tested free agent waters and landed with the Cubs. Otherwise, none could escape the dolphin sculpture.

Injuries

Furcal has endured hamstring issues this spring and forced to ride the pine twice already. Baker, his backup, dealt with a minor quad issue for about a week but returned to the field this past weekend. Compared to 2013, when the Marlins suffered a Mets-ian rash of bizarre and debilitating injuries during spring training, the team has been remarkably healthy during the 2014 Grapefruit League season.

Projections

There's an old saw about Brazil: "It's the country of the future, and always will be." If any franchise can lay claim to an analogous title, the Marlins are it.

In 2003, the Marlins stunned baseball by winning the World Series with a roster whose brightest lights were home-grown baby-faced talent like Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, and Dontrelle Willis. That championship roster had its share of veterans, too (Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Lowell), but the front office didn't seem to notice. Ever since then, the Marlins have operated as baseball's Logan's Run, jettisoning any player on the wrong side of 25 to replenish their store of young fresh fellows. The one exception was the brief checkbook experiment of 2012, which devolved into a dumpster fire so quickly that it only steeled Jeff Loria's youth-focused resolve.

Money concerns have played a role in this approach, insofar as Miami never has any, or any they're willing to spend. Still, the aggressiveness of its application suggests the team sincerely believes 2003's perfect storm of prospect blossoming was a repeatable slight of front office jiujitsu. The Marlins' infrequent contention for the postseason since then suggests otherwise.

Disappointment almost always follows those whose dreams of success rest exclusively on the hope that multiple prospects will 1) hit or exceed their ceilings, and 2) do so all at once. (See: The Royals.) Sometimes this does actually happen, but when it does, it forces the team to judiciously decide on which players to gift with expensive contracts and which to let dangle. Even an intelligently run, not-impoverished team like the Braves has struggled to make the right choices when faced with this quandary. Miami tends to avoid the problem by getting rid of their young stars before they can force the arbitration issue.

The Marlins possess a few reasons to insist that youth should be served. They still have Giancarlo Stanton and his titanic homers that not even their cavernous home ballpark can contain. Christian Yelich looked great after a July callup in 2013; he will get a chance to play a full season in the bigs in 2014. Jose Fernandez ran away with the Rookie of the Year Award and looks poised to add a Cy Young to his trophy case before long. The young rotation behind him (Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Jacob Turner) should be solid and could be something more than that.

Strong emphasis on the world could. Eovaldi and Turner have never broken 120 innings pitched in the bigs. Fernandez dazzled in his 172 innings last year, but that's still shy of the 200 mark, and it's important to note that he'd never pitched above the AA-level before 2013. Alvarez is the staff workhorse by default, having logged 187 IP for Toronto in 2012. Asking all of these pitchers to increase their workload in 2014 and still be effective and not get hurt may be asking too much.

One way or another, this will put considerable strain on a bullpen that doesn't have many strike-throwers in it. That strain would only grow in the likely event that their best reliever, the now-pricey Steve Cishek, is traded. The Marlins have a stockpile of promising arms in their farm system, some of whom could help the team as soon as this year. But again, there's that word could.

And then there's that lineup, ranked dead last in the National League last year in nearly every offensive category worth mentioning. This can be partly attributed to the aforementioned injuries, and partly to the non-production of overmatched whippersnappers. The youngsters the Marlins called on for reinforcements in 2013 proved a mixed bag. Yelich thrived. Some, like Jake Marisnick and Marcell Ozuna, showed flashes of potential amid long stretches of growing pains. Others, like Adeiny Hechevarria, were just pains.

A full year of Yelich could change that. So could a full year of Stanton, but his health has been a concern so often that banking on such a thing would be premature. Saltalamacchia is an improvement over last year's catcher-by-default, Jeff Mathis, but all other adjustments made to the lineup are, at best, lateral. This year's Marlins offense should be better than last year's, but that's like saying a blow to the head with a lead pipe is better than a blow to the head with a hammer.

So 2014 appears to be a wash for the Marlins, but it could not be long before their crop of talent blossoms and leads them back into contention. It could also be a very long time before they graduate another class of major-league-worthy players. That's the funny thing about the future; it never quite seems to get here. And you get the feeling that Miami prefers it that way.

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