Led by Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins are one of the most intriguing teams on paper for the 2015 MLB season. Bovada lists them with a wins total of 82.5 on MLB odds, with both options at -115. What's the best value play on that wager?
Reason for Optimism in 2014
Last season was the 11th straight that Miami missed the playoffs and fifth consecutive losing campaign. Still, winning 77 games should be considered a success. First off, it was a 15-victory improvement over 2013. Second, Stanton won the National League home run title with 37 despite missing the final three weeks after getting hit in the face by a pitch. He probably hits at least 40 without that injury and perhaps beats out Baltimore's Nelson Cruz for the MLB home run title.
That the Marlins hung around the wild card race into September was pretty impressive considering the team lost arguably the best young pitcher in baseball, 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, to Tommy John surgery in early May. Several Marlins had breakout seasons, including outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez. They are all young, so this team should be a contender for a while as long as ownership pays the money to keep them together.
That's looking likely as the Marlins signed Stanton to an incredible 13-year, $325 million extension. A pretty gutsy move by Miami considering some players never psychologically recover from getting hit in the face. But owner Jeffery Loria had to make a statement to a South Florida fan base that had been burned by this franchise before. Stanton's contract is actually fairly team-friendly for a while. Stanton, who turned 25 in November, wasn't due to become eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season. Big-market teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers who were salivating over the chance to trade for Stanton no doubt are disappointed.
The lineup will look different at three of the four infield spots. First baseman Garrett Jones and third baseman Casey McGehee are gone. The Marlins acquired All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon in a trade with the Dodgers for a package of players headlined by young pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Gordon hit .289 with a career-high 64 steals that was tops in baseball. Some think that might have been a bit of a fluke season as Gordon never showed too much in his previous three years. Martin Prado, acquired from the Yankees for pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, takes over at third, and free agent Michael Morse, formerly of the Giants, is at first. Hechavarria (.276, 34 RBIs) is the only returning starting infielder.
Miami might have the best outfield in baseball in Stanton (.288 averaged, 105 RBIs to go with 37 homers), Yelich (.284, 54 RBIs, Gold Glove) and Ozuna (32 homers, 85 RBIs). That group will only make a combined $7.5 million or so this season. Stanton's 2015 salary is a very team-friendly $6.5 million, while Ozuna and Yelich will earn just over $1 million combined. Look for the Marlins to try and lock up both long term. Miami also added a fourth outfielder you may have heard of in free agency: Ichiro Suzuki. He only will spell guys or pinch-run, not play every day barring injury.
Veteran Jarrod Saltalamacchia is back behind the plate. The rotation will be led by Alvarez, who was 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA. At least it will be until Fernandez returns, which probably won't happen until mid-June at the earliest. Fernandez had one of the best rookie seasons by any NL pitcher ever two years ago, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings. He's still just 22 (23 in July). Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart (acquired from Houston during last season) return in the rotation. New additions will be Mat Latos, formerly of the Reds, and Dan Haren, who came over with Gordon from the Dodgers. Haren originally said he didn't want to pitch anywhere but near his southern California home but now appears OK with Miami. Latos was one of the NL's better pitchers from 2010-13 but was limited to 16 starts in 2014 due to injury. He'll be a free agent after this season. The bullpen, led by closer Steve Cishek (39 saves) should be solid.
In addition to those 82.5 wins on Bovada's MLB Odds, the Marlins are +600 to win the NL East, +1600 to win the pennant and +3330 to win the franchise's third World Series.
Miami Marlins Season Win Total: Miami isn't winning the division, not with superpower Washington in the NL East. But the Marlins will get to beat up plenty on the Phillies and Braves, who look to be two of the worst teams in the NL, so take them with your MLB Picks when they play against those teams. A lot of the Marlins' wins projection depends on when Fernandez returns and if he's 100 percent. If so, I lean 'over' the wins. If he has a setback, 'under.' If Fernandez is back to his 2013 self, the pennant is possible.