Offseason additions, Stanton extension have Miami excited for 2015 and beyond
By Mike Bauman
The Miami Marlins have transformed their reality, their image and their chances in just a few short months.
This is not a bad offseason's work. The Marlins, of course, are able to spend the winter in an area where the construction season never ends. It may be tougher to build a winner when the front walk still has to be shoveled. Still, their direction is unmistakable. That would be upward.
Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said Sunday that Dan Haren, obtained from the Dodgers this offseason, has agreed to pitch for the Fish. Haren had earlier expressed a desire to remain on the West Coast.
Haren should add veteran stability to Miami's rotation. The Marlins had also been in the chase for the most prominent free agent still on the market, James Shields. Shields and the Padres reportedly agreed to a four-year contract with an option for 2019 on Monday, but nevertheless, Miami has added not only Haren, but a significant talent in Mat Latos to its rotation.
Jennings also said Sunday that the Marlins could have the supremely talented Jose Fernandez back in their rotation perhaps as early as mid-June. The importance of Fernandez's successful return from Tommy John surgery, whenever it occurs, cannot be overstated.
The reasons for the Marlins' optimism are numerous and valid. There is the 75 percent turnover in the infield. Michael Morse provides a power bat at first base. Second baseman Dee Gordon, who led the Majors in stolen bases last season, brings a dynamic aspect to Miami's lineup. And the exceptionally versatile Martin Prado will take over at third.
Add this to the impressive young talent the Marlins have on hand throughout the outfield and at short, and you are left with the distinct impression that this could be a contending team; not at some indefinite date in the future, but in 2015.
The Marlins took their lumps while developing the kids, losing 100 games in 2013. But they made a 15-game improvement in 2014. They will enter the 2015 season as the most improved team in the National League East.
Yes, the Nationals added Max Scherzer to their rotation, but that was a case of a strength getting stronger. For across-the-board improvement, Miami wins the offseason. And that gives the Marlins legitimate hope for the real season.
The single move made by this franchise that led in attention gathered was the signing of outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, to a record-setting $325 million deal over 13 years. That contract, as it turned out, signaled Miami's intentions. It was a very large beginning, but there was much more to come.
And regardless of Shields' decision, the Marlins may not be done with their offseason improvements. They are reportedly interested in free agent Francisco Rodriguez as a late-inning reliever.
Miami plans on remaining with Steve Cishek as closer, but the 33-year-old Rodriguez is an interesting possibility as either a setup man or as closer insurance. He had 44 saves in 49 save opportunities and a WHIP of 0.99 for Milwaukee in 2014. Rodriguez's performance declined somewhat in the second half, but overall, he has successfully made the transition from a power pitcher to a pitcher who mixes in offspeed pitches with great effectiveness. It is difficult to argue with his body of work. Rodriguez ranks 10th all-time in career saves with 348.
As a combination setup man and closer insurance, Rodriguez would seem to be a sensible addition for a club that considered itself a contender.
That is a description that now fits the remade Miami Marlins. They are in a division with a team that has become the favorite to win everything in 2015. But the Marlins are clearly carving out a path to victory for themselves.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.