Marlins relying on group effort to take step forward in '17

After season defined by devastating loss, Miami re-calibrates

Marlins relying on group effort to take step forward in '17

MIAMI -- Time heals, they say. The Marlins are about to find out how much and how fast as they enter the offseason with heavy hearts after the most devastating loss in franchise history.

The death of ace Jose Fernandez has touched the organization and South Florida on so many levels. You can't just replace the talent and charisma of the 24-year-old who made such a large impact in such a short period of time. Aware no one person or player can fill the void, the Marlins will rely on a group effort more than ever as they plan for 2017.

"We like our group of guys," manager Don Mattingly said. "We knew we had a good, solid, group of players. With that, you have to try to get better. We're a .500 [caliber] club. So with all that, we're going to have to find a way to get better."

Season of promise ends in tragedy for Marlins

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Tom Koehler, RHP David Phelps, RHP A.J. Ramos, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, OF Marcell Ozuna, INF Derek Dietrich.

Free agents: OF Ichiro Suzuki ($2 million club option for 2017), RHP Andrew Cashner, LHP Mike Dunn, RHP Fernando Rodney ($2 million club option for '17), C Jeff Mathis, INF Chris Johnson, OF Jeff Francoeur, RHP Dustin McGowan.

Rotation: The organization was planning to keep building around Fernandez, not search for a new ace. Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley and Koehler will be counted on more heavily in 2017. Conley (left middle finger) and Chen (left elbow sprain) both dealt with injuries. Koehler remains durable and dependable. Phelps is versatile, and could either be in the rotation or return to the back end of the bullpen. Jose Urena, Justin Nicolino, Jake Esch and Odrisamer Despaigne offer depth. Cashner, a free agent, isn't expected back.

Phelps escapes jam

Bullpen: Ramos is coming off an All-Star season, and he is just the fifth closer in club history to reach 40 saves. The right-hander has been a fixture in the back end, but the question is whether he remains as the closer in 2017. He may be pushed by Phelps, if he isn't starting. The Marlins have a $2 million club option on Fernando Rodney for 2017, but it includes bonuses, making it doubtful he will return. Kyle Barraclough is a frontrunner for a setup spot. Nick Wittgren and Brian Ellington are promising right-handers. Hunter Cervenka is a lefty option. Dunn, who holds the franchise record for most appearances by a reliever, is a free agent. He likely will explore the market. Prospect Luis Castillo has a chance to emerge as a relief option at some point during the season.

Catcher: In J.T. Realmuto, the Marlins have one of the top young catchers in the game. The 25-year-old, in his first full season in the big leagues, made great strides behind the plate defensively and working with the staff. He also is a threat at the plate, reaching double digits in home runs. Mathis is a free agent, but the team has interest in bringing him back after he showed improvement at the plate. In the clubhouse, he's a team leader, and he's a standout defensively. Tomas Telis, a September callup after spending the season at Triple-A New Orleans, is solid at the plate, but needs work defensively. Telis, who switch-hits, also played some first base.

Realmuto's 432-foot homer

First base: When looking back at 2016, the Marlins can point to Justin Bour's right ankle sprain on July 2 as a turning point. Losing Bour for two months took a left-handed power threat out of the lineup. When healthy, Bour is an impactful hitter, and his defense improved. The question is how much he will face left-handed pitching. Johnson is a free agent, and perhaps won't be back. Miguel Rojas was a defensive replacement in late innings. Telis and Dietrich are other options.

Second base: A position of stability turned into one of matchups for much of the first half after Dee Gordon was suspended for 80 games for violating MLB's performace-enhancing drugs policy. The 2015 National League batting champion never really found his stride in the second half. Still, the Marlins are confident Gordon can rebound next year. Dietrich offers depth at second, and he is a threat to drive the ball out of the park. Dietrich and Rojas split time at second when Gordon was out.

Gordon's emotional leadoff homer

Shortstop: The front office will have to make a tough call at this position. Hechavarria, in his second season eligible for arbitration, is likely to have his salary rise to about $4.5 million. More than the money he is set to make, the club is looking at his production. After showing improvement at the plate in 2015, Hechavarria's offensive numbers dipped significantly. However, his rate of hitting the ball hard was similar in 2015 and '16. So was he a victim of bad luck? Still, Hechavarria is a potential candidate to be traded. If so, Rojas is an internal option to take over at short.

Third base: The impact Martin Prado makes on the field and in the clubhouse is undeniable. The organization recognized his importance, which is why throughout the season it expressed its interest in bringing him back. Prado would have been eligible for free agency, but instead, he agreed to a three-year, $40 million extension. In the Minor Leagues, Brian Anderson, who advanced to Double-A Jacksonville, could be a couple of years away from being big league ready. Dietrich also is an option.

Outfield: The trio of Christian Yelich, Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton accomplished something never done in club history. They each hit more than 20 home runs. Yelich also has a new position, as he switched from left to center, where he is expected to remain. Ozuna, who has played mostly in center the past two years, is now in left. Health, again, was an issue for Stanton, who suffered a Grade 3 left groin strain in August. For depth, Suzuki, re-energized at age 42, has a club option for 2017. The belief is the team will exercise the $2 million option. Francoeur, a free agent, could be an option to come back.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.