There were hugs aplenty inside the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field on Sunday after the Marlins wrapped up one of the most dismal seasons in franchise history, as players said their goodbyes before grabbing their suitcases and heading their separate ways.
Don’t expect many of those same players to be back in 2019.
As the Marlins continue their rebuild, the front office will spend the offseason looking for ways to improve on a team that was last in the league in just about every key area.
▪ They were last in runs scored.
▪ They were last in pitching ERA.
▪ They were last in home runs.
▪ They were last in the standings.
▪ They were last in attendance.
As management looks for ways to improve on a 63-98 record, third-year manager Don Mattingly offered some hints on which immediate steps are likely to be made.
The 2019 season will be nothing like the one just completed, which at times felt like a human lab experiment. The Marlins kept two Rule 5 draft picks, pitchers Elieser Hernandez and Brett Graves, on the major league roster for the duration to avoid handing them back to their original teams.
Both will likely spend most of next season in the minors, freeing up two bullpen spots for more experienced relievers who are better prepared to challenge big-league hitters.
And players who don’t perform won’t be given the leeway they enjoyed this season. Rookie outfielder Lewis Brinson is the most striking example. Brinson hit just .199, becoming only the fifth rookie in the past 50 years with as many as 400 at bats to hit below .200.
In a normal year, Brinson would have been sent to the minors.
“Obviously, we did some things this year where it wasn’t necessary you had to produce to be here,” Mattingly said. “But moving forward I have the sense that’s going to change. If you don’t produce, it’s not going to be a year where we’ll let you keep developing. At some point, you’re going to have to produce.”
The Marlins feel their pitching is ahead of their hitting and are more likely to address their need for run-producers this offseason.
“I think our pitching has probably been more promising than what we did on the offensive side,” Mattingly said.
The Marlins could entertain the free agent market for a modestly priced hitter. Or they draw from their stockpile of newly acquired minor-league prospects to acquire players through trades.
The Marlins have an arsenal of three established starters (Jose Urena, Wei-Yin Chen and Dan Straily) and three newcomers who gained big-league experience (Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards) who could factor into the ’19 rotation.
The Marlins could decide to non-tender Straily, who is entering his second year of salary arbitration and will be a due a raise on the $3.37 million salary that he received this season, and spend that money elsewhere.
Likewise, all-purpose position player Derek Dietrich is another potential non-tender candidate. He, too, will be up for arbitration and positioned for a raise on his $2.9 million salary.
Other top stories to follow this offseason: the Marlins’ efforts to lock up All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension and their pursuit of Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, the top international free agent prospect, and his brother, catcher Victor Mesa Jr.
If the Marlins are unable to reach agreement on a multi-year contract for Realmuto, they could be compelled to trade their top player. Realmuto is under team control for only two more seasons before becoming eligible for free agency.
The Mesa brothers are scheduled to work out for all teams Friday at Marlins Park.