Chatter on the Marlins’ offense, which must somehow overcome the loss of 132 RBI from Giancarlo Stanton last season, 124 from Marcell Ozuna and 81 from Christian Yelich as well Dee Gordon’s 115 runs scored (fifth in baseball):
▪ Whether the Marlins’ pitching is atrocious or merely average will be the biggest factor in determining whether this team is historically bad (50-60-win range) or 10 to 15 games better than that.
But here’s the next biggest factor: The health of their key offensive pieces, which is a question because of recent history. Justin Bour has played in only 129, 90 and 108 games the previous three seasons because of injury, missing substantial time last year with an oblique strain.
Third baseman Martin Prado was limited to 37 last season because of knee and hamstring issues and said he is working his way back cautiously but expects to be ready for Opening Day.
Second baseman Starlin Castro played in 112 games with the Yankees, missing substantial time with a hamstring injury that sidelined him twice last season and earlier in his career. He said his hamstrings are fine now, but the history here is a red flag.
Derek Dietrich always stands at risk because he’s a hit-by-pitch magnet (18 last year, 72 in his career, which is 23rd among active players), with one of those plunkings injuring his wrist and forcing him to the disabled list last year.
And then there are lingering health concerns with the Marlins’ top position player prospect, outfielder Lewis Brinson, the prized piece of the Yelich deal with Milwaukee who could start in center field Opening Day.
He’s healthy now, but … “If there’s anything to be worried about here, it’s Brinson’s medical history, which includes several soft-tissue lower-body injuries, like hamstring strains,” Fangraphs’ Eric Longerhagen said.
If this potential starting lineup — Bour, Castro, J.T. Riddle (coming off shoulder surgery) and Prado in the infield, J.T. Realmuto at catcher, and Brinson, Dietrich and to-be-determined in the outfield — stays largely healthy, the offense might be average, not awful.
But if not, there’s no depth in the system to compensate, aside from potentially Brian Anderson stepping in for Prado at third.
Even with the four traded standouts, Miami wasn’t in the top quarter of the National League in runs scored last season, ranking fifth.
▪ I would be surprised if the Marlins don’t add a starting-caliber outfielder in the next week or so, with Melky Cabrera reportedly the preference, but the length of contract and money are potential obstacles.
▪ Consider that if Bour had stayed healthy last season, his numbers would have projected to 35 homers and 115 RBI in 150 games.
One question for manager Don Mattingly is how much playing time to give right-handed hitting first baseman Garrett Cooper, the former Yankees prospect who had 84 RBI in 83 minor-league games last season and then hit .326 with five doubles in 45 plate appearances for the Yankees.
Bour hit .253 in 97 at-bats vs. lefties and .300 against right-handers. Cooper could pick up some at-bats against lefties, but I wouldn’t expect a straight platoon.
▪ Even though Brinson is highly gifted, physically imposing and a consensus top 25 prospect in baseball, he’s not viewed as a can’t-miss prospect.
“It’s important to note that Brinson opinions among scouts and executives vary pretty widely, especially for a player who has performed at the upper levels of the minors,” Longenhagen said. “Some people just don’t think he’s going to hit, but Brinson has made relevant swing adjustments multiple times as a pro and his strikeout rate has dropped every season.
“If he’s ever forced to move to a corner outfield spot (most scouts think the margin for error is pretty thin in this regard, as Brinson’s feel for center is just OK), then all aspects of Brinson’s offensive potential need to arrive if he’s going to be a star. But we know he’s a terrific athlete, we have visual evidence of him making adjustments that the data supports, and so we’re optimistic about Brinson.”
A career .287 hitter in the minors, Brinson has struck out on 28.7 percent of his career minor-league at-bats.
By comparison, in their minor-league careers, Yelich struck out 23.4 percent, Ozuna 25.7 and Giancarlo Stanton 30.7. But Ozuna and Stanton had far more power at that age than the 23-year-old Brinson, who has averaged 14.8 homers per year in six minor-league seasons.
▪ It will be interesting to see what Dietrich can do as a full-time starter in left field. If he had as many at-bats as Ozuna did last year (613), Dietrich would have projected to 19 homers and 80 RBI.
But Dietrich’s average slipped last season to .249 from .279 the year before, and on-base percentage from .374 to .334. A diligent worker, he said he’s not changing anything with his mechanics or approach.
▪ Don’t underestimate Castro if he’s healthy and engaged.
Though he played in only 112 games last season, his 16 homers were 12th among all second basemen and his 63 RBI were 13th. His .300 average would have been fifth if he had enough at bats to qualify.
“To me, he’s a shortstop disguised as a second baseman,” one veteran scout said. “If you guys keep him, it’s a wash with Gordon. Obviously he has more power than Dee. Sometimes his body can go south on him. With World Series winners the last few years, there have been offensive second basemen having success. There’s some value there.”
▪ The Marlins believe Riddle is good enough to be a long-term starter — his defense is very good — but the question is how much he will hit. He batted .275 in the minors and .250 in his 50 games with the Marlins before his season ended with a torn labrum in mid-July. He hit .302 in May, plunged to .206 in June but adjusted well and hit .296 before the injury.
Miguel Rojas, another gifted defender, made clear he wants a chance to compete to start, citing an improved bat (.290 last year, .360 on-base percentage).
Here’s my post with chatter on candidates for the Marlins’ starting rotation.