When the group led by Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman won the bidding, fans across baseball rejoiced. From Marlins fans who finally feel as though the team will both have the ability and willingness to put a winning product on the field to other baseball fans who have felt that Jeffrey Loria and David Samson have been a cancer both for the sport of baseball as well as the city of Miami with a strong mix of greed and petty behavior, the Marlins being in the hands of basically anyone else has been welcomed far and wide.
Despite the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez as well as some fairly poor management of player assets in general over the last decade, there is a lot to like on the Marlins roster going forward. Aside from the incredibly hot Giancarlo Stanton who may or may not get dangled in trade talks this offseason, the Marlins have some great young position player talent with Justin Bour, J.T. Realmuto, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich. The team has been performing well of late as they have been among the best teams in the league in terms of wins and losses since the end of May.
That said, not all is well with the current composition of the Marlins roster, in particular on the mound. Based on WAR, the Marlins have had a bottom third at best production both from their starters as well as their bullpen. There is no replacing a talent like Jose Fernandez, but between his passing as well as the rumors that seem to be swirling that Dan Straily, arguably the Marlins best pitcher, could be traded...one wonders who will be on the mound to not force the admittedly talented Marlins offense to have to score 5-6 runs a game to give them a chance.
This is where it gets tough because while the new ownership situation for the Marlins seems to make it more likely that they will more active on the free agent market to fill holes, there is a very real issue with the state of their farm system that will limit their ability to bring talent up from the minors to help the big league squad. In addition to that, they have very limited trade assets in terms of prospects to allow them to be realistic buyers on the trade market.
The Marlins’ farm system is bereft to say the least. The only player they have that has appeared on a Top 100 prospect list this year, Braxton Garrett, has promise but underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year. Even if he comes back healthy and as good as he was pre-surgery (which is not a certainty), he is still a long ways away from contributing and he now has an injury risk attached to his name. Tyler Kolek, the Marlins’ flame-throwing 1st round pick from 2014, was playing again after his own Tommy John surgery, but he currently sports a 29.45 ERA in five appearances since his return with 12 earned runs and 14 walks against one strikeout in 3 2⁄3 innings of work. He hasn’t pitched since August 6th and has since been placed on the disabled list again.
There are a number of factors that have led the Marlins to this point with their farm system with some poor drafting near the top of the list. Kolek and Garrett both requiring TJS is hard (although not impossible) to hold against them and Trevor Rogers could end up being a solid pitching prospect although he has yet to throw an inning as a professional. But the Marlins have had little luck with the draft over the last five years or so and several of their success stories were traded away. Josh Naylor, the Marlins’ 1st round pick in 2015, was traded to the Padres in the Andrew Cashner trade and Colin Moran, their 1st round pick in 2013, was sent to the Astros when Miami acquired Jarred Cosart. Not only did both trades have limited return (at best), it helped to a deplete an already thin farm system of talent. A cursory look at the Marlins draft history of late isn’t particularly pretty although players like Brian Anderson and Dillon Peters have shown promise.
Trading from limited prospect depth, poor drafting, and a lack of recent involvement on the international free agent market have all played their parts in what the state of the Marlins’ farm system has become. This puts the Marlins in a tough position because the strength of their organization (position player talent that is young and controllable) is a strength that you don’t want to deal from if you want to compete long-term. However, Jeter and Company will have to be creative this offseason as well as perform exceedingly well in the next couple of drafts in order for the Marlins to have sustained success after buying what is, in many ways, a mess down in Miami.