Me vs. me: Debating the Miami Marlins

Is there a reason for hope for the Miami Marlins in 2021? Let’s debate.

A debate between the optimistic me and the pessimistic me regarding the 2021 Miami Marlins.

Opti-me: The whole National League East is taking the Marlins way too lightly this year. This is a team dripping with maturing young talent. They began to show that talent last season. That’s right; 2020 may have been short, but as far as the Marlins were concerned it was no fluke. Give them just a little early momentum in 2021 – enough to build some confidence – and the rest of the division may be in for a serious shock.

Pessi-me: Aren’t you getting just a bit carried away about a team that barely managed to win half its games in a 60-game season? Are you forgetting that the Mets picked up Lindor, that Strasburg is healthy again, that the Marlins don’t have a regular who could start for the Braves?

Opti-me: That’s what you say now. But the game is still about pitching, especially starting pitching. The Marlins have as many strong young arms as any team has had in years, possibly decades. Sanchez is just 21. Did you see what he did to the Cubs in the playoffs last September? That’s OK, I’ll remind you. Five innings, no runs, six strikeouts.

Alcantara, Sanchez, Castano, Hernandez…know what they have in common? All regular starters last year, all ERAs under 3.50, all 25 or younger, all back for 2021.

Pessi-me: Nice foursome there…except none of them managed to get in as many as 40 innings in 2020. What happens when they have to work three, four or even five times as much this season? If they even last…do you know what the injury rate is for hard-throwing kids? By mid-May the Marlins’ injury list might have a better rotation than the active roster. But I know what you’re going to say…we won’t use them enough to get them hurt. Let me ask you, what’s the value of an unused asset?

So you’re darned if you do use all those good young arms – they’ll likely break down – and darned if you don’t.  Either way, it’s not a formula for success.

Opti-me: The Marlins have more than a good young rotation. Very, very quietly, Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly have been developing an every-day lineup rich with under-appreciated veteran team players. Look at Rojas, Anderson, Dickerson, Cooper, Marte.

Granted, not an All-Star among them. But they know how to do the little things. They know how to move runners, how to manufacture runs. They’ve learned by experience.

Pessi-me: You’re more in love with that offense than I am. Look at the numbers. In 2020, the Marlins scored the fewest runs in the NL, just 615. That was 63 fewer runs than any other team. Yes, I said any other. They were last in homers, last in walks, and 13th in batting average.

Did they fix that over the winter? I’ll give you Adam Duvall, their one free-agent signing of significance. He did have 16 home runs for Atlanta last year. But that was on a .237 batting average and a poor on base average. He doesn’t run, doesn’t take the extra base, and defensively he’s a placeholder at best.

Opti-me: If the Marlins need anything in the way of supplemental help this year, they finally have the front office to get it. Kim Ng got a lot of attention for becoming the first female GM hire. But she should have gotten attention for her qualifications: 20 years in the business and high administrative stints with the Yankees and Dodgers – two organizations that know what they’re doing.

Pessi-me: I applaud the Ng hire as much as anybody. She’s completely competent.  If she ever gets Dodger money or Yankee money to work with, it might even work out. She’s coming in to 2021 with a $56 million payroll. The worst-funded of her divisional competitors will start the season with a payroll two and a half times as flush.

Granted, it’s possible to win with a small budget; the Rays and A’s do it. But that doesn’t make it easy.

By June, if those young arms begin to break down, Ng is likely to find that she doesn’t have the resources to do all the necessary patching. Especially when a series with the Mets is followed by a series with the Braves, then the Nats, then the Mets again.

Bottom line: Too many question marks, particularly on offense, and too much reliance on lightly used arms. Put me down for fifth place.

Opti-me: Oh ye of little faith. The arms will prove themselves, the offense may never become imposing but it will take advantage of the deader ball to do what it does best, which is scrape together runs. Then Ng will make one or two moves down the stretch that pay big dividends. This will be the surprise wild card team of the year.