The Miami Marlins have been to the playoffs once in the last 19 seasons. That was the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when there was a 16-team field.
Their follow-up was to lose 95 games in 2021 and finish 21½ games out of first place. Only the Athletics, who have one foot out the door in Oakland, drew fewer fans than the Marlins last season.
There was a brief spin-up in attention in 2017 when Derek Jeter became president and CEO. But he quit a year ago, saying the long-term vision of the franchise was different than what he believed it would be.
But a visit to Marlins camp brought with it an unexpected air of optimism.
“There are some ballplayers in this clubhouse,” said Matt Barnes, the former Red Sox closer who was traded to Miami in January. “We’re not here just to play. The people here want to win and we think we can.
“You look around here and there’s a lot of talent. We’re better than people might think.”
It starts with National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara. Edward Cabrera (24), Braxton Garrett (25), and Jeśus Luzardo (25) also return to the rotation. That trio combined to start 49 games last season with a 3.32 earned run average.
The Marlins also signed 37-year-old Johnny Cueto to a one-year deal and have 2017 first-round pick Trevor Rogers (25) competing for a rotation spot. He was an All-Star in 2021 before going 4-11 with a 5.47 ERA last season.
The depth and talent of the rotation is what attracted Cardinals bench coach Skip Schumaker to join the Marlins as manager after Don Mattingly stepped down.
“We need to keep those guys healthy, but we have the ability to send a quality starter out there every day,” Schumaker said. “The depth is real.”
There was no set closer last season. Miami traded for Barnes and A.J. Puk to supplement Dylan Floro, J.T. Chargois, and Tanner Scott in the bullpen.
Miami was last in the National League in runs (586) and next to last in OPS (.658) last season. The Marlins did lead the league with 122 stolen bases, something that could have a more pronounced effect this season with new rules designed to help base stealers.
Miami also has three new hitting coaches with Brant Brown getting hired away from the Dodgers to lead a revamped approach.
“I think having guys that are upset about their previous year helps a coach because we see some things that can help them and they’re willing to listen and were not happy about the year before,” Schumaker said. “There’s not a bad thing about that.”
Miami traded from its starter depth to improve the lineup by sending righthander Pablo Lopez to the Twins for infielder Luis Arraez, who led the American League with a .316 batting average last season and has a career on-base percentage of .374.
Arraez will slot into the top third of the lineup with center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. and designated hitter Jorge Soler.
Chisholm moved from second base to center to accommodate Arraez. Chisholm had an .860 OPS through June 28 but missed the remainder of last season because of a stress reaction in his lower back. He’s a candidate for a breakout season.
New third base coach Jody Reed has a good perspective on where the Marlins are as an organization. He was Miami’s infield and base running coordinator the last two seasons and worked with many of the players on the major league roster.
“We’re on an upswing,” said Reed, a steady second baseman for the Red Sox from 1987-92. “There’s some good young talent on the roster now. It’s exciting.”
Reed’s playing career ended in 1997. Then came a 25-year wait to get back to the majors as a coach. He was in player development with the Yankees and Dodgers from 2007-13 then worked on his own as an amateur coach before joining the Marlins in 2021.
His connection with Schumaker goes back to when they were in the Dodgers organization in 2013. Reed was on the coaching staff during spring training and Schumaker was a second baseman and outfielder.
“We got to know each other and when he became manager, we had some meetings about the roster and who we had in the organization,” Reed said. “He asked me to be on his staff and here I am.”
Reed is looking forward to helping the Marlins find ways to use the new rules to their advantage.
“As a player, I wanted the most information I could get,” he said. “Now with technology we can get that information right away and put it to use. On the coaching side, I welcome that. We feel like our speed will play.”
Reed hasn’t been to Fenway Park since 2011. He’s looking forward to the Marlins playing there in June.
“That’ll be fun. I have so many good memories of playing in Boston,” Reed said. “I loved it. Playing there was easy because fans brought the electricity. I still talk to [manager] Joe Morgan often.”
When the Sox played the Marlins this past week, Reed had an unexpected reunion with former teammate Ed Romero before the game. Romero’s son, Eddie, is an assistant general manager of the Red Sox.
The 43-year-old Schumaker brings renewed hope to the Marlins, which will be needed in a division where the Braves, Mets, and Phillies are all World Series contenders.
“We have to nail the player development side,” Schumaker said. “The player development has to be good and has to get better. That’s just the reality. When you have the payroll like we have, competing against monsters in the East, we have to really be good at developing our own guys.
“That’s what I took away a lot from my St. Louis days — we had a lot of St. Louis guys on the field every single day. It wasn’t just a bunch of big-name free agents. We have to be really good at that part, but getting our own guys better. That’s just the reality we have to get better. And hopefully I hired the right staff around me to do that.”
Former Astros impress Red Sox
The Astros aren’t likely to regret trading Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez to the Red Sox for Christian Vázquez last August.
With Martín Maldonado playing injured, Vázquez was a needed insurance policy. Houston won both games he started in the postseason, with their pitchers giving up one run.
Vázquez also caught the final 12 innings of the epic 1-0, 18-inning victory at Seattle that clinched the Division Series. In all, the Astros allowed one run over the 33 innings he caught in the postseason.
Vázquez also drove in a run as the designated hitter in the clinching sixth game of the World Series.
“He was huge for us,” manager Dusty Baker said in October. “Christian wasn’t just a backup catcher. We trusted him.”
But the Red Sox like their end of the deal, more so every day with how well Abreu and Valdez have swung the bat in spring training.
“[Valdez] controls the strike zone, he does. When he swings, there’s conviction behind it, but it’s in the zone. He doesn’t expand. Just like Abreu, same deal. We got two good players,” manager Alex Cora said.
“We hated [the trade] at the moment, where we were and all that stuff. But we got two good players. That’s what the business of baseball is. We appreciate everything Christian did for us, but at that point we got two good players.
“Now instead of looking at the trade deadline last year for all that drama that happened, you look at it now without feelings involved and we got some good players.”
The long-term question is where Valdez will play defensively. Cora has said several times that he needs a lot of work at second base. Abreu projects as a corner outfielder.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Chris Sale on Masataka Yoshida: “His plate discipline is unbelievable. He knows his zone very well it seems like. Not a lot of wasted movement. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s been very, very impressive. He’s going to be a spark plug, for sure.”
▪ Even with all the new faces, Cora doesn’t see clubhouse chemistry as being a concern.
“Everything we’ve done has been very solid,” he said. “I have no doubts about the clubhouse. When that happens it’s very easy to go home, watch TV, cook dinner, have a glass of wine, and go to sleep. I’ve been getting some good sleep. In [the last] five years, that’s not always the case.”
Kenley Jansen has had something to do with that. The new closer has been a joyous presence with the Sox, generous with his time for rookies and always walking in to start the day with a smile and a good word.
Jansen also plays a mean game of basketball on the portable hoop in the clubhouse. For a big man, he has a sweet jumper.
▪ That Corey Kluber has a home in Winchester made for good speculation when he was a free agent before the 2021 and 2022 seasons. But he ended up with the Yankees and then the Rays.
The reality is that a player of his stature has more than enough money to afford a perfectly nice place to live anywhere during the season. What mattered more to Kluber was where the best opportunity was at the right price.
The third time worked for Boston when he agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal in January. The pitching-needy Sox made him a good offer and this time Kluber decided to live at home for a season.
“There’s been some overlap over the years with different teams. That just means there’s mutual interest, not that it’s going to work out,” he said. “But I’m glad it did this time. I look forward to being a part of this team.”
Kluber’s wife, Amanda, is from Winchester and his in-laws are Sox fans. The Klubers also have a place in the Tampa area.
▪ A first baseman named Casas is having a great spring. That’s Gavin Casas of South Carolina. The junior transfer from Vanderbilt and the brother of Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas hit .333 with five homers and 13 RBIs in his first nine games for the Gamecocks.
▪ The Sox may have two effective lefthanders in their bullpen.
Cora describes Joely Rodriguez as having “elite stuff.” The Sox are working with the 31-year-old on how best to deploy his sinker and changeup. Rodriguez was in the top 6 percent of chase rate last season but also ranked among the worst pitchers for exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and balls that were hit on the barrel of the bat.
Richard Bleier is spending a lot of time in the video room talking with analysts and coaches on how to fine-tune his pitch mix.
“He works on his craft,” Cora said.
Bleier pitched in relative anonymity for the Orioles and Marlins from 2017-22 but had an adjusted ERA of 139 and 5.2 WAR.
Providence’s Pena is back for more
As a rookie, Jeremy Peña was Most Valuable Player of both the ALCS and World Series. But Houston’s 25-year-old shortstop did not revel too much in his success.
He spent three weeks with his family and friends in Providence and a few weeks with other family members in the Dominican Republic.
“It was fun to be back in Rhode Island,” Peña said. “Saw a lot of the guys I grew up playing with. Then it was back to work.”
Peña’s next step will be playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
“I want to get better all around this spring,” he said. “No one thing, just everything. I wanted to build on last season and help us as a team do the same thing. We’re still hungry.”
The mighty Dodgers could be in some trouble. When Gavin Lux tore his right ACL this past week and was lost for the season, the team’s lack of middle infield depth became an issue. Miguel Rojas, a poor hitter, will step in, but he was a better fit as a backup. Chris Taylor, a utility player, also can play shortstop. As was mentioned last week, manager Dave Roberts expected Mookie Betts to play second base at times. It may be a lot more often now . . . The Rays are playing their spring training games at Tropicana Field after their complex in Port Charlotte, Fla., was badly damaged by Hurricane Ian. An announced crowd of 2,531 was so quiet on Thursday that the Tampa Bay hitters could hear the PitchCom device in the helmet of Twins catcher Tony Wolters and knew what pitch was coming from Kenta Maeda. It didn’t help as Maeda worked two scoreless innings . . . Phillies rookie Andrew Painter, who turns 20 in April, came out against the Twins on Wednesday throwing 99 miles per hour and allowed one run over two innings against a good lineup. Painter finished last season in Double A but is competing with Bailey Falter for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The other intriguing prospect in Phillies camp is Noah Song, the Rule 5 pick from the Red Sox who is playing for the first time since 2019 after being freed from his commitment to the Navy. “He’s doing just fine,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. The Phillies are staying low-key with Song, hoping he can readjust to baseball without a lot of attention. “A lot of talent, you can see that when he throws in the bullpen,” a team insider said. “A great kid, too. This will be interesting.” Even if the Phillies decide not to keep Song, they could trade him to a hopeless team such as the Athletics or Nationals and get some value in return. The notion that this will work out fine for the Red Sox isn’t necessarily so . . . If you’ve been to Camden Yards, you’ve surely noticed the large sign under the vintage clock atop the center field video board with the logo of the local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. When the iconic ballpark opened in 1992, the Orioles wanted the city’s culture represented and the newspaper was a perfect fit. But the sign was recently removed, the Sun having fallen behind in its payments. No replacement has yet been installed . . . Happy birthday to John Schreiber, who is 29. The side-arming reliever was a find for the Red Sox last season, posting a 2.22 ERA over 64 appearances. Opponents hit .195 with a paltry .577 OPS. Schreiber is the only big leaguer from the University of Northwestern Ohio. Doug Bird is 73. The righthander’s 11-year career ended with the Red Sox in 1983, when he appeared in 22 games. Bird had his best seasons with the Royals, playing for division winners in 1976, ‘77, and ‘78.