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The Marlins’ rebuild is progressing... slowly

Miami should improve in 2020 but it is going to be tough to escape the cellar.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 season will likely be another rebuilding campaign for the Miami Marlins but the club took some steps to field a more complete and competitive this offseason. While it can hardly be described as a free agent bonanza, Miami’s additions of Corey Dickerson, Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar and others leaves the Marlins with fewer gaping holes within their roster than 2019, in which the team finished dead last in production at two positions as well as the bullpen, and in the league’s bottom third at three other positions and the rotation.

The Marlins fielded one of the worst offenses in the league in 2019 and that should be somewhat improved this time around. Villar was worth 4.0 fWAR in 2019 and posted a 107 wRC+ with the Orioles. He is expected to fill in at a variety of positions in Miami, including some time in center field. Dickerson isn’t coming off his best season at the plate and has been hobbled by injury over the last two years. His best days defensively are probably behind him as well. Still, he symbolizes an upgrade in the corner outfield for the Marlins which says plenty about their 2019 season. Dickerson and Villar should fit in nicely and could be attractive options at the deadline for a contending team. If nothing else, they should help the Marlins not finish with the worst outfield in baseball for a second straight year.

Aguilar looks much more like a lottery ticket at this point. He launched 35 home runs in 2018 but dipped to just 12 in 131 games combined for Milwaukee and Tampa Bay last season. The Marlins are in great position to give him at-bats at first base. If Aguilar rebounds, then he too would be an attractive trade piece at the deadline, particularly for American League teams. If not, Miami won’t be out much and can easily move on. While Garrett Cooper was one of the team’s lone offensive average-or-better performers (111 wRC+) in 2019, he was hardly enough of a building block to preclude the Marlins from taking a chance on Aguilar.

Brian Anderson is one holdover offensive player that could be in line for strong production, similar to what he produced in 2018 and 2019. Last season, he hit .261/.342/.468 with 20 homers and a 114 wRC+ in 126 games while splitting time between third base and right field. Anderson isn’t just one of the few offensive building blocks that this team currently has at the major league level — he was the only above-average regular on the entire roster last year.

Miami also added veterans Matt Joyce and Francisco Cervelli this offseason. While neither should be expected to carry a club, they both can bring some needed leadership to the clubhouse, and Joyce bounced back from a poor 2018 to post a very productive offensive season in 2019.

In any case, Miami still projects to have one of the worst groups of position players in MLB, with only Anderson and Villar looking like average-or-better contributors.

If you are looking for a silver lining then it is on the pitching side of things for Miami. The Marlins rotation appeared promising for stretches in 2019 and is an intriguing group if nothing else. Sandy Alcantara had a solid rookie season, albeit one in which he outperformed multiple peripheral and predictive metrics. Pablo Lopez and Caleb Smith had their moments and could take another step forward as well; even if they don’t, they could very well continue being middle-of-the-rotation starters in the immediate future. Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez, and staff veteran Jose Ureña will also draw starts over the course of the season. The bullpen is a mishmash of youth and experience, led by veterans Brandon Kintzler ($3.25M free agent signing) and Ryne Stanek (midseason 2019 trade with the Rays) but they aren’t short on options at this point.

Another positive working in Miami’s favor is a good farm system that is getting closer to bearing fruit. Sixto Sanchez, acquired in the J.T. Realmuto deal last offseason, pitched well in the Southern League and could be knocking on the door sooner rather than later. Jazz Chisholm has hit everything the minors have thrown at him over the last two years and is another name to keep an eye on. Righty starter Edward Cabrera and outfield prospects Jesus Sanchez and Monte Harrison could all make their major league debuts in 2020. The Marlins shouldn’t be in any hurry to rush their young players to the majors but there are few worthy veterans blocking anyone’s path. Other young players on the roster who have almost nowhere to go but up include Isan Diaz (one of the worst players in the majors in 2019) and Jorge Alfaro; breakouts by either could make a notable change in Miami’s future fortunes.

FanGraphs and PECOTA project the Marlins for right around 70 wins which may not seem like a lot until you consider that they won just 57 a year ago. A 13-win improvement would be significant and even if this team doesn’t improve, they are better equipped and should be more competitive this time around.