Exploring the Marlins’ outfield dilemma. And Miami to check out familiar free agent

Barry Jackson
·6 min read

A Marlins 6-pack in the wake of Thursday’s excruciating, controversial 3-2 loss to the New York Mets that dropped Miami to 1-6:

▪ Colleague Jordan McPherson has all the details and reaction here about the walk-off hit-by-pitch that forced in the game-winning run. Clearly, the Mets’ Michael Conforto attempted to get hit by the pitch and was successful.

NFL writer Peter King put it best on Twitter: “Totally bogus walkoff HBP to decide Mets-Marlins. Not only did Conforto NOT try to get out of the way. But he very slightly moved his elbow TO GET HIT BY A STRIKE and the HP ump ignored it. That is some totally horse [bleep] umping right there.”

ESPN baseball reported Buster Olney tweeted: “The Marlins losing that game in that way is a complete joke.”

Sandy Alcantara tweeted a picture of Conforto on that game-ending at-bat with the words: “This is unacceptable” followed by an expletive.

Umpire Ron Culpa admitted afterward that he made the wrong call, telling a pool reporter that “the guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out.”

Of course, it shouldn’t have come to that if Anthony Bass hadn’t blown a 2-1 ninth-inning lead. He’s now 0 for 2 on save opportunities with a 23.14 ERA. The Marlins have every reason to regret not exercising the $4 million team option on Brandon Kintzler, who was 12 for 14 on save opportunities last season.

▪ When the Marlins signed outfielder Adam Duvall this past offseason, they knew they would be adding power and solid defense but likely sacrificing batting average and on-base percentage.

After all, Duvall hit just .237 for the Braves last season and has batted above .249 just once in parts of seven major league seasons (.267 in 2019, when he appeared in just 41 games).

But he did have the 16 homers last season for Atlanta, which ranked third in the National League and that was impressive power production in 57 games and 190 at-bats. Twice before, he has finished in the top 10 in the National League in homers, with 33 in 2016 and 31 in 2017.

Early on, Duvall has struggled at times to make contact, but the Marlins shouldn’t be shocked.

He had four homers in spring training but hit just .227 (10 for 44), with nine strikeouts and one walk.

He has one homer in the first seven games of the regular season but just two hits in 21 at bats (.095), with eight strikeouts and one walk.

Don Mattingly has done the best he can creating playing time for Duvall, first baseman Jesus Aguilar and first baseman/right fielder Garrett Cooper, but at some point the Marlins must decide whether Cooper’s ability to hit for average (with underrated power) helps the Marlins more than Duvall’s proven power and superior defense.

Cooper is hitting only .188 (3 for 16) with a homer and four walks, but his body of work (.281, .283 the past two seasons) suggests that batting average is not remotely reflective of where he’ll end up. He has seven homers in his 134 at-bats since the start of last season, after belting 15 homers in 381 at-bats in 2019.

But here’s the problem with playing Cooper a ton of games in right field: The Marlins are concerned that his body couldn’t necessarily handle that, that it would put him at risk of more injuries.

Offensively, Cooper’s wins-over-replacement was 1.5 and 0.5 the past two seasons.

Duvall’s was 0.7 and 0.8 the past two seasons for Atlanta.

Plus, Duvall is the more polished fielder than Cooper, whose best position is first base.

So there’s no metric that would definitively say that the Marlins would be better off with Cooper playing more than Duvall, though it’s easy to suspect they might be. Nor is there any way of knowing whether Cooper’s body could withstand a heavy outfield load.

And Mattingly can’t platoon them, because they’re both right-handed hitters.

But if Duvall and the Marlins offense keeps struggling, one logical alternative is playing Cooper more and Duvall less.

▪ The Marlins plan to attend veteran right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez’s workout for teams on Saturday in Miami, according to a source.

Sanchez, 37, pitched well for Washington in 2019, finishing 11-8 with a 3.85 ERA in 30 starts. But he struggled last season, closing 4-5 with a 6.62 ERA in 11 starts for the Nationals.

He has been a free agent since November.

Sanchez was a rising Double A prospect when Boston traded him - with Hanley Ramirez, Jesús Delgado, and Harvey García - to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota and Mike Lowell after the 2005 season.

Sanchez went 44-45 with a 3.75 ERA in 132 starts for the Marlins over seven seasons (2006-2012). The Marlins traded Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit in July 2012 for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn and a draft pick.

Sanchez is 112-113 with a 4.05 ERA in his career.

The Marlins have been monitoring the veteran free agent pitching market after Gio Gonzalez retired on March 25.

Four of the Marlins’ young pitchers - big-league starters Sixto Sanchez and Elieser Hernandez - and prospects Edward Cabrera and Jorge Guzman have been sidelined with injuries, and the Marlins don’t have a 30-plus experienced big-league starter either on their 26-man roster or their player pool that’s working out in Jacksonville.

▪ The Marlins have 12 runs in their one win and nine runs combined in their six losses. And the offense has been tepid even though Aguilar is hitting .333, Starling Marte .308 and Corey Dickerson .286.

Brian Anderson (.190) has been unlucky on hard hit balls, Miguel Rojas is hitting .227, Jorge Alfaro .214 and Jazz Chisholm at .176. And the Marlins are hitting .182 with runners in scoring position.

▪ We’re told the new Marlins’ TV deal with Sinclair pays them just over $50 million annually. It’s a seven-year deal.

That’s far better than the MLB-worst $18 million or so that the Marlins had been pocketing annually in their previous deal.

And while there had been some hope that the Marlins could reach the $60 million mark in annual rights fee, that probably wasn’t realistic during a pandemic that has affected virtually everything except NFL TV rights, which continue to skyrocket.

▪ Batters are hitting .143 off Alcantara in his two starts, with 17 strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings, and yet he doesn’t have a win to show for it.

Pablo Lopez is limiting hitters to a .132 average, with a 1.54 ERA, in his two starts and has no wins and one loss to show for it.

But at least the Marlins can take solace that they have reliable No. 1 and 2 starters to anchor a staff that can be elite when Sanchez, Hernandez and top prospect Edward Cabrera get healthy.