Wait a minute. The Nationals just signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million deal and added the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner to a rotation that already included the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez. That has to be the best rotation in baseball, especially when you knock a guy like Tanner Roark (who was actually better than Scherzer based on ERA+ in 2014) out of the equation. The Nationals also have all-star players like Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and the underrated Anthony Rendon, who is arguably their best everyday player. This team is a lock to win what appears to be a weak National League East with the Phillies and Braves rebuilding and the Mets not quite ready to contend just yet, right?
Not so fast. While there is no doubt that the Nationals will be exceptional in 2015, there is another team that will come away with the NL East crown. That team is the Miami Marlins. Yes, the same Marlins that had a fire sale just three off-seasons ago after making big free agent splashes in signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell prior to the 2012 season.
So what makes this Marlins team an attractive pick to make it to the postseason for the first time since they won the World Series in 2003 and capture the franchise’s first ever division title? Even as Jose Fernandez recovers from Tommy John surgery, this has the makings of a very good pitching staff. They acquired Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds who is quietly a very consistent pitcher and is still just 27. Henderson Alvarez could be one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball; he finished twelfth in the Cy Young voting a year ago. Jared Cosart quietly had a good year in 2014 after coming over from the Astros, and has the potential to be a number two starter if everything clicks for the young right-hander. New York native Tom Koehler is a solid backend starter as well. They also brought in Dan Haren, who will be a nice veteran presence in that clubhouse if he does decide to pitch for them this season. But regardless of what Haren ultimately decides to do, there is a lot of depth in this starting rotation that should be able to hold down the fort until Fernandez returns sometime around June. He will be a big boost for them if this Marlins team is still in contention.
The bullpen is led by one of the most underrated closers in baseball, Steve Cisek. The sidearming right-hander has been among the league’s more consistent relievers since earning a full-time role in 2011. He has been a mainstay in a bullpen that also will consist of Aaron Crow, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Sam Dyson, Bryan Morris, and the flame-throwing Carter Capps. Overall, this is one of the better overall pitching staffs in baseball without many household names outside of Fernandez.
Offensively, the team is led by baseball’s first $300 million man, all-star slugger Giancarlo Stanton. But he is not alone in that outfield as Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are both stars in the making and are under team control through the 2019 season. The infield is very good with the newly acquired and always reliable Martin Prado at third, Adeiny Hechavarria, who is one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball, the electric Dee Gordon at second who should also be a sparkplug at the top of the lineup, and the powerful Mike Morse at first who comes with World Series experience. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a solid veteran behind the plate which is always good with a young pitching staff. This is a complete team with a good lineup top to bottom with guys who can run and set the table for the run producers in the middle. Their defense is exceptional and they added veterans with postseason experience that will undoubtedly help this club reach the next level.
That aforementioned fire sale ended up being the best thing for this team. That trade with the Blue Jays netted them Henderson Alverez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony DeSclafani (who was traded to the Reds for Mat Latos) and Jake Marisnick (who was traded to the Astros to acquire Jared Cosart). They made this trade knowing that it would not be popular with the fan base, but it was a great baseball trade that they had to make. They were building for the future, but the future came faster than even they thought when they made that move just three off-seasons ago.
This is a team that won 77 games a year ago, and that was without Jose Fernandez for most of the season. While they will be without him for a good portion of 2015, the additions this team made this offseason has definitely made them a better club and put them in position to be in contention by the time Fernandez returns. If they can manage to keep their head above water in his absence, he would be quite the boost to add to the top of that rotation. That is when this team will take off in 2015.
Maybe a part of it is just a hunch, but there is a legit reason to believe that this Marlins team will be fun to watch. They were fun to watch a year ago, and the moves they made this off-season not only makes them a postseason contender in 2015, but a team capable of dethroning the Nationals of the division crown as well.