Can Derek Jeter build a winner in Miami this year?

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Jeter says he wants to win RIGHT NOW! Can he sign enough free agents to make it happen?

Derek Jeter is a winner, thank you very much. Not that you need reminding of his resumé, but he won five World Series with the Yankees, never playing for a team with a losing record.

Now he runs the Marlins. Despite evidence to the contrary, he claims to still have the same low tolerance for losing. According to this ESPN story, Jeter wants a competitive team right now.

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Given that he traded away the best outfield in baseball a year ago (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna), and now arguably the best catcher in baseball as recently as last week (J.T. Realmuto), he has a unique way of expressing this desire to compete!

Fortunately, there is a solution! Several prominent free agents have yet to sign contracts. Any baseball team can offer them as much money as they want, and that even includes the Marlins!

Taking Jeter’s words at face value, let’s assume the Realmuto trade was rock bottom. He’s had a change of heart and wants to do everything in his power to make the playoffs in 2019. Could he sign enough players to his current roster to push for the postseason?

To investigate, we’ll use FanGraphs depth charts, which give a projected WAR for each player on the team. They’ve also got one for free agents, so we can compare which is better. If the best available free agent is a significant upgrade, we have to assume the Marlins will sign him! (Even in jest, that’s a bizarre sentence to write.)

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Lineup

Catcher: Jorge Alfaro vs. Matt Wieters

Alfaro is one of the newest Marlins, having just been acquired for Realmuto. FanGraphs projects him to be worth 1.2 WAR, with lots of upside remaining. Wieters is on the wrong side of the aging curve, but he’s projected at 1.3 WAR. This is pretty much a wash, so we’ll let the Marlins keep their money. Free agent UNSIGNED.

First Base: Peter O’Brien vs. Marwin Gonzalez

O’Brien, a 28-year-old catcher/outfielder/DH with 153 career plate appearances, sits atop the Marlins depth chart. Garrett Cooper and Neil Walker should be in the mix for playing time as well. Coincidentally, all are former Yankees, just like Jeter! The best efforts of this group might be the 30th best first base production in the major leagues. Their projected first base WAR is -0.1. Marwin Gonzalez’s 1.8 WAR is a major upgrade. Net WAR added: 1.9

Second Base: Starlin Castro vs. ???

Castro is one of the best players remaining on the team from a year ago, while the second base position has been mostly picked clean in free agency. Free agent UNSIGNED.

Third Base: Brian Anderson vs. Mike Moustakas

Anderson split his time pretty evenly between third base and right field last year, but he was undoubtedly one of the best hitters on the team, slashing .273/.357/.400. FanGraphs loves him, expecting 2.7 WAR this year despite mediocre defense. Moustakas offers more power, but reaches base less often. Overall, they’re about even. Free agent UNSIGNED.

Shortstop: J.T. Riddle vs. Manny Machado

Now we’re having some fun! Do you care if Riddle or Miguel Rojas is the nominal starter? Machado is expected to be worth 5.0 WAR, wherever he lands. In three of the last four years, he was north of 6.0, so the projections might even sell him short. Net WAR added: 4.0

Left Field: “Who the heck is Austin Dean?” vs. Carlos Gonzalez

Apparently there is a baseball player named Austin Dean. I’ve never heard of him. You haven’t either. I really think FanGraphs made him up just to put someone on the left field depth chart. “Austin Dean” sounds like a pseudonym, doesn’t it? Maybe a ghostwriter who pens mysteries? Anyways, Dean and a cast of misfits project to accumulate 1.3 WAR in 2019, which is pretty impressive for an imaginary player. Carlos Gonzalez should also be worth 1.3 WAR, which is more realistic because he is an actual person. Nevertheless, it comes out about the same. Free agent UNSIGNED.

Center Field: Lewis Brinson vs. Adam Jones

This is one position for which the projected WAR doesn’t tell the whole story. Brinson was the biggest prospect the Marlins received from their outfield trades a year ago. He had a nightmare season, as did nearly all of those prospects, but he’s projected for 1.0 WAR anyway. Jones really ought to be a corner outfielder at this point. Be that as it may, he gets a 1.2 WAR projection in center. Net WAR added: 0.2

Right Field: Curtis Granderson vs. Bryce Harper

Granderson just recently signed with Miami, but he can’t hold a candle to Harper. With a 4.9 WAR projection, this is no contest. Net WAR added: 4.0

Bench

Assuming the Marlins sign all these players, some of their starters would become bench players. Granderson, Brinson, Riddle, and backup catcher Chad Wallach represent the backups.

That’s a fine bench, but if Jeter REALLY wants to maximize his playoff chances, he’s got more work to do. Martin Maldonado, Jose Iglesias, and Josh Harrison are still on the free agent market. Likely, they all expect to be starters somewhere, so Miami will have to pay extra to sign them as role players. In doing so, they can add roughly one win’s worth of value. Net WAR added: 1.0

Rotation

The Marlins rotation lacks a true front man, but their depth is surprisingly decent. Jose Urena, Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, and Caleb Smith are all capable starters. Each of them profiles as sort of a number three or four starting pitcher, and those are pretty valuable. All told, FanGraphs credits them with 7.2 WAR in their projections.

There’s really only one significant upgrade remaining, but he’s a very substantial upgrade indeed. Dallas Keuchel was worth 3.6 fWAR last year pitching in Houston. He threw 204 23 innings, inducing lots of weak contact and ground balls. Adding him to the rotation is a no-brainer. Net WAR added: 2.8

Bullpen

Outside of Drew Steckenrider, the Marlins have one of the worst bullpens in baseball. With 0.4 projected WAR, they reside 29th on the FanGraphs bullpen depth charts; only the Royals are lower. Time for a relief corps makeover!

Naturally, we’ll start with Craig Kimbrel, who is worth 2.1 WAR all by himself. He’s on a Hall of Fame career arc, and he’s annually one of the best in the game. We could go crazy picking apart other run-of-the-mill free agent relievers, but suffice to say the Marlins could add four or five guys in addition to Kimbrel before anyone other than Steckenrider puts up a fight. Net WAR added: 3.1

Add it all up!

With all of their flashy new signings, the Marlins add a whopping 17.0 WAR to their current roster. That would be a tremendous, if prohibitively expensive, boon for the team.

As things currently stand, FanGraphs projects the entire Marlins roster for 19.1 WAR, ahead of only the Orioles. With all of these acquisitions, they improve to 36.1. That’s just ahead of Atlanta’s 35.9. The Braves are currently expected to finish 82-80 with these projections, so the Marlins ought to finish in the same ballpark.

Unfortunately for Jeter, that won’t get the job done. The Marlins are simply too awful. Even if they spend more than $1 billion in free agency this week and snag all the best players on the market, they’re still not much better than .500. Jeter will just have to wait out the losing a little longer.


Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983

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