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Marlins prioritizing high-contact hitters this offseason

For the second straight offseason, the Marlins will head into the winter needing to overhaul their offense. Miami added four everyday players to the lineup last offseason, signing Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García while acquiring Jacob Stallings and Joey Wendle via trade. The hope was that quartet would elevate the hitting enough to compete for a playoff spot behind their excellent starting rotation.

That hasn’t panned out. All four of those players underperformed, and Miami’s offensive outlook has barely changed. After hitting .241/.308/.386 last season (excluding pitchers), the Fish carry a .230/.294/.363 team line into play Saturday. The dip in raw numbers is partially attributable to the leaguewide downturn in offense. By measure of wRC+, the Marlins were 11 points below league average offensively last season; they’ve been 12 points below average this year. That’s obviously not what the front office had in mind, and it’s no coincidence they’ve lost more than 90 games for the fourth straight 162-game season.

Fixing the lineup is certain to be a priority in the coming months, and the Marlins are preparing to attack the offseason in a different manner. Barry Jackson and Craig Mish of the Miami Herald report the team plans to prioritize adding high-contact hitters and faster runners to the roster. According to the Herald, the increased emphasis on bat-to-ball skills is rooted both in the team’s spacious home ballpark and the forthcoming limitations on defensive shifting, which will theoretically slightly improve the league’s batting average on balls in play.

Obviously, the Marlins won’t take so rigid an approach as to rule out adding power hitters entirely. Yet the club’s two big free-agent acquisitions last year, Soler and García, are low-contact sluggers. Soler struck out at a roughly average 23.6% clip last year, but he’d fanned in more than 26% of his plate appearances in each of the three prior seasons. He’s gone down on strikes 29.4% of the time his first season in Miami. García had struck out at a roughly average level every year from 2019-21, but that’s largely attributable to an extremely aggressive approach that often leads to early-count balls in play. He’d made contact on less than 70% of his swings in each of those seasons, well below the 75-76% league marks. García has struck out in a personal-worst 28.3% of his plate appearances this year.

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Both players will be back in South Florida next season. Soler has two years and $24M remaining on his deal. He can technically opt out after this season but certainly won’t do so after hitting .207/.295/.400 through 306 plate appearances. García is under contract for three more guaranteed years at $12M annually and is also due a $5M buyout on a 2026 club option.

Miami will certainly need more production from that duo next season, but they’re not the only high-strikeout players in the lineup. Miami’s 24% team strikeout rate is the fifth-highest in the majors. Of the 16 players who tallied more than 150 plate appearances for the team, 11 have struck out at a clip greater than the 22.4% league mark.

It’s sensible enough the Marlins would look for some more balance to their lineup, but it’s worth remembering that putting the ball in play doesn’t inherently make a player a good hitter. Of Miami’s five hitters with a lower-than-average strikeout rate, four (Wendle, Stallings, Miguel Rojas and Jon Berti) have been below-average hitters overall. Berti has stolen 38 bases, but he’s slugging just .330. None of Wendle, Stallings or Rojas have an on-base percentage above .300. The only of Miami’s high-contact hitters who has an above-average wRC+ is backup catcher Nick Fortes, who has played in less than half the team’s games.

In any event, it’s clear the Marlins have to find some way to improve the offense. Hopefully getting a full season from star second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. would be a great start, but the rest of the lineup has question marks. Soler and García will be back to factor into the corner outfield and designated hitter mix. Garrett Cooper has had another solid season when healthy and could be the primary first baseman, although he’s entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and figures to draw some renewed interest on the trade market after his name came up in rumors this past summer. Wendle, Stallings and Brian Anderson are all arbitration-eligible and could be retained, but they’ll be due raises on this year’s salaries ($4.55M, $2.45M and $4.475M, respectively) if tendered contracts.

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Berti seems likely to be retained but is a better fit for a super-utility role than as an everyday option at a specific position. Rojas is a team leader and under contract for $5M, but he’s coming off his worst hitting season since taking over as the primary shortstop. Young players like Jesús Sánchez and Bryan De La Cruz have shown flashes of promise but been far too inconsistent overall.

The Marlins also face annual payroll questions. While they’re expected to see a boost over this year’s $80M mark, it isn’t clear how far owner Bruce Sherman is willing to push spending. With more than $51M in guaranteed commitments on the 2023 books and a hefty arbitration class, there may not be a ton of financial leeway for the front office to add in free agency. There’ll still be higher-contact bats available for relatively cheap, of course. Players like Ben Gamel, David Peralta and old friend Donovan Solano — who has reinvented himself as a bat-first utilityman after serving as a defense-oriented second baseman in Miami — will hit the open market and surely won’t break the bank. A run at someone like Brandon Nimmo or even Andrew Benintendi may ultimately prove beyond what the Marlins deem appropriate in free agency, particularly with Soler and García already on the books.

There’s also the likelihood of the Fish again turning to the trade market for help, of course. Miami is likely to explore dealing from its enviable starting pitching depth to address the offense. NL Cy Young favorite Sandy Alcantara won’t be moved — Jon Heyman of the New York Post unsurprisingly relayed this week that Alcantara is “as close to untouchable as you can find” — but players like Pablo López or Braxton Garrett could be dealt for controllable bats.

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It’ll be a busy offseason for general manager Kim Ng and her staff. Ng is entering her third winter in that position, but she’s more firmly in control of baseball operations than ever with CEO Derek Jeter and vice president of player development Gary Denbo departing the organization in recent months. The departures of Jeter and Denbo could also explain some of the organization’s philosophical changes in roster construction.

There are additionally going to be some changes in non-playing personnel. The club has already announced skipper Don Mattingly won’t be back next year, and the team made a number of dismissals in its scouting and player-development staff on Friday. Andy Slater of Fox Sports 640 first reported that director of professional scouting Hadi Raad was being let go. Jackson and Jordan McPherson at the Herald report that director of player development Geoff DeGroot and five additional members of the professional scouting department have been dismissed.


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