Will Manso: Hard to expect more than a .500 season from the Marlins

Fish open on Tuesday

MIAMI – Let's take a break from the Heat and Panthers playoff push to talk about a team that hasn't made the postseason in well over a decade.  Not since 2003 to be exact.

Of course, just like the Marlins only other playoff season, 1997, that year ended with a World Series championship.  Hey, when this team gets it right, they REALLY get it right.

But enough about the past.  The real question is about the present and what the 2016 Miami Marlins have to offer.

The offseason was relatively quiet.  Miami's biggest moves were in the coaching staff.  They added Don Mattingly as manager and brought in the all-time home run king as the hitting coach.  Barry Bonds can only do so much, even though at 51 years old he would still be the team's 2nd best hitter.

Let's get back to reality.

If you watched any of the 2015 Marlins, you're getting more of the same from the 2016 lineup.  The biggest change is that we get to see Justin Bour from the start of the season.  Otherwise, this is literally the same offense from last season.

Dee Gordon starts it off, followed by the big bats of the outfield.  The biggest of those bats being Giancarlo Stanton.  The question around the Marlins superstar has never been will he produce.  He has 64 home runs in the last two seasons despite missing over 100 games due to injury.  That's insane production.

The real question with Stanton is can he stay healthy?

One season we're going to see a full year of Stanton in his prime.  For the Marlins to have any shot at being successful this season, that needs to be this year.

Stanton is the key to the offense.  With him,  the Marlins have a young lineup anchored by a true slugging star.  He's that important to this team.  He totally changes the dynamic of what they can do.

Gordon proved last season he's on the rise and his success in Los Angeles wasn't a fluke.  Christian Yelich had an all-star type 2nd half of the season and Marcell Ozuna has the talent for a big bounce back.

Mattingly seems determined to make Ozuna work as the number two hitter in the lineup.  While I'm not sold that's his best spot, it's hard to argue with how he looks in the spring.  Ozuna seems fine with handling that role in the lineup.

Bour is getting a crack to be an everyday player, and he showed enough last season, in particular against righties, that he can be solid.

You know what you're getting from Martin Prado and Adeiny Hechavarria, while JT Realmuto took a really nice step forward offensively in 2015.

Here's the real issue with the Marlins on offense and the real problem for a team with AGAIN one of the lowest payrolls in baseball; they have very little depth.

They'll tell you Ichiro, Chris Johnson and Derek Dietrich are versatile guys who can be solid contributors, and I do believe they're fine off the bench with spot starts.  But, if you have to count on those guys for any more than that, this offense will likely struggle.  The depth on this team is super thin.  You get what you pay for.

If they lose Stanton (when not if?) they'll be in huge trouble.  They have no real options in the minor leagues ready to help.

At best, the Marlins are an exciting young offense that can score runs, but in reality they'll likely fall somewhere in the middle.  We know how hard it is to have a perfect health season from top to bottom of a lineup.  It's also asking a lot for every player to make that next step.  If Bour falls flat on his face or Ozuna looks like he did last season or Yelich gets off to another slow start or Prado finally hits the wall, this offense will take a step back.  That's not even taking into account if Stanton gets injured again.

You see why I'm a little concerned about this offense?  The margin for error is slim.

Which brings us to the rotation, or shall I say Jose Fernandez.

Quick, think of the Marlins staff with Fernandez.

Now think of them without it.

Oh boy.

A Marlins staff without Jose is quite frankly one of the worst staffs in MLB.

Wei-Yin Chen is a fine number two or three type starter.  The Marlins actually have him starting opening day, but that's more as a measure to protect Fernandez's innings this season.

Chen is ideally a 3rd guy in the rotation, in my opinion, but on this team he is without question the consistent number two guy after Fernandez.  That leaves a trail of question marks.

Adam Conley showed Mattingly enough to earn the 3rd spot in the rotation to the surprise of many.  If you've watched Conley pitch, you'll see he has the stuff to have success in the majors.  He has become a far better choice in the rotation than formally highly touted fellow lefty Justin Nicolino.  His stuff is just very good.

His experience is not.  Conley has pitched just 67 innings in the majors.  Having him lock down the 3rd spot in the rotation and expecting him to be consistent is a lot to ask of an unproven young pitcher.

Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart round out the rotation.  Those guys are what they are. Decent backend of the rotation guys, as long as the top of your rotation is productive and healthy.  Cosart seems poised for a bounce back season, and the Marlins need that from him.

Which takes us back to the Fernandez health question.  Like Stanton, this team takes a massive dip if (when not if?) he gets hurt.  I think Jose will win a Cy Young award one day very soon.  This year seems unlikely because of his innings restriction now two years removed from Tommy John surgery.

The bullpen also comes with question marks.  The loss or Carter Capps to an elbow ligament tear was a huge blow.  That puts a lot of pressure on AJ Ramos as the closer and the one veteran to count on in the pen.

I really felt the Marlins had something potentially special with a Capps-Ramos combo on the back end of games.  That one inning cut down each night makes a huge difference to a staff that includes two young pitchers who likely won't throw more than 180 innings.

The bottom line with the Marlins is this: IF Stanton and Fernandez stay healthy and produce, Miami has something most teams don't.  Two legitimate star players who are capable of dominating a game.

If it all comes together, the Fish could make a big jump and win 83-85 games after winning just 71 last season.  But I just can't see it being a perfect season.  They'll have some adversity, and while Mattingly is more than capable of keeping the team together through the ups and downs of a long season, it'll be hard to expect more than a .500 team.

It doesn't help that the Marlins play in a division that includes two of the NL favorites in the Nationals and Mets.

The good news is they're also in a division that includes the rebuilding Phillies and Braves.

A worst case scenario for the Marlins would be injuries mounting again and they're a 70-72 win team like last season.

Chances are they'll likely land in the middle and win around 78-80 games.

Miami will have good moments because of some exciting young players, but I don't think this team is built and ready to compete in the long haul.

I can't blame Mattingly and I certainly don't blame the players.  This team has a solid young core, but years of a struggling farm system and a reluctance to add payroll will once again hamper the team's depth and win potential.

Marlins season prediction: 79-83 and 3rd place in the NL East.


About the Author:

Will Manso came back home to South Florida when he joined Local 10 in March of 1999. During his time here, Will has kept busy by working in sports, news and he's even dabbled in entertainment. He is now Local 10's sports director and also enjoys the chance to serve as host for special shows on Local 10.