MLB's Worst Team Could Have Chased World Series but Might Lose 120 Games

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2019

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly talks with the news media before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, May 3, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

To state the painfully obvious, the Miami Marlins are bad. They're buried in last place in the National League East. They're everyone's vision of a last-placed squad. And they could finish the season with a historically horrible record.

Even after shutting out the New York Mets 3-0 on Sunday, the Fish floundered at 13-31. That puts them on pace for a 48-114 record and means a dismal 120-loss season is in play.

The feat has been "accomplished" only twice in big league history—by the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134).

Asked if this has been the hardest year of his decorated professional career, skipper Don Mattingly answered in the affirmative.

"I thought we would be better than this," he told reporters.

Here's the truly painful part: These Marlins could have been better than this. Maybe a lot better.

Since polarizing owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team to an ownership group fronted by Derek Jeter in August 2017, Miami has dismantled its roster, trading high-profile superstars such as Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto.

The jury is out on some of those swaps. You can make a case that the Marlins needed to add cost-controlled talent while shedding huge salaries such as Stanton's.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 24: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins celebrates with Christian Yelich #21 after hitting a solo home run in the top of the third inning at Citizens Bank Park on August 24, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mi
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Yelich trade stings since he's the reigning National League MVP and is having an exemplary 2019 season that puts him on pace for a Roger Maris-esque output, while none of the players Miami got in return from the Milwaukee Brewers are yielding significant MLB dividends. 

That could change. Each member of the four-player package the Brew Crew shipped to South Beach—outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, infielder Isan Diaz and right-hander Jordan Yamamotopossesses big league bona fides. 

But imagine the difference Yelich would make raking for the Marlins. Remember, when Miami traded him, the 27-year-old was inked to an affordable deal through 2022 with a club option.

More gallingly, the Marlins have dealt inexpensive young talent, much of it on Loria's watch. 

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

In December 2014, they sent a package including right-hander Domingo German to the New York Yankees for right-hander David Phelps and infielder Martin Prado. 

This season, German is 8-1 with a 2.50 ERA in nine appearances with the Yanks. Prado has a .618 OPS in 34 games, and Phelps hasn't thrown a big league inning since 2017 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

In June 2016, Miami shipped right-hander Chris Paddack to the San Diego Padres for veteran reliever Fernando Rodney. 

Rodney posted a 5.89 ERA in 39 appearances with the Marlins that season before moving on. Paddack has a 1.99 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 45.1 frames for the Friars in 2019 and is an early leader in the National League Rookie of the Year race.

Or how about the curious case of right-hander Luis Castillo, who was traded from the Marlins to the Padres in July 2016, returned to Miami later that year and then sent to the Cincinnati Reds in January 2017?

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 05: Luis Castillo #58 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during a game against the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ball Park on May 5, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Giants won 6-5. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Dan Straily, the return piece from Cincinnati, never posted a sub-4.00 ERA with the Marlins. Castillo has a 1.90 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 starts with the Reds and looks like a burgeoning ace.

Blame Loria. Blame Jeter and Co. Whomever you blame, the conclusion is the same: This could be an emerging team with current and future playoff ambitions. 

Put Yelich in the middle of the lineup. Anchor the rotation around Castillo, Paddack, German and incumbent Caleb Smith (a rare but exceptional trade win under the Jeter administration).

In a flash, the Marlins go from 120-loss bottom-dwellers to legitimate up-and-comers with loads of cost-controlled talent and a glistening future. In a year or two, they might have been World Series contenders.

Yes, they play in a deep division. And, granted, hindsight is 20/20. But whether it be the previous ownership or the current one, there's blame to go around and missed opportunities aplenty.

"I don't even know what we are," Mattingly told reporters. "I know it's not very good. It's not a great feeling."

The Miami Marlins are bad. They could have been good.

Regret sucks, to state the painfully obvious.


All statistics current entering play Monday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.


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