Marlins Begin To Invest in Roster With Alcantara, García Moves

Under General Manager Kim Ng, the Miami Marlins have said a lot of positive things about investing in their roster in order to be a factor in what is becoming a highly competitive National League East. Over the past few days, they’ve begun to put their money where their collective mouth is.

On Tuesday, the club formally announced a five-year, $56 million extension for right-handed starter Sandy Alcantara; the deal, which was initially reported last week, includes a $21 million option for a sixth year, buying out his three arbitration years and as many as three years of free agency. It’s easy to forget that when the Marlins acquired Alcantara from the Cardinals as part of a four-player package received in return for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, he was not seen as the best prospect in the trade (for that matter, neither was right-hander Zac Gallen, who was also acquired in the deal). Instead, the real prize was speedy outfielder Magneuris Sierra. Sierra hasn’t worked out, but the deal has still been very fruitful for Miami.

At the time of the trade, Alcantara was seen by many as a likely future reliever due to his plus-plus arm strength, sloppy command and a shallow arsenal. To the credit of the Marlins pitching group, and more importantly, Alcantara himself, he has turned into a strike thrower, maintained his velocity, and developed a much more effective complement of off-speed pitches. That combination has turned him into one of the better (and more durable) young starters in the game, one who also has several underlying indicators that portend future improvements.

Alcantara has developed a five-pitch mix that starts with a pair of upper-90s fastballs. He favors the four-seam version against lefties, and tends to sink it versus righties. The pitch plays off of velocity more than spin or shape, but Alcantara has found secondary pitches that play off the heater during his time with the Marlins. What was once a rifle-spin slider with little movement is now a pitch with legitimate down-turning bite, while his once fringy changeup has improved to the point of becoming his primary off-speed weapon against left-handed hitters; he nearly doubled its usage in 2021.

While Alcantara’s secondary pitches are leaps and bounds better than they were in his prospect days, what turned him into the pitcher who finished 16th in all of baseball last year with 4.2 WAR is an astounding improvement in not only his strike throwing, but his ability to locate within the zone. With just a 6% walk rate, which declined throughout the season, Alcantara has become the rare starter who combines power stuff with pitch efficiency, and Miami will now enjoy his services for two, and likely three, years of what would have been his free agency, lending additional stability to an already very good rotation.

That brings us to their second signing. Behind their impressive group of developing arms, the Marlins finished sixth in the National League with a team ERA just under four. What made them a 95-loss team was an offense that finished last or next-to-last in all three triple-slash stats. They began to address their offensive woes on Sunday by signing Avisaíl García to a four-year deal worth $53 million.

García’s 2017 season has always fascinated me because it stands out as one of the weirder outliers among currently active players. A career .259 hitter outside of that one campaign, García hit .330/.380/.506 over 561 plate appearances in 2017, good for a 138 wRC+. Sure, a good portion of that was driven by a career-high and unsustainable .392 BABIP, but to attribute the entire year to luck feels reductive. 2017 also represents García’s only full season with a strikeout rate under 20%, including a career-high in-zone contact rate; it was also the only year he was really good against off-speed pitches, especially breaking balls.

What happened? I remember spending an inordinate amount of time a few years back trying to figure out what García was doing right in 2017, and never found a clear and obvious mechanical difference in his swing. Maybe the sliders were all hangers. Maybe he was just in a really good place in terms of his life away from baseball. But maybe he really was doing something that is replicable, and I’m sure all 30 teams, but especially the White Sox, Rays, Brewers and now Marlins, have spent an inordinate amount of time of their own trying to figure out just what is was.

That’s always been the most frustrating thing about García, as his tools have always pointed to possible stardom, or even more. He has top-of-the-charts raw power, a very good arm in right field, and is somehow a plus runner despite his hulking, 6-foot-4, 250 pound frame. It’s just the hitting piece that has held him back. He’s always swung at too many pitches, there have always been swing-and-miss issues, and he’s always hit far too many balls into the ground. He’s also always good for a couple of stints on the injured list, making it far more reasonable to expect 130 or so games than hope for a full, healthy season. Even with all of that, though, he’s still a productive player (he was worth nearly three wins in 2021), even if the chances of a return to the one-year wonderment of his 2017 have begun to wither away as he enters his 30s.

Once a team known for trading away players before the later stages of arbitration, the Marlins are, much like the Rangers and others, going with the radical strategy of trying to improve their major league product by spending money on it. (They also recently acquired Jacob Stallings and Joey Wendle via trade.) More teams trying to compete is good for the teams themselves, it’s good for the players, and it’s good for baseball. We should all be here for it.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

Stallings, Wendle, Avi are all solid upgrades. They’re all plus fielders, who will help the pitching even further, which is notable. I wonder how long til JJ Bleydey gets a shot? With Avi here, Sanchez taking the other corner, Garret Cooper moonlighting in the OF, this team could really use the DH. I mean, not that we’re blocking stars with stars here or anything, but I think they’ve got a clear path forward by adding a DH, unlike some other NL teams.

2 years ago
Reply to  Kevbot034

Historically, Wendle has been best at second base and worst at third, but last year he was good everywhere. Since Jazz Chisholm is definitely playing and Rojas is locked in at short, either they’re getting Wendle as a replacement for Anderson or insurance for all three of the infield spots.