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Behind Enemy Lines: Does Fish Stripes miss the home run sculpture?

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We also ask them about Granderson, Jeter, and sadly remind them of their record.

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There were very few teams in the 2019 season projected to do worse than the Detroit Tigers, and the Miami Marlins happen to be one of them. The team’s current 13-31 record is... not great. They sold off their top stars and brought in a future Hall of Famer as their owner, all in the hope of shaking things up for a rebuild.

So we wanted to know how another rebuilding club was doing, especially under new ownership.

We asked Ely Sussman, managing editor of the SB Nation Marlin’s blog Fish Stripes to tell us more about this 2019 club, and if a certain former Tigers outfielder might be available as a trade target.

BYB: I want to know from both a fan’s perspective AND as someone who writes about the team: how do you feel about the ownership change now that there’s been more than a season to observe it in action?

ES: It’s always important to remind oneself how dire the situation was that new Marlins ownership stepped into. Jeffrey Loria somehow managed to operate the franchise at a financial loss and alienate the fanbase during a period when Major League Baseball is widely profitable and South Florida was desperate for a relevant sports franchise. Derek Jeter and his group have turned the page in a very literal sense: trading all of Loria’s best players and dismissing countless employees from the front office and marketing departments. Although investment in the major league payroll has dramatically reduced, they reallocated a large chunk of that toward ballpark renovations, rebranding, international player development and scouting, and a bold education initiative that covers both language and life skills.

No doubt, the Marlins have a better chance at being sustainably competitive under new leadership. However, the loudest voices in baseball operations (Michael Hill and Gary Denbo) bring an old-school approach. I’m skeptical of whether the rebuild will be successful without an increased emphasis on the analytics being utilized by their competition.

The Marlins were predicted to be one of the three worst teams in baseball this season and currently (sorry) have the worst record in baseball. Do you think the current standings are a fair representation of what the team has to offer, or just a lot of early season bad luck?

I had the Marlins projected for a 65-97 record. Pretty bad! But even amid the super-low expectations, their first quarter of the season was disappointing. With so many home games, short flights and near-perfect health, they were poised to get off to a decent start...and didn’t. Destined for a last-place finish in the NL East regardless, the fanbase is focused on young potential building blocks rather than overall performance, and that’s been the silver lining. Guys like Pablo López and Brian Anderson are not getting ideal results, but their peripherals and 2018 rookie campaigns provide encouragement. Jorge Alfaro is fun, too.

How well do you think the Marlins are going to do this season overall?

My revised projection is 61-101. Sorry to disappoint the national media, but this will be a run-of-the-mill terrible team, not a historically inept one. The offense is bad (even once adjusted for ballpark factors). That being said, in the event of injury or veteran trades, the Triple-A affiliate is well-stocked with interesting players who I expect will serve as upgrades over what we’ve seen thus far.

Is Caleb Smith legit?

Caleb Smith is legit—easily the best player on the Marlins and their most effective starting pitcher since José Fernández. His velocity is ordinary, but his ability to command all three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) is special. KKKKKKKaleb has the confidence to throw them over the plate, which was lacking at the very beginning of his big league career. More so than anybody else on the staff, he seems to be reaping the benefits of working with new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

Do you miss the home run sculpture?

No. Sooooooo gimmicky. To be clear, the sculpture is being reassembled next year on the plaza outside the ballpark. The space where it used to reside has been filled by a low-cost party/group sales section for fans.

Who would you consider to be the team’s most below the radar star, that most baseball fans might not be aware of?

6. I have some concerns about his durability, but right-hander Pablo López has all the ingredients of an excellent starter. Fastball sits 93-95 and tops out at 97, filthy movement on the changeup, two quality breaking balls and good command of everything. He’s the youngest player on the Marlins active roster while being one of their most mature and marketable. Combining López with Smith and Marlins No. 1 prospect Sixto Sánchez is the foundation for perhaps the best rotation in franchise history.

Can we have Curtis Granderson back?

Can you wait ‘til September? As I’m sure you know, Granderson is the ultimate MLB ambassador and positive clubhouse influence. The Marlins needed that. Also, he has often batted leadoff(!) for this lifeless lineup. Signing him was such a low-risk, smart move. But he’ll be riding the bench down the stretch once Lewis Brinson gets straightened out and dynamic outfield prospect Monte Harrison earns a call-up.

Thanks so much to Ely for taking the time to answer our questions and share in our rebuild misery. You can read more of his work on the Marlins over at Fish Stripes.