Today's Free Picks for
Posted on February 24. Odds are subject to change.
MLB Season Win Total
Miami over 76½ -109
We are very rarely in the “over” business when it comes to season win totals in any sport but we’re going to make a rare exception and double down on the Marlins this year. We bet ‘em over this near same number last year and ripped up our tickets. This is Round 2.
The Marlins swim alone. Not a single other team last season failed to have one batter break a 100 Deserved Runs Created (DRC+) over at least 250 plate appearances. They are metaphysically alone, too: When the Rays exorcised their Devil in 2008, leaning into the starburst over the humble, harmless fish, they left the Marlins as the only team not nicknamed after a type of person, inanimate object, or land-dwelling animal. Does that mean anything? No, but neither does most of what Miami has done, historically. We’re going to try to make it make sense.
It’s clear Miami GM Kim Ng will once again be working on a shoestring budget after the team began the last four seasons with a payroll in the league’s bottom five, so it’s not about critiquing the Marlins front office for failing to get in on the Carlos Correa sweepstakes. But last season brought aboard four under-the-radar acquisitions to boost the offense, and none of Jorge Soler, Avisaíl García, Joey Wendle, or Jacob Stallings managed a league-average line (both García and Stallings had an OPS beginning with a five). Particularly given that all four appear likely to return as starters with the roster as it’s currently constructed, the primacy of making successful moves this year can’t be overstated—Sandy Alcantara and Jazz Chisholm will never be this young and cost-controlled again. If the window doesn’t start to open this year, it probably never will with this core.
Miami racked up 93 losses last year, and plan to run back the significant majority of the roster. There are plenty of comebacks and breakouts to hope on—and we’ll get there—but it’s clear how much pressure that performance puts on the incoming players to perform. Texas won one game fewer than Miami last year and, despite adding an entire rotation in free agency, has seen aspersions cast on their contender status. Miami, though, can’t leverage their finances to improve: The $25.5 million the Marlins committed this offseason in free agency currently places them 20th in MLB. They have little to spend, and don’t have the ability to move on from signings that don’t pan out. Their flashiest move has been a trade, but those, too, are perilous.
The thing that’s so enticing about free agency is that it adds, theoretically, non-zero sum value to a team’s player pool: Absent financial motive, a front office would only make a trade if it felt the player(s) coming back could contribute as much or more to present or future rosters. That maxim is particularly true for teams where a filled roster spot was slated for replacement-level production. The Marlins don’t have the financial muscle for free agency, so it shouldn’t be expected they can use cash considerations to disrupt traditional trade algebra. Their swaps, then, either need to hit in unexpected ways or are borrowing from the future for the present—not something teams of any market size should fear, but when things have been so bad for so long, the Miami front office needs to start being right.
Luis Arraez, fresh off a batting title, makes some obvious sense as an addition—at the cost of Pablo López plus two prospects. In terms of the deal itself, Arraez is currently controlled through the 2025 season, a year later than López hits free agency. The analytics considers him the slightly better player, projecting 3.4 WARP (compared to 2.6 for López). Last summer, the Marlins were flirting with a .500 record through mid-July; a 4–11 showing heading into the trade deadline nudged them to sell. If Salas or Chourio explode out of the gate while Miami is noncompetitive this season, this move is going to seem bizarre.
Though he’ll have to meet lofty expectations, Arraez brings aboard both what the Marlins need (a good hitter) and what they purport to want (a contact hitter). His 123 DRC+ last season was nine points better than Chisholm’s and a dismaying 30 points better than the sole qualified Marlin. He also plays the same position as Chisholm (who will be moving to the outfield going forward) and has had some injury issues of his own, logging IL stints for both knees and his throwing shoulder. If addressing one logjam by creating another without addressing the core problem sounds like a metaphor for major-league baseball in Florida, we’ll let your imagination fill in the particulars.
Miami’s leaning into contact, hoping a singles and doubles guy fits their spacious park better. Thus, the 28th-ranked team by SLG last year found one of 15 qualified players with a single-digit home run total. Not to imply Arraez is a worse choice than a player who arrives at the same production in a more contemporary fashion, but it’s hard to think changing the shape of the run production will fix the problem. Eating 1200 calories of perfectly seasoned food daily won’t make you feel less hungry. Arraez and free agent addition Jean Segura, plus Chisholm, make for a solid top third of the lineup. But is there a single Marlin whose bat you’d trust beyond that? That’s why their season projection win total is so low but here’s the key to understanding why this could work.
We’re not asking for a goddamn miracle here. We’re asking for 77 lousy victories. All Miami is ever trying to do is compete for a Wild Card spot—their fanbase, especially, knows how much it can be worth. There’s more than enough here to see that coming together. Segura was one of the savviest uses of limited funds possible, at a rate that looks extremely reasonable. Last season was his first time not qualifying for the batting title since breaking into the league a decade ago, and he’s had a DRC+ of at least 107 in five of the last seven years. He provides consistency any team can use, but the Marlins desperately needed. A 92 DRC+ would be right in line with the four Marlins who broke 400 PA last season.
Segura’s consistency makes all the comebacks Miami needs to succeed more palatable. Soler, for instance, never stopped hitting home runs once that faucet opened; his issues in recent seasons have had much more to do with BABIP. Given his last two seasons have comprised three stints for as many teams between 242 and 360 plate appearances, it’d be fair to err toward the two sub-.700 OPS lines as future indicators. Considering the awful BABIP luck (and various injuries) Soler had with Kansas City (in 2021) and Miami (last year), though, it’s tempting to long for that .882 OPS provided normal batted-ball luck in Atlanta. One can run through a similar logic with García, who last year continued to put up premier exit velocities but saw everything else fall apart, though on that front, the projections are less confident of positive regression (91 DRC+).
Time for small sample size theater: Bryan De La Cruz returned to the majors on September 1 with a more stoic batting stance; he didn’t actually get back into a game until the 7th, but from then on his 1.158 OPS was second to only Aaron Judge. He out-hit Bo Bichette, who made headlines for his own late-season resurgence. He hits the ball hard and with consistency, and is much more suited to left field, where he’s now slated, than center. If the overall 98 DRC+ from last season isn’t eye-popping, it’s still better than any 2022 Marlin who batted more times; this is one area the team’s intent to give a player the job and hope for more is fully justified. Miami ranked 29th in MLB by DRC+ last season against an 11th-place finish by DRA-; if they can bring the lineup to par, everything could click.
The Marlins’ starting pitchers collectively earned a 94 DRA- (Deserved Runs Against) last year, ninth in MLB. Alcantara was the major contributor there (76 DRA-), racking up a quarter of Miami starter innings, but López (91) was the team’s only other starter to reach 30 or even 25 outings, shouldn’t be discounted.
There’s talent among the rest of the group, definitely. Even if Jesús Luzardo can’t be penciled in for much beyond 100 innings, that’s enough to contribute a few WARP; Edward Cabrera is armed with the hardest changeup in MLB and, judging by his zero years and 168 days of service time (172 is the threshold at which he would’ve earned a year), the Marlins are ready to ride it; Braxton Garrett is a lefty who barely crosses 90—clap. Trevor Rogers is also, get this, a bounceback candidate. Finally, Johnny Cueto, another free agent addition, will be counted on for 20 or more starts while the newer members of the rotation get their sea legs, but is barely beyond replacement-level at this point if you trust DRA. Whether he can repeat last year’s 3.35 ERA on a 10.6% strikeout-minus-walk rate could end up holding significantly more sway in Miami’s postseason fortunes than anyone is hoping, but if Cueto proves unpalatable the Marlins aren’t hurting for other options to try out. There’s no reason to think the group behind Alcantara can’t help put together a league-average rotation, which is plenty enough to win 76 games or more.
After a season that was almost-invariably bad, the Marlins bet against consistency in hopes that they end up on the right side of variability. Ultimately, we can see it happening. If Cabrera hadn’t exceeded rookie thresholds, he’d be our favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. Chisholm makes sense as a center fielder. Rogers had 2.9 WARP in 2021 and hasn’t lost velocity, which is an argument for his resurgence. Maybe this is the year California’s drought ends, and Luzardo starts 25 games. Maybe the new rules (that rewards speed), will help the Marlins win more games than they otherwise would have. Everything went wrong for the Marlins last year, a very decent team with a very good rotation. Chances are things even up a bit this year and the Fish easily surpass this total. A new skipper (Skip Schumaker) doesn’t hurt either.
Miami over 76½ (Risking 2.18 units - To Win: 2.00)