77-85, 4th in NL East
Ever since the Miami Marlins went on a spending spree then sold off all their new acquisitions, not much has been expected of them. In 2014, they at least started to show that they are headed in the right direction. The emergence of potential future stars like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna showed the league that the Marlins may be in the discussion much sooner than people thought. Even without superstar Jose Fernandez for most of the season, the Marlins won 15 more games than in 2013, and if it wasn't for a late-season freak injury, they may have also had the NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton. (This shot is still the most impressive home run I have ever seen!)
2015 Additions / Subtractions
The list of offseason moves starts mainly with who is not leaving. When the Marlins were able to ink Giancarlo Stanton to a 13 year deal (with a no trade clause), it was possibly the first time in the franchise's history they have shown a commitment to long term success and spending. With Stanton signed, the Marlins didn't stop there, remaining active throughout the whole offseason. As opposed to the 2012 offseason where they went after high end free agents with big price tags, this time around they improved their team with small move after small move. They traded for Martin Prado to replace departing third baseman Casey McGehee. They traded for Dee Gordon and Dan Haren from the Dodgers. They also traded for Mat Latos from the Reds. Then they signed veterans like Mike Morse and Ichiro Suzuki to fill out the roster and add depth. With only McGehee and starter Nathan Eovaldi being the only players that saw significant time in 2014 departing the roster, the Marlins definitely looked greatly improved in 2015.
Most Important Hitter
In his first full year as a second baseman, Dee Gordon had a career year in 2014, making the All Star Team for the first time and leading the league in triples and stolen bases. Now, he has been brought over to Miami to be the table setter for their young lineup. The Marlins are counting on Gordon to continue the progress he made in 2014 and play like one of the best lead-off hitters in the league. His talent says that he can be and should be. Having a player like Ichiro, one of the best lead-off hitters maybe of all time, on the roster could help Gordon be great.
Most Important Pitcher
With Jose Fernandez not quite fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery, and no one knowing if he will be all the way back to 100% this season, it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the staff to pick up the slack. This is probably why the Marlins brought in veterans like Mat Latos and Dan Haren to solidify the back end of the rotation, but the majority of this pressure is going to fall on the young shoulders of Henderson Alvarez. He is capable of shouldering the load as he did in 2014, winning 12 games with a 2.65 ERA. If he can repeat that production, he and Fernandez will be quite the formidable duo at the top of the rotation for years to come.
Player to Watch
Usually, when you think about the Marlins, you think about young prospects getting a chance to prove themselves (usually before they are ready). This year's Marlins are not quite that way, with each position fairly set for the year. One name to watch for, though, is Justin Nicolino. With so much age ... I mean ... experience ... at the back end of the Marlins' rotation, it is highly likely they decide to move on from one or two of their elder statesmen that are not able to perform like they did in their glory days. If this happens, look for lefty Nicolino to be one of the first to get a shot to prove himself.
2nd in NL East
The Marlins have definitely taken another step forward heading into 2015. Combine that with a weak division this year, and it is highly plausible to see Miami finishing above .500 and competing for a Wild Card spot through most of the summer, no matter how much they get out of Jose Fernandez. With a healthy 100% Fernandez, who knows how far this team can go? This has definitely become a team to watch moving forward, if for no other reason than to see what Giancarlo Stanton is going to do with the bat next.