Relive all of the ups and downs of the 2023 Miami Marlins with our Fish On First Season Review, containing detailed articles about a wide variety of players. The FOF staff analyzes the individual impact that each of them had and what it means for their future with the organization.
This installment focuses on first baseman/designated hitter Garrett Cooper.
- May 3—placed on 10-day injured list (inner ear infection)
- May 12—sent on minor league rehab assignment to Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
- May 14—activated from 10-day injured list
- August 1—traded along with RHP Sean Reynolds to the San Diego Padres for LHP Ryan Weathers
Overall season stats: 123 G, .251/.304/.419, 96 wRC+, 17 HR, 0 SB, 0.3 fWAR (age-32 season)
Marlins stats: 82 G, .256/.296/.426, 93 wRC+, 13 HR, 0 SB, 0.2 fWAR
There weren’t a whole lot of spicy “position battles” to monitor during 2023 Marlins spring training, but the role of backup first baseman was still yet to be decided. Although Garrett Cooper had been a good hitter throughout the past half-decade and earned a National League All-Star selection the year before, he had repeatedly failed to stay on the field. However much you want to attribute that to fragility vs. simple bad luck, the Marlins needed to account for his perennial lack of availability.
The club wanted newcomer Luis Arraez to focus entirely on second base, though at least he could cover first in emergencies. Catcher Nick Fortes got some spring reps at the position. So did Jordan Groshans and Jerar Encarnación—like Fortes, that wasn’t their natural position.
None of these internal options distinguished themselves, so with less than three weeks until Opening Day, the Marlins inked free agent Yuli Gurriel to a minor league deal. He showed enough during that brief trial (particularly defensively) to secure the final roster spot.
Gurriel’s presence allowed the Marlins to manage Cooper’s workload, resting him about once per week and occasionally sliding him over to the designated hitter spot. Overall, it was the most durable season of his major league career.
However, Coop’s effectiveness at the plate was below his usual standards. He lacked discipline and struck out in nearly 30% of his Marlins plate appearances while walking only 5.3% of the time; from 2018-2022, those rates were 25.9% and 9.0%, respectively. He was mashing left-handed pitching (138 wRC+), but every other aspect of his offensive profile was underwhelming.
Coming out of the All-Star break, it was unsurprising to see rumors swirl about the slumping Marlins pursuing lineup upgrades, but they wouldn’t mess with the Cooper/Gurriel duo…right? The possibility of shaking up the first base situation began feeling very real the week before the trade deadline when Miami was reported to be one of the bidders for Carlos Santana, who was ultimately dealt from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee.
Mere hours before the Aug. 1 deadline arrived, Kim Ng and her front office shook up the Marlins offense in a series of moves. They acquired Josh Bell from the Cleveland Guardians to be their primary first baseman down the stretch. Cooper and minor league reliever Sean Reynolds departed for the San Diego Padres in exchange for Ryan Weathers. As a pending free agent in the midst of an unremarkable season, Coop understandably carried very minimal surplus value.
At the time, Bell’s numbers were not clearly better than Cooper’s, but the Marlins were richly rewarded for betting on his underlying batted ball data:
Later that month, Cooper faced his former teammates when the Fish visited Petco Park. He reached base safely five times during the series (3-for-8, 2 BB). He started about half of the Padres’ post-deadline games. His platoon splits were even more pronounced and he was a net-negative in terms of win probability added. The Padres finished two games back of the final NL Wild Card spot.
This wasn’t the kind of walk year that Cooper hoped for. That being said, he avoided significant injuries and set new personal bests for home runs, RBIs, total bases and games played.
Future with the Marlins
It’s not like Cooper and the Marlins ended things on bad terms, so there is at least a longshot scenario that involves them reuniting. For that to happen this offseason, Bell would have to opt out of his contract and sign elsewhere—there’s too much redundancy in their skillsets to justify paying market rate for both.
Cooper’s highest bidder should be willing to go slightly above his 2023 salary of $3.9 million. Given his injury history and recent issues performing against same-handed pitching, perhaps there’d be performance bonuses in the deal based on plate appearances.
Photo by Noah Berger/Fish On First