- The Marlins may have to be creative to address their pitching needs this offseason, and MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro suggests that Miami could be one of many teams looking to develop their own version of a multi-role reliever like Andrew Miller. David Phelps, Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, Nick Wittgren or Austin Brice are current Marlins who could be adapted into such a role, though Nicolino and Urena may yet catch on as starting pitchers.
Here are today’s minor moves, with all links to the Twitter feed of Baseball America’s Matt Eddy.
- The Braves have signed lefty Sam Freeman to a minor league pact. Presumably, he’ll have at least some reasonable shot at pushing for a spot in the organization’s bullpen pecking order — if not even a big league job out of camp. The 29-year-old was rather productive from 2013 through 2015, posting a 2.74 ERA over 88 2/3 total innings, though organizations have never full trusted him with a locked-down MLB relief role. And last year was a tough one for Freeman, who not only scuffled at Triple-A (5.20 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9 over 55 1/3 innings) but was hit hard in a brief stint at the major league level with the Brewers.
- Another southpaw pen candidate, Onelki Garcia, is headed to the Royals on a minor league arrangement. The 27-year-old has seen only brief MLB action (just three appearances, in fact), and did not spend any time with a major league organization last year. But he did show rather well in the competitive Mexican League, for the Diablos Rojos del Mexico. Over 33 innings, Garcia worked to a 3.82 ERA on 28 hits with 8.2 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9.
- Promising indy ball player Dalton Wheat has had his contract purchased by the Marlins, as his former team, the Kansas City T-Bones, announced recently. According to a gripping story in the Wyandotte Daily, Wheat isn’t just an interesting player who was overlooked after a strong D-II college career, leading Baseball America to name him the top indy ball prospect. He also already has a legitimately unusual, trademark attribute that will make him a fascinating player to watch as he enters the affiliated ranks. Beyond his top-end speed and solid on-base potential, Wheat truly shows up to work — taking his turns at the plate with a pair of standard-issue work gloves rather than typical baseball batting gloves. (Yes, the Wyandotte Daily provides a great photo.) Wheat tells a fan on Twitter that he’ll keep chopping wood in his signature handwear so long as the Marlins allow it.
- Marlins management will soon meet with club owner Jeffrey Loria to decide on the team’s offseason plans, which were thrown into disarray in the wake of Jose Fernandez’s tragic death. Miami was in need of pitching even with Fernandez in the fold, and this winter’s very thin pitching market could leave the team unable to augment its impressive lineup. Cafardo notes that rumors of the Marlins reloading the farm system by trading Giancarlo Stanton have swirled for years, though with Fernandez gone, Stanton may have become even more of a cornerstone piece for the club.
The Marlins are in talks with former manager Fredi Gonzalez about their third base coach vacancy, reports MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Gonzalez, who skippered both the Marlins and Braves (who fired him earlier this season), has had multiple conversations about the possibility with the team, per Frisaro’s report. Serving as a third base coach wouldn’t be anything new for Gonzalez, as he held that post with the Braves before being hired as the Marlins’ manager in 2007. Miami is also looking to find a replacement coach for hitting coach Barry Bonds, whose contract was not renewed, as well as bullpen coach Reed Cornelius. Frisaro writes that former big league third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, who played with Marlins manager Don Mattingly as a member of the Yankees, is under consideration for the hitting coach vacancy.
Barry Bonds, who learned this week that his contract as the Marlins’ hitting coach won’t be renewed for the 2017 season, issued a statement on his time with Miami on his personal web site yesterday. Said Bonds: “Working with the Marlins this past season has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my baseball career. I am grateful and humbled that Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins gave me the opportunity to be a part of their organization. Though my contract was only for one year, I enjoyed sharing my hitting knowledge and other aspects of the game with such a talented group of players. I am proud of the their development and accomplishments over the course of the season and hope they will be able to continue to build off their hard work as they head into next year. I look forward to what the future holds for me – but I do know that baseball is and always will be in my blood.”
The Marlins “have no plans” to exercise their club option on Rodney following the right-hander’s struggles in Miami, according to Jackson. As such, the 39-year-old appears set to receive a $400K buyout and enter the free-agent market in search of his eighth big league team. Rodney inked a one-year, $2MM contract with the Padres this past offseason and pitched brilliantly in San Diego, logging a 0.31 ERA in 28 2/3 innings with the Friars. That performance prompted the Marlins to part with a fairly well-regarded pitching prospect, right-hander Chris Paddack, in order to add Rodney to their bullpen. (Paddack has since undergone Tommy John surgery.) However, Rodney’s arrow-shooting opportunities in Miami were limited, as he regressed to a 3.95 ERA over his first two months with the Fish before turning in a dismal 11.57 ERA over the season’s final month (12 earned runs, 16 hits, eight walks, 10 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings).
On top of Rodney’s struggles in Miami, the financial component of his option undoubtedly plays a role in Miami’s reported inclination to pass on a reunion. The base salary on Rodney’s option, like his 2016 salary, was $2MM. However, the option was structured so that the price would increase to match any performance incentives he earned in 2016. Rodney finished 41 games between San Diego and Miami this season, earning him $2.5MM worth of incentives and subsequently boosting the price of his option to $4.5MM. As such, the Marlins effectively had a $4.1MM decision on their hands — exercise the option at $4.5MM or pay Rodney a $400K buyout — and elected not to pay a fairly notable rate for Rodney’s age-40 season.
In addition to Rodney’s overall performance, the Fish may simply not with to allocate that level of funds to a reliever when their payroll is already inflating in other areas. Miami’s payroll will go up in 2017, according to Jackson, but a large portion of those increases will come in the form of built-in raises to players like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon and Wei-Yin Chen (plus arbitration raises for A.J. Ramos, Marcell Ozuna and others). With their guaranteed contracts and a number of arb-eligible players, the Marlins already figure to see their payroll pushed up into the upper-$60MM range, if not the low-$70MM vicinity. That’s a pittance for most teams, but the Marlins have only topped a $100MM payroll once (2012), and they look to be on track for their second-highest team payroll in history, even if that checks in somewhere around a modest $80-90MM.
One asset to which the team could dedicate some payroll is free-agent lefty Mike Dunn, with whom Jackson says the Marlins are interested in a reunion. Dunn’s 371 games with Miami are the most by any pitcher in franchise history, and he’s been a mainstay in the Miami ’pen since coming over in the 2011 trade that sent Dan Uggla to the division-rival Braves. Dunn missed time with a forearm strain this season but returned to ultimately log 42 1/3 innings of 3.40 ERA ball with 8.1 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9. Dating back to the 2013 season, he has a 3.38 ERA in 221 innings of relief with 242 strikeouts. Miami is also open to re-signing Bryan Morris, who was designated for assignment and outrighted after missing the majority of the season due to back surgery. Morris, of course, won’t be anywhere near as costly as Dunn, who figures to have a case for a multi-year pact in free agency.
Of course, the bullpen is hardly the only area of the pitching staff that needs to be addressed in Miami. The tragic death of Jose Fernandez is still difficult to process, but his absence leaves a glaring void in the starting rotation. The Marlins were always likely to pursue some degree of rotation help, but president of baseball ops Michael Hill said today: “Everything changed when we got that call about Jose.” The Marlins will be in the market for two starting pitchers, Jackson writes, and more importantly they’ll be willing to deal a position player in order to add some help to the rotation. Jackson lists defensive wizard Adeiny Hechavarria and the versatile Derek Dietrich as options, also adding that Ozuna could spend another offseason seeing his name in trade rumors if he can return a strong enough rotation arm.
Ozuna, of course, was the subject of many trade rumors last season and has only boosted his value after a terrific season in which he batted .266/.321/.452 with 23 homers in 608 plate appearances. That’s a near-mirror image of his breakout campaign as a sophomore in 2014 (.269/.317/.455, 23 homers, 612 PAs). Teams in need of outfield help — the A’s, White Sox, Blue Jays, Rays and Cardinals are some purely speculative possibilities on my end — figure to show plenty of interest in Ozuna if is indeed made available, but clubs willing to part with pitching talent will hold the leverage in trade talks this winter, given the paucity of available rotation options.
The Marlins have officially announced that they have exercised the 2017 club option over outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and also added an additional $2MM option year to his deal. Miami also confirmed the previously-reported, three-year extension with third baseman Martin Prado.
It’ll cost the Fish just $2MM to bring back Ichiro, who topped 3,000 hits during his solid 2016 campaign. All told, he ran up a .288/.352/.374 batting line over 365 plate appearances. While nobody will mistake that for one of the Japanese star’s mid-prime seasons, it made him quite a useful fourth outfielder and represents remarkable productivity for a man of his age.
It remains to be seen whether the coming season will be the last for the all-time great performer. But it certainly appears that at least one more is under contemplation, given that the sides agreed to plug another option into his contract. With a starting outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, the hope will be that Ichiro is deployed only sparingly, but he has been needed for rather extensive use in each of his two seasons in Miami.
As for the Prado contract, which was reported about a week ago, the Marlins will keep the versatile veteran from testing a market that likely would have valued him rather highly. Prado, meanwhile, avoids the risk of entering free agency after declining a qualifying offer, which would have held down his market by requiring other teams to sacrifice a draft choice to sign him.
With Prado locked in at third for the time being, the Marlins appear to have solidified their infield mix. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria did struggle quite a bit in 2016, but it’s unclear whether there’s any reasonable hope of upgrading. With Dee Gordon at second, J.T. Realmuto behind the plate, and Derek Dietrich available as a utility option, the only question may be what the team does to find a right-handed-hitting complement for Justin Bour at first base.
Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald tweeted that the announcements were expected today. Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald tweeted on the additional option, while SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweeted its value.
- Former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is a candidate to return to the team as its third base coach, tweets Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Gonzalez was previously the Marlins’ third base coach from 1999-2000, and he took over as their manager in 2007. The Marlins went 276-279 before Gonzalez’s ouster in June 2010 and finished over .500 in two of his three full seasons. Gonzalez then worked as the Braves’ manager from 2011 until his firing this past May. Atlanta compiled a 434-413 record under Gonzalez and made two playoff trips.
The Marlins have decided to part ways with hitting coach Barry Bonds, as Jon Heyman of Fan Rag reports. This was his first season in that role, which he shared with Frank Menechino.
Bonds’s time in Miami seemed to go rather smoothly from the outside, but it appears that the arrangement may not have worked out quite as hoped behind closed doors. Manager Don Mattingly “called out” Bonds at some point in the middle of the year, after which time the latter’s “commitment level dwindled,” per Craig Mish of MLB Network Radio (via Twitter).
The major league lifetime leader in home runs for a career and for a single season, Bonds came to Miami in hopes of reclaiming a place in the game. He had seemingly been frozen out of Major League Baseball after his career with the Giants wrapped up following the 2007 season. At the time, Bonds still represented a fearsome presence at the plate, but was viewed as a major symbol of the steroid era.
It appears as if owner Jeffrey Loria was the chief supporter of Bonds, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports (Twitter links), but some players also viewed him favorably. Ultimately, it was Mattingly who seemingly drove the decision to make a change.
Bonds isn’t alone in departing the Marlins’ staff. Third base coach Lenny Harris and bullpen coach Reid Cornelius have also been cut loose, per Andy Slater of 940 AM WINZ (via Twitter).
Here’s the latest from south Florida…
- “After the Marlins come to grips with the shock and grief of losing Jose Fernandez the man, they will confront the reality of something far less important but daunting: replacing Fernandez the pitcher,” the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson writes. There is no easy way to fill the spot of perhaps the best pitcher in the sport, particularly since the Marlins were already going to be looking for rotation upgrades anyway. This winter’s free agent pitching market is extremely thin, and the Marlins have generally been unwilling to pay big prices on the open market. (It probably doesn’t help that Wei-Yin Chen, last year’s big signing, struggled in his first year in Miami.) Jackson figures the “best case scenario” for the Marlins would be to sign one of Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill or Ivan Nova, and then make a trade for another starter. He suggests Adeiny Hechavarria or Derek Dietrich as possible trade chips, and the Fish could even revisit last winter’s attempt to deal Marcell Ozuna for a higher-tier arm.
- The Marlins have “expressed preliminary interest” in re-signing Mike Dunn, the left-hander tells Tim Healey of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Dunn told the club that he “would be more than willing to come back” but is excited to be testing the free agent market for the first time in his career. Dunn and his family are “going to go where the opportunity is. Where that is, we don’t know. I haven’t ruled anybody out.” The southpaw bounced back from a somewhat disappointing 2015 season to post solid numbers this year — a 3.40 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 3.45 K/BB rate over 42 1/3 innings. Dunn posted the lowest strikeout, grounder and walk rates of his eight-year career and his 93.6 mph average fastball velocity was his lowest since 2009.
- Barry Bonds’ return as the club’s hitting coach in 2017 “is uncertain,” MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes. This was the all-time home run leader’s first year on a coaching staff, and under Bonds’ tutelage, Marlins such as Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto had notable jumps in production. Miami was a below-average offensive club overall, however, most notably in the power department (a likely product of their pitcher-friendly ballpark and an off year from Giancarlo Stanton). Frisaro notes that some changes are expected to Don Mattingly’s coaching staff.
- For more Miami baseball news, check out another batch of Marlins Notes from earlier today on MLBTR.