- The Marlins have reportedly discussed signing either Chris Carter or Mark Reynolds – two power-hitting first basemen who remain without contracts. However, picking up a big bat isn’t a priority, writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro, who notes that the Marlins are likely at their payroll limit. As a result, the Fish could roll with a four-man bench consisting of A.J. Ellis, Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Dietrich and Miguel Rojas and an eight-man bullpen to begin 2017. One reason the Marlins are open to taking that route is because they’re aiming to give lefty-swinging first baseman Justin Bour more opportunities against southpaw pitchers. Bour has slashed a miserable .223/.273/.291 versus lefties in his career, but those struggles have come over a small sample size (110 plate appearances). “We haven’t really actively tried to finish off anything in terms of a right-handed bat, knowing that we’re going to give Bour every opportunity to be that everyday guy and face lefties and righties — and occasionally getting (catcher) J.T. Realmuto [time] over at first,” stated team president Michael Hill, who added that signing a righty hitter is “not at the forefront of things for us. Our goal was to create as much pitching depth and quality as we could.”
Parting with righty Dan Straily wasn’t particularly easy for the Reds, who surely valued the cheap innings he might have provided, but as GM Dick Williams explains and MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports, the team finally found an offer it couldn’t say no to from the Marlins. Per Williams, the team “identified some of [the acquired prospects] as guys we were absolutely targeting,” informing Miami “that we wouldn’t go forward if we couldn’t get access to those guys.” While the Fish initially declined, says Williams, they steadily upped their offer over a span of several months. While the team wasn’t keen to give up Straily, Williams says it “just couldn’t pass on” the chance to add “impact talent” in the form of right-handers Luis Castillo and Austin Brice along with outfielder Isaiah White.
Here are a few more notes out of the National League:
- The Marlins’ stockpiling of arms this winter — including, most recently, the acquisition of Straily — may result in atypical pitcher usage patterns, president of baseball operations Michael Hill says (via Tim Healey of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, on Twitter). Miami may look to rely heavily on what it considers to be a deep pen, Hill suggested. “There may be situations where the starter is out in the fourth or the fifth, and a bridge guy takes you to the sixth, and you’ve got a setup man in the seventh and the eighth, and a closer in the ninth,” he explained, dubbing the expected approach “non-traditional.”
- Another team that has already added a few hurlers, the Padres, could still be in the market for more, according to AJ Cassavell of MLB.com (via Twitter). It’s not considered a major need, though, as the club intends to open up the team’s five rotation spots to as many as nine possible competitors this spring.
- It has long been debated whether the Nationals will (and should) pursue free-agent catcher Matt Wieters, whose market has seemingly languished. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post updates the situation from the Nats’ perspective, noting that there may be some truth to the chatter that the front office hasn’t yet been given the green light to spend more heavily. But while there may be some posturing at play, it also seems that the team just isn’t all that interested in Wieters. Janes writes that “the Nationals have never been particularly high on Wieters internally … and harbor concerns about his defense and his health.”
The Marlins would still like to add a right-handed bat to pair with Justin Bour at first base and have had discussions about sluggers Chris Carter and Mark Reynolds, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter links). However, the Fish don’t have much in the way of extra financial resources at the moment and may need to get the right-handed bat they’re seeking on a non-roster invite. That would certainly seem to eliminate Carter from their list of possibilities, and it might make Reynolds difficult to lure in as well. The Marlins currently project to open the year with a $115MM payroll.
Carter, 30, was non-tendered to the surprise of some back in December despite the fact that he finished the 2016 season tied for the National League lead with 41 home runs. (Carter also led the NL in a much less flattering category, striking out 206 times in 644 plate appearances.) The role that Miami is seeking, from my vantage point, would be a tough sell for Carter anyhow, as he’d surely prefer more playing time than the short side of a platoon could offer. Despite his penchant for striking out and his unsightly .222 batting average, Carter did post a .321 on-base percentage and a .499 slugging percentage last year. His overall contributions at the plate were decidedly above the league average, as they have been on the whole dating back to the 2012 season.
The 33-year-old Reynolds is fresh off an impressive-looking .282/.356/.450 batting line, though he did post those numbers while playing his home games at Coors Field. The production was strong nonetheless, however, and Reynolds can also point to the fact that the 25.4 percent strikeout rate he posted last year was the lowest of his career. He did suffer a broken hamate bone which ended his season prematurely, though the injury didn’t require surgery. Reynolds had some uncharacteristic struggles against left-handed pitching in 2016 with the Rox, and isn’t a true lefty masher; rather, he’s had roughly even splits over the course of his big league career. Still, Reynolds’ lifetime .233/.346/.445 batting line against lefties would be an improvement over what the team can realistically expect for Bour, who has batted .223/.273/.291 in 110 career PAs against lefties.
If neither Carter nor Reynolds is in the Marlins’ financial wheelhouse, the team could look to potentially cheaper options that remain on the open market such as Dae-ho Lee and Jerry Sands. The 34-year-old Lee batted .261/.329/.446 in 173 PAs against southpaws last season, while Sands is a career .285/.335/.477 hitter when holding the platoon advantage.
11:45am: The Reds and Marlins have both announced the trade. Cincinnati has yet to announce a corresponding roster move, though they’ll need to make one shortly, as both Castillo and Brice are on the 40-man roster, pushing Cincinnati’s total to 41.
7:55am: The Marlins and Reds have reportedly agreed to a trade that will send right-hander Dan Straily from the Cincinnati to Miami in exchange for right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice as well as outfield prospect Isaiah White.
The trade represents a significant flip for the Reds, who acquired Straily free of cost when they claimed him off waivers from the Padres last spring. Cincinnati subsequently enjoyed a season in which Straily, who had bounced around the league following a promising 2012-13 debut with the A’s, logged 191 1/3 innings with a 3.76 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and a 32 percent ground-ball rate and reestablished himself as a Major League rotation piece.
Exactly how much of that strong season is repeatable remains up for debate; Straily has long been homer-prone and last year saw his fly-ball rate check in at 48 percent. A move to the much more spacious Marlins Park should help his cause, but he’ll also need to demonstrate that last season’s step forward in his control is sustainable. Straily’s BABIP was a lowly .239 as well, but fly-ball pitchers tend to maintain lower marks in that regard than their ground-ball counterparts, so the regression in that department may not be as sizable as one would assume upon first glance. (Straily’s career .255 BABIP in the Majors is considerably below the league average.)
The 28-year-old Straily finished out the year with two years, 126 days of Major League service time, meaning he fell just shy of Super Two designation. He’ll earn scarcely more than the league minimum this coming season and can be controlled by Miami for another four years in arbitration.
For the Reds, parting with Straily opens a spot in the rotation for one of the team’s many young arms. As it stands, Straily would’ve joined top starter Anthony DeSclafani, veteran Homer Bailey (if healthy) and left-hander Brandon Finnegan in Cincinnati’s starting five. A competition for the fifth spot in the deal would’ve likely included left-handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett as well right-handers Robert Stephenson and Tim Adleman, though it’s now possible that two of those three could make the Opening Day rotation. Alternatively, the Reds could see the rotation vacancy as an opening to add a veteran arm that can provide some stability and leadership early in the season before possibly becoming a summer trade chip.
Straily joins a Marlins rotation that is also set to feature left-handers Wei-Yin Chen and Adam Conley, newly signed right-hander Edinson Volquez and longtime Marlins righty Tom Koehler. The addition of Straily seems likeliest to bump offseason signee Jeff Locke from the fifth slot in that rotation to the bullpen, which could have a trickle-down effect and bump an out-of-options player like Jose Urena off the roster.
Locke, however, would give Miami a much-needed southpaw option in the ’pen, as Miami previously stood to potentially deploy an all-right-handed relief corps. A.J. Ramos, Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps, Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa and Dustin McGowan all seem like locks to open the season in manager Don Mattingly’s bullpen. The former three constituted an outstanding late-inning trio in 2016, while the latter trio all signed Major League contracts this winter.
The price Miami is paying to acquire Straily is a steep one. Castillo, 24, rates as their No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America and their No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com. The hard-throwing righty is said to have a fastball that can touch triple digits and sits in the upper 90s, and he’s fresh off an excellent season with Miami’s Class-A Advanced affiliate in the Florida State League (plus a brief Double-A appearance late in the year). Castillo posted a scintillating 2.07 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9 in 117 2/3 innings in High-A, and he kicked in another 14 innings of 3.86 ERA ball at Double-A for good measure.
BA praised Castillo’s “easy velocity” and “smooth delivery” in their offseason scouting report on him, noting that he’s made the jump from power bullpen arm to potential mid-rotation starter. Per their write-up, his slider projects as an above-average offering, and he’s working to develop a changeup that still needs some fine-tuning. The Marlins originally landed him in the trade that sent Casey McGehee to the Giants, and his stock has risen quite a bit since that time.
However, it’s also worth noting that this is the second time the Marlins have agreed to trade the right-hander. Castillo was originally one of the prospects that went from Miami to San Diego in the Andrew Cashner/Colin Rea trade, but the Marlins reacquired him from the Padres after Rea suffered a UCL tear in his first start as a member of the Marlins. That, of course, doesn’t necessarily indicate that the Marlins have soured on him in any way, but Miami knows more about him than any other organization and seems comfortable parting ways with Castillo so long as it nets them a long-term rotation cog.
As for Brice, the 24-year-old gives the Reds an immediate, MLB-ready option to plug into their bullpen if he shows well in Spring Training. Brice made his Major League debut in 2016, and while he struggled to the tune of 11 earned runs in 14 innings, he also allowed only nine hits against five walks with 14 strikeouts. Add to that a composite 2.74 ERA in 102 minor league innings (93 1/3 frames at Double-A plus 8 2/3 in Triple-A), and there’s a chance that Brice could open the year in Cincinnati’s bullpen.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis rank Brice ninth among Miami farmhands, noting that he looked to improve upon his longstanding control problems in 2016. Per MLB.com’s free scouting report, he throws a “heavy” fastball in the low to mid 90s and boasts an above-average slider that was newly added to his repertoire. Their report notes that Brice does still have some upside as a potential starter but adds that he could have a quicker impact as a two-pitch reliever that can dominate same-handed opponents.
White, meanwhile, ranks 15th on MLB.com’s list of top 30 Marlins prospects. The 2015 third-rounder spent last season with Miami’s short-season Class-A affiliate, hitting .214/.306/.301 in 51 games and 201 plate appearances. While those numbers clearly aren’t eye-catching, Callis and Mayo call him a plus-plus runner (70-grade speed on the 20-80 scale) with the potential to be a premium defender in center field. White only just turned 20 years of age and is less than two calendar years removed from playing in high school, so he’s raw and represents something of a wild card for the Reds at this point. However, that’s not a bad third piece to add to a pair of more established arms that could conceivably impact the Cincinnati pitching staff within the next two years.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first reported that a Straily trade was close, adding that Castillo and Brice were involved (via Twitter). Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweeted that a deal was in place, pending medical reviews. Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM reported that White was the third prospect in the deal (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Marlins have added former Braves right-hander Brandon Cunniff on a minor league deal, also according to Eddy. The 28-year-old has totaled 52 innings for Atlanta over the past two seasons, posting a 4.50 ERA with 53 strikeouts but an unsightly 31 walks in that time as well. Cunniff’s fastball sits around 93 mph, and he has a history of missing bats in the minors, although his overall results began to tumble when he reached the Triple-A level. He’ll give Miami an experienced option to compete for a bullpen gig at some point in 2017, though the team’s offseason additions of Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler make for a somewhat crowded right-handed relief picture behind A.J. Ramos, David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough.
We at MLBTR would like to extend our most heartfelt condolences to Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez, whose 25-year-old brother, Brandy, was stabbed and killed earlier today in Volquez’s native Dominican Republic, per a report from Emmanuel Rosario of QuisqueyanoSports.com and this one from ESPN. A suspect is reportedly in custody. It’s been a rough couple of years for Volquez and his family, as Volquez’s father passed away just prior to his son’s start for the Royals in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.
- The Marlins have come to terms with all remaining arbitration-eligible players aside from David Phelps, according to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Tom Koehler will make $5.75MM (compared to $6.2MM projection), per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Adeiny Hechavarria has agreed to a $4.35MM deal (compared to $3.7MM projection) for 2017, according to Heyman. Meanwhile, Derek Dietrich gets $1.7MM ($1.8MM projection) and Marcell Ozuna receives $3.5MM ($4.5MM projection), per Spencer (via Twitter). The Marlins have also avoided arbitration with closer A.J. Ramos, who will earn $6.55MM, per Spencer (via Twitter).
- The Marlins and closer A.J. Ramos have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $6.55MM, tweets Heyman. The 30-year-old Ramos was Miami’s primary closer last season and turned in a 2.81 ERA (his third straight sub-3.00 mark) and 40 saves to go along with 10.3 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9 in 64 innings. Ramos comes in $250K shy of his $6.8MM projection but still earns a very healthy raise over last year’s $3.4MM salary.
The Marlins announced that they’ve signed catcher Ramon Cabrera to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Cabrera is represented by Octagon.
The 27-year-old Cabrera spent the past two seasons in the Reds organization but was cut loose by Cincinnati back in December. The former Pirates/Tigers farmhand appeared in 74 games with the Reds in those two seasons, hitting a combined .264/.291/.378 with four home runs in 215 plate appearances. While Cabrera has never shown much power in the minors, he’s consistently hit for respectable batting averages and gotten on base at a solid clip, as evidenced by a .287/.352/.381 slash in parts of nine minor league campaigns (including a .274/.327/.343 slash in 577 Triple-A PAs).
From a defensive standpoint, Cabrera has nabbed one quarter of potential base thieves at the Major League level and logged a 23 percent caught-stealing mark over the life of his minor league tenure. Baseball Prospectus is rather down on his framing work, rating him as the game’s second-worst framer in 2016 despite a limited role. Cabrera figures to compete for a Triple-A spot with the Marlins rather than a candidate for a spot on the big league roster, as Miami will entrust impressive young backstop J.T. Realmuto and veteran A.J. Ellis with its catching duties in the Majors. Miami’s current options in Triple-A include Tomas Telis, Carlos Paulino and Cam Maron.
The Marlins face a tricky decision with out-of-options righty Jose Urena, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes. Urena posted a 6.13 ERA last season (albeit with a somewhat more palatable 6.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9) and has yet to establish himself in the Majors. At the same time, he has terrific velocity and a good prospect pedigree, so the Marlins likely don’t want to lose him. The Marlins’ additions of Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke to their rotation and Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa and Dustin McGowan to their bullpen means there’s limited space, however. A trade is a possibility, although Frisaro thinks that’s unlikely. Alternately, the Marlins could consider keeping 13 pitchers on their staff rather than 12, although that would limit their flexibility with their bench. Here’s more from the East divisions.
- The Marlins are still eyeing bench pieces as they look to finish off an active winter. MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro looks at a few possibilities for the club, most of whom would represent right-handed-hitting complements for first baseman Justin Bour. (While the Fish say they’re inclined to let him face more lefties, his minimal experience against them has not gone well.) It’s not specifically apparent just who Miami is actually interested in pursuing, but Frisaro does note that Jeff Francoeur — who spent time with the organization late in 2016 — would be amenable to trying out first base.