The Marlins’ main objective is to upgrade their rotation during the offseason, but their limited budget will likely prevent them from chasing either of the best impending free agent starters, Rich Hill or Jeremy Hellickson, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
The upcoming free agent market is largely devoid of quality starters, which means the Marlins could go the trade route to bolster their rotation. The team doesn’t plan to shop its two best outfielders – Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich – or catcher J.T. Realmuto in an attempt to acquire pitching, though it’s willing to listen to potential offers for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, second baseman Dee Gordon, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and utilityman Derek Dietrich, Jackson reports.
In the wake of former ace Jose Fernandez’s tragic death last month, the Marlins are down to Adam Conley, Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler as their top starters heading into the winter. That’s an uninspiring trio on paper, but president of baseball operations Michael Hill believes Conley possesses “top of the rotation talent.” Since debuting in 2015, the 26-year-old has posted a 3.82 ERA, 8.22 K/9 and 3.73 BB/9 in 200 1/3 innings. The Marlins are also optimistic about Chen, who was a letdown this season after signing a five-year, $80MM deal with them last winter. Chen recorded the best K-BB percentage of his career (14.6), but he logged a bloated 4.96 ERA – up from a personal-best 3.34 with Baltimore in 2015. The 31-year-old also totaled just 123 1/3 innings because of an elbow injury that kept him out from late July until the end of September.
Three of the Marlins’ four potential trade chips (Ozuna, Hechavarria and Dietrich) are on track to receive raises via arbitration during the winter, while Gordon is controllable through 2021 on the five-year, $50MM extension he signed last January. The speedy Gordon inked that deal off two straight terrific seasons, but his value has since taken hits from an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and a stark decline in offensive production in the 79 contests he played this year.
Ozuna, who MLBTR projects will net $4.5MM in his first of three potential arbitration trips, was also on the block last offseason. The Mariners, Rangers and Reds were among the teams in on Ozuna, who was coming off a subpar season that included a demotion to Triple-A New Orleans. That 33-game minor league stint drew the ire of both Ozuna and agent Scott Boras, but in spite of the bad blood between them and the Marlins, no trade materialized. Ozuna then slashed .266/.321/.452 with 23 home runs in 608 plate appearances in a bounce-back 2016, which could put the soon-to-be 26-year-old on the radar of outfielder-needy teams. Ozuna has typically fared better in right field than center, where he ranked toward the bottom of the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating this year.
While Hechavarria has been among the league’s premier defensive shortstops since last season, his below-average offense cratered this year (.238/.283/.311 in 547 PAs) and somewhat cancelled out his fielding prowess. MLBTR’s arbitration forecast for Hechavarria calls for a $3.7MM salary in 2017, which will be his penultimate year of club control. The fact that there are no starting-caliber shortstops set to hit the free agent market could help the Marlins’ cause if they shop him, though it’s certainly poor timing for them that Hechavarria had such a dreadful season at the plate.
Dietrich is in his first of four arbitration years, and he should make in the eminently affordable $1.8MM neighborhood in 2017. The 27-year-old spent time at first, second and third base this season, with the vast majority of his work coming at the keystone as a result of Gordon’s suspension. Dietrich also has experience in left field, but unless the Marlins deal Ozuna or Gordon, playing time could be difficult to come by for him in Miami. In addition to Gordon at second, the Marlins already have Justin Bour and Martin Prado locked in as their starting first and third basemen, thus limiting Dietrich to a bench role if the team’s lineup remains intact. Nevertheless, the Marlins regard Dietrich as someone who’s capable of starting, Jackson writes, and he made his case this season with a .279/.374/.425 line in 412 trips to the plate.
If the Marlins aren’t able to pick up a pair of starting pitchers from outside the organization during the offseason, swingman David Phelps could end up in the rotation next season, Hill told Jackson. Phelps, who was outstanding as both a reliever and starter this year, has made 64 starts with the Yankees and Marlins since cracking the major leagues in 2012. The Marlins also have Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena on hand as somewhat experienced options, but neither has been effective in the big leagues.