It’s been clear throughout the offseason that the Marlins are willing to deal from a deep stockpile of starting pitching that is perhaps unrivaled in terms of quantity. The Fish already moved righty Zach Thompson to the Pirates in the trade that netted them catcher Jacob Stallings, and they’re expected to continue pursuing offensive help after the lockout — be it on the trade market or in free agency. With an enviable stockpile of arms, there’s been plenty of speculation as to who might be on the move, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald lists righty Elieser Hernandez as one possibility. Perhaps even more notably, Jackson adds that Miami isn’t particularly interested in moving any of its top three starters: Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers and Pablo Lopez.
On Alcantara and Rogers, that’s wholly unsurprising. Miami just signed Alcantara to a five-year, $56MM extension shortly before the lockout, and the possibility of an Alcantara trade evaporated the moment the ink on that deal dried. Rogers, meanwhile, might’ve had a legitimate shot at National League Rookie of the Year had he not stepped away from baseball for a harrowing month of August, during which his mother was placed on a ventilator after contracting Covid-19 and both of his grandfathers passed away. Rogers, now 24, still made the All-Star team and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting after tossing 133 innings of 2.64 ERA ball.
As for Lopez, he seems more like a potential on-paper trade candidate given that he’s now into his arbitration years and the Marlins have so many up-and-coming arms who could potentially offset his loss. He’s more established than the arms behind him but seemingly a tier below Alcantara and Rogers; that ostensibly would make him valuable enough to help fetch a legitimate bat for the lineup but not necessarily irreplaceable to the extent of the organization’s top two rotation members.
That said, Lopez also missed more than two months with a strained rotator cuff, and the Marlins can hardly be blamed if they’re not open to selling low on the talented 26-year-old. Over his past 160 innings, Lopez has notched a 3.26 ERA with a 26.4% strikeout rate, a 6.7% walk rate and a 49% grounder rate — all very strong marks.
As for Hernandez, he’s also 26-year-old righty who, like Lopez, is now into his arbitration years and controlled another three seasons. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him to earn just $1.4MM this coming season, making him overwhelmingly affordable for any team in need of starting pitching. Of course, Hernandez’s own injury troubles, which have suppressed his innings totals, are the reason that projected price tag is so low. Over the past two seasons, he’s missed time with a lat strain, a quad strain and biceps inflammation.
Selected out of the Astros’ organization in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, Hernandez was clobbered in his first two seasons of big league action before beginning to find success in 2020. The aforementioned injuries have limited him to just 77 1/3 innings over the past two seasons, but he’s logged a tidy 3.84 ERA in that time while posting a sharp 26.3% strikeout rate and an outstanding 5.7% walk rate.
The problem for Hernandez, in addition to his difficulty staying on the field, has been a penchant for serving up the long ball. Hernandez has surrendered an average of 2.09 homers per nine frames — this in spite of the Marlins’ pitcher-friendly home setting. He averages just 91.2 mph on a four-seam fastball that opponents bashed at a .350/.394/.690 pace this past season. It’s a brutal line for plate appearances that culminate with Hernandez’s primary offering being thrown, but working in Hernandez’s favor is that his other two offerings have absolutely flummoxed opposing batters. In 2021, opponents batted .188/.241/.400 with a 30.6% strikeout rate in plate appearances that ended with Hernandez’s slider. They posted an even worse .167/.211/.333 slash against his changeup, going down in 18.2% of those plate appearances.
A team that believes itself capable of optimizing Hernandez’s fastball could feel there’s untapped potential. Given his heater’s lack of velocity and substandard spin rate, Hernandez will probably always be somewhat homer-prone, but even tamping that down to merely higher-than-average levels (as opposed to nearly the highest in the league) could go a long way toward a Hernandez breakout. Even if he simply continues on as a homer-prone fourth starter with injury concerns, his price tag in arbitration is so low that he’d provide surplus value in that capacity.
Looking past Hernandez, there are still other arms to at least consider. The Marlins don’t seem likely to sell low on Sixto Sanchez when his return from shoulder surgery is still unsettled, but he’s just one of many rotation candidates they have. Jesus Luzardo struggled immensely both in Oakland and Miami last year. Edward Cabrera is a touted top prospect himself but battled command issues in last year’s brief MLB debut. Further down the depth chart are fifth starter candidates like Nick Neidert, Braxton Garrett and Cody Poteet. Top prospects like Max Meyer, Jake Eder (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Eury Perez would presumably only be in play if the Marlins were poised to land a major name on the trade market.
Just how the Marlins will look to fortify their roster after the lockout remains up in the air. Miami is known to be on the hunt for an additional bat to deepen the lineup — ideally one that can play in the outfield. A center fielder would be most prudent, but the club has previously indicated a willingness to play offseason signee Avisail Garcia in center if a prominent corner slugger can be acquired via trade or signed. If the former route is the path they choose to tread, Hernandez would be a sensible part of a package, but there are so many arms in the system that it’s easy to draw up various permutations of deals.