The Miami Marlins' recent trade with the Toronto Blue Jays left the remaining roster devastated, but no area is worse off for the Fish post-trade than their battered starting pitching rotation. The rotation prior to the trade was supposed to be anchored by Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, the two good veteran pitchers on the roster. Johnson had a decent chance of being traded because he only had one season remaining in his four-year extension signed before 2010, but Buehrle seemed locked into the three years remaining in his four-year, $58 million deal. It seemed only natural that the Fish would hold onto Buehrle, in part because not a lot of teams would be interested in paying him that kind of money and giving up players in return.
Of course, the Marlins packaged Johnson and Buehrle in a trade and received a bevy of players in return, but the rotation was the group that suffered the most as a result. With its two top members traded away, the rest of the rotation looks to be in relative shambles. The crew is left with just one veteran presence, and it happens to be the team's least productive starter. The rest of the rotation is manned by a group of young pitchers with potential and problems.
The Marlins' lone veteran starter is Ricky Nolasco, who is the last vestige of the 2006 era Marlins team now that the Fish have rid themselves of both Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. Nolasco was the only other player who received an extension from that era, and while the extension seemed like a decent bet for a bounce back at the time, the Marlins' investment failed to pay off over the years. Nolasco received a three-year deal following an improved but still difficult 2010 season, but the team saw him fail in 2011 and 2012 as well, and now it seems obvious he is not worth his $11.5 million salary.
Still, with the Marlins already currently operating on a minuscule payroll, the team would look awful trading its lone remaining high-salary player, even if that player should be dealt for spare parts. Combine that with his "sole veteran" status, and it seems the Marlins may very well hold onto Nolasco, the very pitcher whom the team should look to trade. As of right now, Nolasco and his career 4.49 ERA (3.83 FIP) are on track to start for the Marlins on Opening Day in 2013. Yikes.
Jacob Turner, at this point, is the Marlins' next best starter, and that says something about the state of the team as it stands. It is not like Turner did not have a strong debut as a Marlin, as his 3.38 ERA and 3.89 FIP were both very good for a rookie pitcher just hitting the age of 21. But to depend on Turner as the second-best pitcher on the roster may be asking too much of a young pitcher who still has flaws in his game. He is still homer-prone due to a lack of command, and his .220 BABIP with the Marlins will almost certainly not happen in 2013. Expecting an ERA in 4.00 area seems far more likely than him repeating his strong rookie year with the Fish, and that level of performance will likely be the best among Marlins starters, especially given Nolasco's continued struggles.
Turner has a bright future as, at worst, a workhorse third starter in a good rotation. Right now, however, he is pitching at the level of a fourth or fifth starter, but the Marlins may very well ask him to load up a lot of innings with the team's lack of immediate pitching talent.
Eovaldi faces a similar situation as Turner, as he too will be the third or fourth starter on this team without the current talent for the position. Eovaldi did a serviceable job with the Marlins last year, and his overall season was quite valuable. Still, he retains some of the control issues that plagued him in Los Angeles, and he needs to find a proper out pitch versus left-handed hitters to increase his strikeout rate and supplement his decent home run suppression skills. Eovaldi's fastball is still high on velocity and low on movement, and he has worked on his third offering throughout his time with the Fish, but his best is still quite a few seasons away.
Eovaldi had to at least be a little concerned that the Marlins, had the team approached this offseason differently, would have replaced him in the rotation with a free agent in an attempt to go for it. But with the team's direction, he has been thrust into a guaranteed job, which is good for him. He can use this year to develop his complementary stuff, but it may be an ugly season overall for the Marlins' pitchers.
Alvarez struggled most of last season, as he faced two major problems while playing for the Blue Jays: his strikeouts and his home runs. Alvarez's problems with the strikeout are well-documented, and it is known that he is working on a slider offering or another third pitch to help him in addition to the two-seam fastball and changeup that he has. Like Eovaldi, he too needs to find a pitch, and preferably an offering that can draw swings and misses so that he can depend less on balls in play.
The one advantage Alvarez has is that his balls in play tend to be on the ground, as evidenced by his 56.2 percent career ground ball rate. Unfortunately, that did not help him last season, when he allowed 29 home runs in 187 1/3 innings. While he did allow more homers in the hitter's park that is Rogers Centre, he did not fare well on the road either, so like Turner and (scary comparison) Chris Volstad, his batted balls that do go in the air may be a little more prone to homers than usual. The Marlins will have plenty of time in 2013 to find out if Alvarez can utilize those grounders to keep the ball in the park.
The fifth spot is likely to LeBlanc, who did a serviceable job last season but cannot be counted to repeat his performance. The good news with LeBlanc is that, while he posted an extremely similar 2012 season compared to his other years in the majors, he did so in part because primary weakness remains hidden as a Marlin as it did when he played for the San Diego Padres. Both Petco Park and Marlins Park have spacious outfields, leading to more balls staying in the park rather than flying out on the fly ball-prone LeBlanc.
Still, do not be surprised if LeBlanc pitches a little worse than his 4.04 FIP from last season, especially since his home run suppression was its highest level in 2012 (7.2 percent home run per fly ball rate compared to career 10.5 percent). If LeBlanc could not hold off homers as well as he did last season in San Diego, it is difficult to continue to expect him to do it in Miami, and he is a thoroughly mediocre pitcher in all other categories.
The Marlins are left with a major question mark in their rotation because they have three young pitchers who each have aspects of their game that need improvement. There will be much tinkering with their plans in a lost 2013 season. The other two starters include an unspectacular fifth starter and a pitcher who once was the team's fifth starter just a season ago. While the three young pitchers at least have a future in this organization, it is difficult to have to count on this collective group of five to keep the Marlins in games all season, especially without an ace or even significantly above-average starter among them.