The Miami Marlins' latest goal of this offseason, after filling a number of empty holes with free agent signings of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal, and Casey McGehee, is to find some relief help. MLB.com's Joe Frisaro has the latest on that front.
The Marlins will be searching for another arm or two before Spring Training gets underway on Feb. 16 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.
Starting pitching is the strength of the organization. In '13, the rotation was backed by a strong bullpen.
Miami's relievers posted a 3.42 ERA, which ranked as the 11th best in the Majors. As a team, the Marlins made great strides after opening with a 14-41 record. From June 1 until the end of the season, the bullpen also improved. In that span, the bullpen's ERA was 3.02, which ranked fifth in the Majors.
Bridging the seventh and eighth innings to closer Steve Cishek will continue to be a priority.
Much of what the Marlins did this offseason made sense. The signings of Saltalamacchia, Furcal, and McGehee filled critical voids on the roster. The Jones deal had its share of misgivings, but the Marlins wanted to move on from Logan Morrison and felt this was the right time. But the interest in a bullpen option this offseason, especially in the wake of the Morrison trade and the acquisition of reliever Carter Capps, does not.
Miami presumably wants a veteran bullpen presence to fill the role Chad Qualls left after he left via free agency for a closer role with the Houston Astros. Qualls had an impressive bounce back season and earned a two-year, $6 million contract with a $3.5 million team option for 2016, meaning he earned three times the amount he received last year after earning a Major League roster spot. Qualls put up a 2.61 ERA and 3.32 FIP and got a nice payday in return.
But while the loss of Qualls's 2012 performance is disappointing, it is not as though any Marlins relief acquisition could be expected to repeat that level of play. The Fish are not looking for closer-level performance and do not have the budget to afford players like Fernando Rodney or Grant Balfour. There is a litany of available free agent right-handers, but none are impressive names and many have little upside. It is unlikely guys like Brett Myers, Francsico Rodriguez, or Brandon Lyon have much left in the tank, but those are the sorts of players the Marlins might have to choose from given their budget after their latest signing.
Meanwhile, the team already has a series of internal options lined up. The top four spots in the bullpen are filled by closer Steve Cishek and relievers Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, and Capps. Presuming that the Marlins run a 12-man pitching staff, the team has only three relief spots left to occupy. The team also has Dan Jennings as a second lefty specialist. At least two reliever names from the high minors should also be given opportunities to play in the majors in Steven Ames and Arquimedes Caminero. Ames sneaked onto the main roster in September as a late-season callup and performed decently, and while he was struggling in Triple-A all year, he is worth an extended look. Caminero had a great year in Double-A and is also 26 years old, so he too deserves a look given his high-strikeout upside.
The Marlins could easily fill two spots with those players. The team also has two other relievers in Grant Dayton and Michael Brady occupying the 40-man roster after good seasons in Double-A, and either of them could also get a look in the big leagues in lower-leverage roles. Given that Miami has essentially filled out the "important" setup and closer roles, the team does not need to significantly upgrade the sixth and seventh innings and should instead use those spots to try out other, younger players.
But even if Miami did want to add a veteran reliever who could help guide the young relief corps, the club already had that player in Ryan Webb, who was non-tendered earlier in the offseason. For all of Webb's deficiencies, the righty has a career 3.29 ERA and 3.45 FIP to his name. He is exactly the sort of decent but unspectacular right-handed veteran the team is currently looking for. The Marlins could have kept him for around $1.5 million this season, and it would not have required a multi-year commitment, as Webb was in the final season of arbitration. He eventually signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million with the Baltimore Orioles, and such a deal was hardly more than what Miami may have to pay for a veteran this year.
The team's quest for a reliever is ultimately harmless, as the money is small and the players blocked are relatively inconsequential and interchangeable. But the goal seems unwarranted as well, and Miami would have done better to use that money to go in another direction with some of their previous signings. The team does not need another reliever.