The Miami Marlins' trade of Ricky Nolasco to the Los Angeles Dodgers was imminent, and Marlins fans knew that the return would likely be underwhelming. The immediate concern, however, for the Fish is that no clear player came back from the Dodgers to replace Nolasco in the starting rotation. This was to be expected, because if the Dodgers had someone ready-made to replace Nolasco, they would have done so on their own team rather than trading the player to the Fish for a half-year rental.
So Nolasco's spot in the rotation at the moment is empty. The Marlins have already decided to start Kevin Slowey in place of Nolasco on Monday, but who will take over on a permanent basis? and there are a few names to consider. But what about Steven Ames, Josh Wall, and Angel Sanchez? Will any of those players also make the roster soon?
Those are the questions we plan to tackle here.
The Marlins have a couple of names in the majors and in Triple-A who would serve as adequate replacements for Nolasco in the rotation. Two pitchers has been here before and have started for the Fish this season. Another player holds a little more interest as a Marlins prospect and could get the nod here as well. A couple of other players could show up as well.
Kevin Slowey, RHP
Slowey is the favorite because he already has a foot in the door. While the other options are in Triple-A, he is currently on the Major League roster as a long reliever after losing his rotation spot to Tom Koehler. Slowey has done well out of the pen, as he has put up a 2.77 ERA and 1.99 FIP in 13 innings in relief. The majority of those innings came in the marathon 20-inning game against the New York Mets.
Slowey would be a decent selection if the Marlins were trying to be safe, but the team has very little to gain with Slowey on the mound. There was a reason why he lost his rotation spot in the first place, and it was because he was ineffective with a 4.50 ERA and 4.37 FIP. While there is a slim chance the Fish could flip him for minor league depth, the Marlins are not likely to get many suitors for a player who lost his job during the season. Ultimately, there is no upside to running Slowey.
Tom Koehler, RHP
Koehler is the odds-on favorite from the minors to return to the big leagues and start in place of Nolasco because he was in the rotation as of last week. Koehler was the remaining pitcher in the rotation who was holding a spot for an injured player, and that spot was finally taken when Henderson Alvarez returned from the disabled list. The Fish cannot promote Koehler until he has spent ten days in the minors, but once he does, the team could slot him back into the rotation easily.
The problem is that Koehler was not that good either. He threw 57 2/3 innings as a starter in 2013 and had a 4.99 ERA and 4.47 FIP. He struck out just 13.5 percent of batters faced this year versus a 7.2 percent walk rate. Last season, we saw flashes of a very good Koehler out of the bullpen, and that is where he excelled this year; in a small sample this year, his strikeouts and walks both went up out of the pen while his ERA and FIP went down. Koehler may be better suited in the bullpen in the future.
Brian Flynn, LHP
The Marlins have a hidden gem in Triple-A New Orleans in the name of Brian Flynn, who has had a breakout campaign in his age-23 season. Flynn was picked up in the Detroit Tigers trade for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante and was thought to be a relative throw-in, but so far this year he has ripped through Double- and Triple-A hitting. He has thrown 78 1/3 innings in Triple-A and posted a 3.91 ERA and 3.26 FIP with an impressive 23.2 percent strikeout rate.
Flynn's numbers are good enough that, at age 23, he should at least get a trial in the Major Leagues. The benefit of choosing him over Koehler is that he has development and a potential future in the rotation should he continue to play well, whereas Koehler is three years older and has more or less become who he is. The upside selection for the Marlins would be Flynn.
Brad Hand, LHP
Once upon a time, Brad Hand started 12 games for the Marlins in 2011 and was awful. He then returned to the minors and was mediocre, including a difficult stretch in 2012 with Triple-A New Orleans. But he has played a little better in 2013, upping his strikeout rate en route to a 3.19 ERA that is masking his significantly worse 4.38 FIP. Still, as a lefty with whom they are familiar, Hand may get another shot at the roster, though his depreciating status in the Marlins' organization makes it less likely that he will stick in the bigs long-term.
Duane Below, LHP
Below was picked up from waivers from the Detroit Tigers and was temporarily on the big league roster before being demoted to Triple-A again. The good news is that he has been very good against minor league hitting, posting a 2.39 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 11 starts. The bad news is that he is 27 years old and still only striking out 17.5 percent of Triple-A hitters. He would be a last resort before any of these players saw action.
What about the new Marlins the Fish just picked up? Are any of Steven Ames, Josh Wall, or Angel Sanchez likely to see major league time soon? Sanchez is currently working in High-A, and it is unlikely he will move from there, but the other two relievers were on the Dodgers' Triple-A organization. Could either one contribute in the bigs?
Steven Ames, RHP
Ames is a 25-year-old relief prospect, but he is interesting because he has performed so well in the minors. He has a career 2.22 ERA and 31.5 percent strikeout rate, but he is not known for any stellar stuff. He also has struggled in Triple-A, meaning he likely is not ready for the bigs yet.
At the same time, he is the most likely to show up in a Marlins uniform this season. The team has to make room for him in the 40-man roster because he was on the Dodgers' 40-man, and at the very least you should see him September. If an injury comes up, he may be second or third in line for a promotion behind players like Koehler and Below. If he starts to perform better in New Orleans, however, expect him to leapfrog some players in the bullpen replacement hierarchy.
Josh Wall, RHP
Wall has struggled so badly in the minors that it is hard to imagine him seeing any major league time. At this point, he may profile at best as a middle reliever with a strong arm and a middling secondary arsenal, but the Fish will have to keep him on the 40-man roster and Triple-A as well. Given his struggles at each level, it remains to be seen if he will even see major league time, so do not count on this season being the year.