The Miami Marlins stayed pat in this year's trade deadline, and if you believe President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest, the reason for it is that the Fish believe they have a good chance for success in the future. A big part of that potential future success should be the future starting rotation for the Miami Marlins. The reason for that starts with Jose Fernandez, but it ends with not necessarily any one pitcher.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland recently wrote of the success of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, and he discussed part of the reason for that success is that Thompson went for quantity in the bunches in the draft. Barnwell then correlated that move to acquire more draft picks to baseball.
It's reminiscent of that old Baseball Prospectus acronym, TINSTAAPP: There Is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect. The follow-up to TINSTAAPP was simple. What's the best way to get a pitching prospect? Start with 10 pitching prospects.
The idea is that volume of pitching eventually will win out, provided your talent evaluation skills prove sound. There is no guarantee any young pitcher becomes an elite front-line starter or even lives up to the expectations of being a top prospect. But having more of those players always gives you a better chance to find four or five guys to succeed.
Whereas in football, a team can do this by acquiring more draft picks, baseball has a more stringent policy on the draft and would make things more difficult for a team to do. The best way to acquire more of those players is to do exactly what the Fish do best: trade established veterans for prospects. Sad as it may be, the best way for Miami to get better talent outside of lucking out in the later draft rounds is to send away their established players for prospect loads.
The perfect example of that was the November fire sale trade that sent away Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and others to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Marlins may have made mistakes with that trade, but it cannot be denied that the team received plenty of talent in return for some bloated, if not manageable, contracts. The pitchers the Marlins received in the deal were Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez, and Anthony DeSclafani. All three pitchers have succeeded at their respective levels thus far, though at varying degrees. Alvarez has been solid at the bottom of the Marlins' rotation, while both Nicolino and DeSclafani dominated High-A Jupiter and earned promotions to Double-A.
Those performances may be promising for the future, but they do not provide good evidence that any of those three will succeed at the Major League level. The advantage is that, when you combine the four important young starters currently in the team's rotation with the prospects in the minors, the Marlins have a high number of prospects with which to work. That gives them more lottery tickets to find the starters who will eventually stick in the big leagues.
Jose Fernandez has already proved his mettle, but look at the number of guys they have with some potential beyond him. Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Alvarez have shown flashes, but none are guarantees. Brian Flynn looks great in Triple-A, but he is a fringe prospect. The same can be said of Adam Conley, who has been stellar in Double-A. Nicolino and 2012 first-round pick Andrew Heaney just made it to Double-A, as did DeSclafani.
Some of those names (Heaney, Nicolino) are better than the others, but the point is that the Marlins have a lot of potential names. Combined with the starters in the majors, that makes eight prospective pitchers of the future for four remaining starting slots. That means that only half of those players have to pan out and become passable Major Leaguers in order for the Fish to fill their rotation around Fernandez. Thus, the Marlins are not depending on every pitching prospect to pan out, thus asking their farm system to deliver on every player development case. Having more volume makes it easier for the Fish to assure three or four of their pitching slots are filled by 2015.
This has been the mantra of the Marlins organization for a long time, but only recently have they achieved the sort of pitching depth the team is always chasing. In previous seasons, the Marlins were hampered by poor drafts. The infamous 2005 draft yielded one Major League pitcher (Chris Volstad) who is not Major League quality and four other pitchers who either never made it or never stuck in the bigs. The poor draft results from 2005 to 2009 have seen the Fish waste draft picks on guys like Chad James and Brett Sinkbeil who eventually amounted to nothing. It drained the team's depth and made it difficult to supplement a strong 2006 era core.
The Fish have had much better luck in the draft this season, but the Marlins built this depth with their trades as well. The team acquired a number of these pitchers from the remains of their tattered 2012 roster, and it looks like it may pay dividends. The Fish will not have to worry about finding slots for all these starters, because not everyone will make it. But the team is giving itself the best chance to find the few who will make it.