In the wake of the Aroldis Chapman trade, everyone is talking about the Kansas City Royals strategy of building an elite back of the bullpen in order to assist the pitching staff. The Royals famously made two straight World Series in part due to its triumvirate of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvim Escobar. The New York Yankees now have their own dominant trio of Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller. The Yankees, in particular, have some question marks in their starting rotation that they decided to improve by upping their bullpen quality rather than by improving the rotation directly.
The Marlins have a similar rotation issue, and they too were interested in Chapman to build their own strong back of the pen. Now, Miami does not have Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller on their roster, but they do have one potential elite reliever on their payroll. Carter Capps brought a new delivery into his game and, for 30 innings last year, it turned him into the most unhittable relievers in baseball, and certainly one of the hardest throwers in the game. A.J. Ramos, on the other hand, does not throw hard, but he does have one half of strong, All-Star caliber play from 2015. The Marlins believe that those two are enough to start their own triumvirate to help out their weakened rotation.
The problem is that there are no Chapmans on the market anymore, and spending prospects and money on one would be an exorbitant pay anyway. But if the Marlins are not interested in paying up to improve their rotation by acquiring one of the free agent starters currently available, there are options to try and improve the bullpen and shorten games instead.
Free Agent Additions
The biggest and most readily available options are in free agency. The market for top-notch relievers has lightened after Darren O'Day signed, but there are still some mid-tier options remaining who could play up in a bigger role. Antonio Bastardo is a lefty who can handle either side and has always posted good numbers out of the pen, as he owns a career 3.34 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 293 2/3 relief innings. Bastardo owns a 53 percent ground ball rate, which fits perfectly with Miami's strong infield defense. He would not be a closer candidate, but the Marlins already have two of those. This would also free up a lefty spot in the pen, allowing Miami to trade Mike Dunn without worry of not having a lefty replacement.
If the Marlins are looking for right-handed options, Tommy Hunter is only one season removed from being a strong late-inning relief option. Hunter is also young at age 29, which is more than can be said for older closer types like Joe Nathan and Fernando Rodney. Joe Blanton, a poor starter as late as early last season, had a resurgent year in late 2015 out of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Blanton threw more sliders than he has in seasons past and worked far more efficiently out of the pen than he had in recent years as a starter. It could be the start of a strong career in the bullpen.
The other option is for the Marlins to do with one of their own starting pitchers what Blanton and Hunter have had done for their careers. Converting one of the Marlins' mediocre starting pitching prospects into a full-time reliever may boost their ceiling and give the Fish another late inning option. Almost all starters are better as relievers by default, and if the Fish can unlock one of their options as a guy who can go all-out in relief, it may be a worthwhile move to find a potential elite, cheap candidate.
The best option among the starter candidates may be Jose Urena. There was always speculation that Urena would have to move to the bullpen and drop a pitch from his fringy repertoire, and he always had the velocity to play up in the pen. Last year, Urena pitched three quarters of his innings in starts and threw about 94-95 mph, so the Marlins should expect a mid-to-high 90's fastball as a reliever. Urena could be a high-leverage reliever and the Marlins can improve their pitching staff without having to spend a significant sum in free agency or risk bad performances by middle relievers like Bastardo or Hunter.
Ultimately, however, these are just potential additions that could help the Marlins. The Fish do not have the resources to pay big money for potentially poor production for relievers. Their best option would be to go cheaper on non-closer players and hope they play up to the role or create their own elite relievers, which often occurs with converting starters. But neither of these paths are guarantees.
Signing a free agent starter is a guarantee for an additional win or win and a half over the team's back-end starters, but this comes at a heftier cost. If the Marlins want to compete, they need to either pay up the cost or think outside the box, whether it is for a starter or a reliever. Either way, standing pat isn't likely to improve the pitching staff.