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2016 Miami Marlins Offseason Plan: Mid-rotation starter search

The Marlins are looking for a mid-rotation workhorse starter to help anchor the crew behind ace Jose Fernandez. Which free agent starter might that be?

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins may be able to trade a few names in Martin Prado and A.J. Ramos, but those moves would be designed to clear up salary space for the Fish. The team wants to improve on its mediocre starting rotation, a cast and crew that struggled mightily behind ace Jose Fernandez in 2015. Outside of Fernandez, no starter was even close to a two-win pitcher in 2015, and it is unlikely they would be projected for such a fate next year. The Marlins want some more certainty at the starter spot, so they may look to mid-rotation names for help in that department.

Of course, there are limitations for the Marlins. The team has already talked about how they would not want to sign a starter for more than $15 million a year unless it was the "right" player. It is unlikely said player is in the market right now, especially with most of the big names off of the market. So why pursue a starter, and what names would be of interest?

Why Sign a Starter?

The Marlins need help in the rotation. Beyond Fernandez, the incumbents are Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart, a returning (from injury) David Phelps, and a procession of low-tier pitching prospects like Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, and Adam Conley. Conley appears the most likely to win out a starting spot based on his performance, but any injury would leave the Marlins scuttling for help. With an average player on board, especially one with durability in his resume, the Marlins would at least be able to guarantee themselves a few wins behind the injury question mark of Jose Fernandez and ahead of the talent question marks in the rest of the rotation.

Depth was a problem last season when the team was dealing with injuries from Henderson Alvarez and Fernandez. The club traded its pitching depth, and when Mat Latos struggled and he and Dan Haren were dealt, the team was left with only young talent. Nicolino and Urena struggled mightily in the majors, showing that the team may be low on talent in its farm system in terms of pitching.

Signing Targets

There are a number of targets available for the Marlins in the offseason in terms of mid-tier workhorse pitchers. Most of the mid-tier talent has averaged at least 170 innings per season over the last three years, with the only noted Marlins potential target who has not averaged that mark being former Texas Ranges veteran Colby Lewis. The Fish would want someone who is durable, at least expected to be league average, and not requiring a deal greater than three years most likely. The Fish are not wont to signing pitchers to long-term contracts, and they may not be willing to go long with an aging starter.

What names fit that kind of criteria? First, we can cross more than a few guys off of the ledger. The remaining top-tier starter in free agency is Johnny Cueto, and the Marlins are definitely not pursuing him. He declined a six-year deal worth $120 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks, so clearly he is out of Miami's price range. Likewise, the team is unlikely to pursue a guy like Mike Leake, who is 28 years old and therefore looking for a longer contract despite the fact that he is a worse pitcher than a lot of his older counterparts.

The Marlins might also be wary of pursuing players who are attached to qualifying offers. The Marlins have a top-10 protected first-round draft pick in 2016, but they would still lose a second-rounder if they signed a guy who had a qualifying offer attached to them. That means there are definite costs to signing someone like Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, or Wei-Yin Chen.

That does not mean Miami will avoid those names. They have been attached to Gallardo before, and Chen has recently come up as a target, as has Kennedy, so these names are not out of the picture. But it might behoove Miami to go after similar players who are not attached to draft pick compensation. Among those players, the biggest name on the market is lefty Scott Kazmir, who is coming off of a disappointing run with the Houston Astros after a second strong start to the season for the Oakland Athletics. Kazmir is 32 years old next season and would likely be amenable to a three-year deal with a good payout for what may be his last big contract in the game. He has clearly proven himself a strong starter, but his late-season run with Houston may have deflated his value. That might bring him closer to the $15 million a year barrier that the Marlins might tolerate, especially on a three-year contract.

The other option might be former Washington Nationals starter Doug Fister, who came to Washington as a major haul for that team but left the city with a career-worst season. Fister is about the same age as Kazmir, but he would come cheaper and on a shorter contract for the Fish. He also fits the team's desired profile for a pitcher as a guy who throws strikes and avoids walks as his primary method of getting by on the mound. The downside is that he is more of a bounceback candidate rather than a certainty like Kazmir, and the Fish may want better guarantees on production.

The Fish may be limited in players of interest if they are going to avoid paying up draft pick compensation (which they probably should), but if they are up to giving up that second rounder, the team does have a few more names available to them. Tomorrow morning, we will discuss the best potential targets for the team.