The Miami Marlins are planning on acquiring a starting pitcher, but particularly one that will fit their budget and be a durable workhorse for a rotation ravaged by injuries in 2015. This is a decent idea for the Fish, though it might require some salary moving on their part. But who among the free agent starters should the Marlins look to? This is still Jeffrey Loria's team, and paying a lot for a free agent pitcher is just not the club's modus operandi. Which free agent would be the best fit given the team's desires? Here are a few of the names of interest and their positives and negatives.
Gallardo pitched well last season for the Texas Rangers in a resurgent season despite dropping to a career-low strikeout rate and posting a sub-par walk rate. Gallardo has never been a control artist, but his swing and miss stuff suffered last year, as he got a career-low 6.5 percent of pitches going for swinging strikes. With this kind of declining stuff, it would be a difficult sell to get a 30-year-old pitcher in for a four-year deal, especially with the Marlins having to throw in a second-round draft pick for compensation.
Gallardo does offer some change towards the good. He has had slow improvement in preventing home runs, and that may be due to an increasing ground ball rate. He used his supposed two-seam fastball at higher rates than ever before last season, and that pitch earned a 60 percent ground ball rate last season. Gallardo may very well be morphing into a stirke-throwing ground pounder after spending years mesmerizing hitters with his slider and curve.
Still, with Gallardo likely to earn a four-year deal and the team having to pay draft pick compensation, the Fish should probably avoid him. There are too many signs pointing downward in his career to risk a lot of money for this team.
Kennedy is in almost the opposite situation as Gallardo. He is coming off of a bad season in which he showed a propensity for the long ball despite pitching in the best pitcher's park in the game in Petco Park. The righty's ERA and FIP ballooned into the mid-4.00's as he struggled to control his copious fly balls.
However, that only tells part of the story for Kennedy. His velocity is at a stable level from the previous year, when he threw 200 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 3.21 FIP. So are his strikeouts and walks. The only difference has been his home runs, and while Kennedy has had issues with this in the past, it has never been as bad as it was last year. It is likely he was somewhat unlucky to deliver as many long balls as he did, and moving to Marlins Park, which is harder on home runs, would be a positive move. In addition, Kennedy would be moving from one of the worst outfield defenses in baseball to one of the better ones, which would help avoid doubles and gappers more.
Kennedy might thrive in a bigger park and with better defense, and he has the swing-and-miss stuff this staff really needs. He may earn a smaller deal than Gallardo as well, as he is 31 years old next year and could end up with a three-year contract. However, like Gallardo, the Marlins would still have to pay a second-round draft pick in order to acquire Kennedy with a signing, making his price a little steeper.
One name who would not require draft pick compensation would be Kazmir, who is coming off a rough second half since his trade to the Houston Astros. That deal made Kazmir unavailable for a qualifying offer, meaning Miami would be free to sign him without worrying about compensation.
In many other ways, Kazmir is in the same boat as Kennedy. He is coming off of a bad run with Houston after looking ace-like in Oakland before the deal, and that last impression of him may depress his value more than it should be. Kazmir has consistently struck out about 21 percent of batters faced and walked seven percent of them in the last three years since his return to the big leagues. In the last three years, he has averaged a 3.56 ERA and 3.61 FIP, making him a pretty consistent mid-rotation quality player. Last year, the Marlins had only one starter reach those type of ERA and FIP numbers.
Kazmir has been a health risk in the past, but not in the last few years. Since returning, he has averaged 177 innings a season, making him a reasonably durable pitcher who could put up three years of solid, slowly declining innings. If the Marlins get 6.5 wins out of three years of Kazmir at $15 million a season, they should be happy holding the tide until they can develop some effective young starters.
Fister is a less expensive option than any of these players, as he is coming off of the worst season among the three. Fister's 2015 year was a disaster, as he threw up 103 innings with a 4.19 ERA and 4.55 FIP and was eventually moved to the bullpen for half of his year. His strikeouts fell significantly after a three-year run with the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers in which he was quietly one of the best pitchers in baseball. At a 14 percent mark in each of the last two years, Fister would have to display pinpoint control of his pitches to make good on his high contact rates, and he simply was not able to do that last year. At 32 years of age, it is certainly possible this is his time to decline.
Still, the benefit for the Marlins is that Fister would come cheaper, perhaps on a one-year "prove it" type of contract. But Miami wants to spend more money on a guy who will have absolute proof of success, and Fister is still too much of a risk. It would be a cost-conscious, all-too risky move for Miami.
There are other names of interest, but if Miami were to choose among all of those potential starters, Scott Kazmir would be the best choice. Miami would not have to pay a draft pick for his services, and while he may be a higher-end starter among these four, he would also be a reasonable choice. He is less young than the others, making it more likely he would take a three-year deal, even if it might be at high prices.
Kazmir is slated to be worth around 2.5 Wins Above Replacement next season. If that is the case, you might expect Kazmir to be worth a three-year deal worth $50 million, which is almost $17 million per season. Given that John Lackey just earned a two-year deal worth $16 million a season, you could see how a younger, left-handed version of a similar quality starter might earn three years and a tad more. But if the Marlins could sign him for around three- or four-year deal worth around $50 million, it would be a pretty realistic deal and one the team could swallow with its current payroll. After having gotten rid of Martin Prado, A.J.Ramos, and releasing Henderson Alvarez and Aaron Crow, the Fish would have opened up $30 million in salary space. They could easily fit Kazmir and another potential signing or two on the bargain bin before running into their $80 million payroll. This would be a first good addition to this roster.