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2016 Miami Marlins Offseason Plan: The free agent starter gamble

The Marlins would benefit from shoring up their rotation with a sure-fire bet for production, but they should also gamble on one or two potential upside options.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins need rotation help, as they have potential problems all throughout the rotation behind Jose Fernandez. One solution to this problem would be to sign an additional free agent piece like Scott Kazmir to provide guaranteed production for the next few seasons. But the Marlins' other course of action would be to find a free agent name who might have some upside rather than depending on players who are known to be mediocre. There are a few free agents who might cost the Marlins very little money due to a variety of factors but might have potential to deliver a decent season in 2016. This would benefit the Marlins in more ways than one.

Why Gamble?

The Marlins last season suffered from a problem of severe depth issues at starting pitcher. Once Jose Fernandez, Jarred Cosart, and Henderson Alvarez missed vast chunks of the 2016 year with injury, the club had to depend on veterans like Dan Haren and Mat Latos, who were most likely not going to stay on the team in 2016 and beyond. Once those two were traded, the team's next batch of young starters were tested in the majors, and only one of them looked promising in his first stint. Adam Conley may have a future on the roster in 2016, but Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena looked bad in the majors and may benefit from repeating Triple-A and performing better in terms of their underlying numbers.

Cosart presumably will return to the rotation this year, as will Fernandez for hopefully a full season (if trade rumors don't lead to anything). Tom Koehler is around, though he is most likely more of a fifth starter. The team has a number of young players, all of whom are still question marks, but two of whom may have to hold starting spots if the team does not make additions. If the Fish are going to try stay respectable in 2016, they might be able to use some starter depth, and signing a low-risk guy would be a decent use of money.

If the gamble pans out, the Marlins have a guy they can either hold onto for the year and for whom they could potentially receive a draft pick or trade at midseason for a prospect of interest to a team desperate for a starting pitcher. A positive result on the gamble would be a great addition to the roster, and essentially it would be paying current money for a future prospect, something that the Marlins have failed to do in the past. They could even consider keeping that player and seeing if he would be willing to stick around if the team's current starters are faltering.

If the gamble does not pan out, the Marlins are not out much. These sorts of pitchers may be willing to sign for prices similar to what good relievers are earning in free agency this season. For mostly health-related reasons, these pitchers are not likely to earn much in free agency, so if they get hurt again and fail to deliver, the Marlins are down a few million but not overall worse for the wear.

However, this is not the same situation as the team had in 2014, when it signed Rafael Furcal to a small free agent deal that did not pan out due to injury. The benefit of having the pitcher play all year would have been higher than the benefit Furcal would have provided, and the downside would mostly be the same. The key is to determine the right upside targets; target a veteran like Dan Haren and you can expect no benefit if he plays the whole year, because we know who Dan Haren is. Look for a young-ish guy coming off of injury for a few years and the story may be different.

Gamble Targets

There are a few free agents who could be worth a gamble who played in 2015. Chief among the potential options for the Marlins is righty Brandon Morrow, who has been perennially recovering from a myriad of right forearm injuries and started off well for the San Diego Padres, but then suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery. As with any gamble, the likelihood of Morrow returning to the form he showed in those first five starts is low, but the possibility of a league average season after a good injury recovery is decent. Morrow showed continued ability to get decent strikeout numbers last year, and a recent increase in use of a splitter instead of his fastball has led to more ground balls in recent years, making him better fit the Marlins' preferred model of starter.

Brandon Beachy is coming off of two Tommy John surgeries, and he did not exactly have a great set of starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. At this point, he may even be a stretch for a $2 million deal in the majors given those eight starts. But before all the injuries, he was still a promising pitcher, and he would be worth an extended Spring Training look and a shot at the big leagues again at just 29 years of age. With a cheap deal, the Marlins would lose very little going after him.

Many teams are interested in the elder statesman Cliff Lee, and the Marlins should join in on the interest. The last time we saw Lee healthy and effective was a year and a half ago, and despite his age, he was still pitching very well. The Fish may have some interest already. Lee should be ready for the start of the season, and it is difficult to imagine a whole lot of better places to rehab and establish a final contract than in Miami's spacious confines, especially with a strong defense behind him.

Those are just a few names who have chances of signing a "prove-it" contract for the Marlins at a low enough cost that, if things do not pan out, the Fish probably will not suffer for it. They can easily start one of their current prospects and not miss a beat, but signing a guy provides them some potential upside at minimal cost.