The Miami Marlins have already kick-started their trade deadline by dealing Steve Cishek for nothing. The team may have a few more relief options to deal in the days to come, as two more relievers on the roster figure to make some unnecessary sums of money next season. Both Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris are slated to earn paydays above $1 million, and the Marlins are already looking to shed any salary possible. It may not be worth it for the team to hold two mediocre relievers on the roster, so the team should consider dealing those two players while they have any value remaining.
Dunn's value has dropped since the last two years, when he was quietly a very effective left-handed reliever. He produced a 2.89 ERA and 3.09 FIP in those two years, with a 26.4 percent strikeout rate and a drastically improved 9.5 percent walk rate. The decrease in walks was huge for a guy who, prior to the 2013 season, was too wild to be trusted in late-game situations but was still thrown into the fire nevertheless. As a result of that improvement, Dunn's value increased greatly. He put up nearly two wins in 124 2/3 innings over that two-year span, and the Marlins rewarded him with an affordable two-year, $5.8 million deal that probably paid him what he would have received in arbitration.
One year later and with the Marlins again looking to shed salary, Dunn appears to be a fungible candidate. His strikeouts have remained high, but now he is having difficulty avoiding home runs, having given up four of them already this year after allowing four all of last season. His numbers look significantly worse right now, with just a 4.26 ERA and 4.08 FIP which are well below league average. Right now, he has pitched like a replacement-level pitcher.
However, Dunn still has some value to a team interested in a lefty specialist. He has not had lights-out numbers against lefties throughout his career, but he has been strong against them in 2015. His strikeout and walk rates against lefties look like his overall numbers from last year, with a 26.1 percent strikeout rate and a 9.2 percent walk rate. Furthermore, he has allowed just a .175/.277/.250 (.248 wOBA) line against lefties this year. His .210/.301/.313 (.279 wOBA) line against lefties for his career is significantly worse, but he is also a different pitcher than his time in Miami those first two seasons in 2011 and 2012. In the last three years, he has only walked nine percent of lefties faced and holds a strong 25.2 percent strikeout rate.
Lefty specialist relievers always draw more value than expected in the trade deadline, and while the locked-up salary status of Dunn is probably not a positive at this point, Miami might be able to squeeze out a low-level prospect in exchange if they want to shed his salary.
Morris figures to head to arbitration for the first time in his career, and after two seasons in which he posted a 2.27 ERA and 3.72 FIP, he may earn himself a decent payday above $1 million. Dunn earned $1.4 million last season after an excellent 2013 campaign, and Morris's ERA over the last two years is better than the 2.66 mark Dunn put up in his "platform" year.
Of course, Dunn has the strikeouts that sound impressive and he is a lefty, making him slightly more valuable. Morris is an otherwise unassuming righty whose primary tool is inducing ground balls. He does induce a lot of them, however; Morris owns a career ground ball rate of 59 percent. Also, despite a low strikeout rate, Morris does get plenty of swings and misses, as he owns a 13.0 percent career swinging strike rate that looks very similar to Dunn's 12.6 percent rate over the previous three years.
The possibility is that Morris has not yet reached the ceiling of his play, but it seems unlikely that he will turn into an elite Cishek-level closer over the course of his career. The team may be selling early on him if they trade him, but should they be willing to pay more than $1 million in salary for another season to find out? Like Dunn, Morris is not projected to do much in terms of performance going forward, especially since his defense-independent numbers have not looked great for much of his career. However, he has some small bit of upside and is under team control for another three years after this. That should make up some of his value difference, and I imagine the Marlins could also squeeze out a similarly valued player for Morris as they would get for Dunn.
Is it worth trading either player at this point? The Marlins are a penny-pinching team, and relievers are the most fungible assets in the game. The Fish already are likely to hold onto A.J. Ramos for his first expensive year of arbitration and have Carter Capps available to take over the position should the team need him to. Furthermore, they have a good amount of high-level starting pitching and relief depth who could be used to play middle relief for Miami. Guys like Nick Wittgren in Triple-A appear ready, while starters like Adam Conley, Andre Rienzo, and Kendry Flores could be moved to the bullpen if their difficulty as starters continues. The club could afford to use those young players over better-paid talent and probably achieve similar results.