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Miami Marlins making closer mistakes again in free agency

The Marlins' pursuit of a closer in free agency would be yet another disastrous move.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It's like this Miami Marlins front office and ownership never learns any lessons about managing their roster.

Before the 2012 season, the Marlins spent a lot of money to assure themselves late-game wins by paying closer Heath Bell $27 million over the next three years. Bell imploded, Steve Cishek took over the closer role by midseason, and Bell was sent packing with $8 million of his salary still covered by Miami. It took the notoriously cheap Marlins that much money to make Bell expendable for another team.

Three years later, the Marlins banked on Cishek being a prominent figure in the team's winning ways in 2015, except that he struggled out of nowhere despite having a fantastic 2014 campaign. The notoriously cheap Marlins traded the remaining two expensive years of team control to the St. Louis Cardinals for essentially nothing.

You would think that, after two trips with varying levels of "expensive" closers, that the Marlins would have learned their lesson. Considering that the team has A.J. Ramos, who is struggling as of late but has generally done a good job in the closer role all season, and Carter Capps, who has lit up scoreboards and the league with his new delivery, one would think the team's focus should be on improving other aspects of the roster. The Marlins, after all, are probably not one closer away from contention.

And yet, here we are again. From Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:

The addition of a No. 2 starting pitcher behind Fernandez will be one priority, the addition of a closer another; the Marlins attempted to land the Reds' Aroldis Chapman at the non-waiver deadline, sources say.

The Marlins are once again interested in an expensive closer and even considered trading more of its diminished trade resources to acquire one year of Aroldis Chapman, likely at a price tag close to $12 million. It is almost as if the team has never seen a closer fail them before!

The Marlins still have not learned this pivotal lesson for a team planning on once again funding a bottom-five payroll: closers wear down often and unknowingly. I'm going to throw out this quote one more time:

Once again, the attrition rate was at 75 percent. The high odds are that, if you are an elite closer over the previous three seasons, you will not be one for the next two.

This line cannot be stressed enough. It is very likely that an elite closer from 2012 to 2014 is probably not an elite closer for 2015 and 2016, and that only a quarter of those great relievers remain great enough to warrant a strong investment.

Consider this thought experiment: the top ten closers (more than 20 saves in that season) in terms of FanGraphs WAR in each season since 2012 has seen significant variance over many seasons.

2012 2013 2014 2015
Chapman Uehara Chapman Rosenthal
Kimbrel Holland Doolittle Chapman
Rodney Jansen Kimbrel Allen
Jansen Nathan Jansen Robertson
Nathan Kimbrel Holland Britton
Balfour Chapman Melancon Jansen
Wilhelmsen Perkins Cishek Miller
Putz Grilli Papelbon Rondon
Papelbon Reed Robertson Storen
Soriano Rivera Rondon Uehara

The players in bold are the only ones who have been listed in three or more of those four seasons. Another four players were listed in two seasons. In this most recent four-year span, there have only been about three to five truly elite relievers, if you want to consider guys like Jonathan Papelbon and Koji Uehara in the list as well. Outside of Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, and Kenley Jansen, it has been hard to count on any particular reliever for a long stretch of time.

This is not to say that relief pitching is not important. However, for a team like the Marlins that does not have a bountiful amount of resources, spending on closers is a fool's errand. Compare the above list to the list of the top ten starting pitchers in each season since 2012.

2012 2013 2014 2015
Verlander Kershaw Kershaw Kershaw
Hernandez Wainwright Kluber Sale
Kershaw Harvey Price Keuchel
Dickey Scherzer Hernandez Arrieta
Price Sanchez Hughes Greinke
Lee Hernandez Lester Archer
Gonzalez Lee Zimmermann Scherzer
Greinke Verlander Sale Kluber
Sale Sale Scherzer Price
Cueto Latos Quintana Bumgarner

Five guys made the top ten in at least three of the last four seasons, with Zack Greinke coming fairly close as well. Not only are starters more reliable in their performance, but they also provide more wins, so a drop from elite level to merely good will still result in a significant number of wins as compared to a similar drop in closer or reliever skill.

The Yankees are more than OK to spend that kind of money to hope a closer like Andrew Miller will stick. If they acquire a failing reliever, they can pay up to find better ones or otherwise pad their roster in order to wait for their minor league system to fill the void. For a team like the Marlins, however, paying elite dollars for a reliever is not an option. The Fish cannot go out and spend on a Chapman, because for every Chapman out there, there is a Joakim Soria who looked just as dominant and faltered or got hurt. For every Papelbon, there are many Rafael Soriano-like players in the world.

The situation is even worse if Miami plans on trading for a big-name closer. The relief players available in the upcoming free agency situation are uninspiring. Soria is the most accomplished saves man, and he is coming off of a questionable season at age 31. Neftali Feliz has been hurt for years. Jim Johnson and Jonathan Broxton have not been good for years. Tyler Clippard has closed games regularly in only two seasons. The Marlins may have to pay up a significant amount for those guys without knowing what to expect.

The Fish have to spend their limited money wisely. With the small amount of cash available every season, the team needs to look for better upside than in relievers. The club's internal options are still present. The team's relief corps has actually quietly been one of the most effective in terms of ERA and FIP. The focus should be on finding another starting pitcher and not selling off any other trade value to find another potentially failed reliever.