The Miami Marlins are not giving up on their chase for a starting pitcher. Owner Jeffrey Loria is determined to make this core a competitive one, and to do that, the team feels the need to improve on its rotation beyond Jose Fernandez. The cast beyond the ace involves back-end starters like Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler, a young prospect with a small modicum of interest in Adam Conley, and a fifth spot that is most likely to be filled by a journeyman in David Phelps.
The Marlins would prefer to add at least one pitcher name to replace one of those guys, most likely Phelps. The latest target of interest is free agent starter Wei-Yin Chen, the lefty who put up his best season in his career last year with the Baltimore Orioles. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the club has strong interest in Chen despite the fact that he and his agent, known Marlins opponent Scott Boras, had initially declared interest in a $100 million deal.
Rosenthal also notes that the Fish have some interest in a younger, more raw talent than the 30-year-old Chen, as the Fish are also in on Cuban free agent right-hander Yaisel Sierra.
The two starters are interesting names for Miami, and if the club is interested in spending money, they might as well go for it for starters. The farm system has pitching depth, but it lacks any guarantees or star talent, and many of their prospects are more likely to end up in the bullpen than be rotation regulars. Guys like Kendry Flores or Jarlin Garcia, not to mention regulars like Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena might be more suited for relief or may never stick in the big leagues. The Fish want to add more immediate talent and depth to the rotation, especially with owner Jeffrey Loria looking to be as competitive as possible.
Loria almost certainly wants to make the club as competitive as possible in its first season under new manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds. Signing Chen would be a major step toward that goal.
Chen is the more immediate impact signing. He has been worth an average of 8.5 wins over the course of his four-year career in the big leagues, which means he has averaged just over two wins a season. That puts him in the league average tier, and the Marlins could certainly use a league-average or better starter; no rotation starter other than Fernandez is projected to reach two wins in 180 innings in 2016, meaning the Marlins have littered their rotation with question marks or fifth starters. Chen is not perfect, as he allows more than the average number of home runs due to his exorbitant fly ball rates. However, he also offers the sort of strike-throwing and control that the Marlins tend to love in their starters, and he is a rare left-hander who can provide much-desired balance to the rotation.
Depending on your source, Chen is expected to produce something like 2.5 wins next year in a full season. Given that he has not spent a lot of time injured (30 or more starts in three out of four Major League seasons), he is a decent bet to reach 180 innings. In a full healthy year, Chen is about a one-win improvement or more over any of the Marlins' back-end flotsam, so it would inch the Fish a little closer.
Sierra is more of the risky proposition. The 25-year-old right-hander boasts a three-pitch arsenal of a low- to mid-90's fastball and a good swing-and-miss slider, but he lacks the control to guarantee success. In fact, success is actually something that has eluded Sierra, even in Cuba. Looking at his Cuban numbers from the 2014 season, Sierra pitched primarily out of the bullpen and posted an ugly 6.10 ERA with a respectable, if unipressive 18.6 percent strikeout rate along with an ugly 10.5 percent walk rate. For his career in Cuba, spanning 300 innings primarily in relief outings, his strikeout rate (16.6) and walk rate (12.5) are astoundingly poor, even for a developing player. As a player potentially moving to a big-league level, the fact that Sierra struggled at a level closer to High-A is concerning.
At the same time, he profiles scouting-wise closer to Raisel Iglesias, the Cincinnati Reds starter who signed out of Cuba and went directly to the bigs this year to reasonable success. Iglesias had significantly better ERAs in his three years down in Cuba, but he had similar issues with control, even out of the bullpen. Iglesias spent a few years trying to get a chance for free agency in the bigs, and his seven-year, $27 million deal with the Reds paid off well thus far. He posted a 4.15 ERA and 3.55 FIP en route to a strong season.
Chen would be an immediate addition, while Sierra would be a speculative, but high-risk / high-reward move for Miami. Both serve purposes in 2016, but which (if any) are good moves? We'll discuss that next.