The Miami Marlins found their next starting pitcher in free agent Wei-Yin Chen, who signed a five-year, $80 million deal with Miami to slot behind Jose Fernandez. Chen will take on the presumed second starter spot and add stability to the rotation at a market price, and given the team's lack of rotation talent, it was probably a needed move if Miami aimed to contend next season.
But what happens now to the team's other starters? Miami was slated to turn to a series of back-end starters to pitch behind Fernandez, and none of them figured to be above average. None of these pitchers have separated themselves significantly from the pack, so all of them figure to be at risk for being replaced by Chen once he enters the rotation. So who is most at risk for a drop into the bullpen or the minors? We rank the pitchers left in order of least to most likely to lose a potential rotation spot.
4. Jarred Cosart
The Marlins need Jarred Cosart to succeed. They traded a still-top-100 prospect in Colin Moran along with a contributing piece in Jake Marisnick and a now-interesting prospect in Francis Martes for Cosart and players who have been unused or are no longer on the team. Cosart deal with so much in the way of injury last year, specifically with his season-long bout with vertigo secondary to a labyrhthitis, that the team owes him another chance to start. Cosart has never been statistically impressive, and it is no guarantee that fixing his inner ear issues or resting over the offseason will fix his numerous problems, but Miami is least likely to throw him under the bus in favor of their new addition.
3. Tom Koehler
Koehler has thrown over 180 innings in each of the last two seasons and he is the most tenured Marlins starter among the crew here. He has earned a loyalty spot on the roster just by being a long-tenured member of the rotation. It is likely that the staff trusts him highly to keep the ship going and to stay in the rotation over other names. The one thing that points against this is that Koehler has never been good outside of a 2014 season that was aided by a lack of home runs, and that lack of positive track record may not sit well with the new Marlins coaching staff. Neither Mike Redmond nor old pitching coach Chuck Hernandez are here, instead replaced by Don Mattingly and new coach Juan Nieves. They have no ties of familiarity with Koehler.
2. Adam Conley
Conley is a prospect, but unlike Justin Nicolino or Jose Urena, he actually pitched well in a late-season audition and was in line for a starting spot this upcoming year. Of course, young prospects are usually the first to go in a situation with a veteran coming in, especially with Conley not particularly standing out. But Conley is also a left-hander, and if the Marlins kept him, it would give them a nice balance of two lefties and three righties in the rotation. In addition, the team should try to develop the young starter in action versus letting him work Triple-A for a third year in a row.
1. David Phelps
The most likely candidate for replacement out of the rotation appears to be Phelps, who did not leave the best impression on the Marlins the last time he was on the mound. Phelps struggled in his last few starts, having allowed a ton of home runs starting in the second half before departing due to a stress fracture in his right radius. Phelps is not exactly a prospect, as he is heading into his age-29 season and has never stood out as anything other than a Tom Koehler clone. His performance before that last run gives him a chance to climb back into the rotation, but with Conley's work more immediately in the minds of the Marlins, it is more likely the lefty gets the shot.
Phelps's role will likely shift back to the bullpen and to possibly the long relief role he was playing at the start of the year. This also leaves the Marlins' other top pitching prospects at the top of the minors out of the cold for the time being. The Fish likely will leave Nicolino, Urena, Kendry Flores, Ivan Pineyro, and Jarlin Garcia in Double- or Triple-A until they need them due to injury, and they will already have some backup built in with Phelps in the pen. The team's depth isn't high on top-notch talent, but it is present and will probably have to wait another year unless, like in 2014, more starters start dropping like flies. The good news is that Chen has been durable enough to last 30 starts in three of his first four years in the Major Leagues.
The Marlins have provided themselves a little more depth at the cost of only money. Will the team add even more to bolster the roster? We'll wait and see and keep you posted here at Fish Stripes!