The Miami Marlins filled in a key part of the team's 2016 offseason plan by signing a decent starter to their roster for the long haul. Wei-Yin Chen is going to be a Marlins pitcher (presumably) for at least the next two season with his five-year, $80 million contract signed and on the books.
However, the plan was never just to sign one free agent starter. After all, this roster is closer to competing, but not quite there yet. The team still stands eighth in the National League according to the projected standings by FanGraphs, two projected wins behind the Pittsburgh Pirates (thanks division competition!). The Marlins could push themselves to the last few wins to get into that range with the best few players if they optimize their roster with the remaining money they have left.
The problem is that the Fish do not have a lot of salary space left on the team, so how can they optimize the team? With Miami's $5 million left in their salary, what can Miami do? Let's look back at the Fish Stripes Offseason Plan and see what the Marlins have accomplished so far.
Accomplished: The Mid-Tier Starter Search
The Marlins already decided on their mid-tier starter. They had a number of options available to them, but they chose Chen over the likes of Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, and Yovani Gallardo. All of these men are worth anywhere between two and 2.5 wins, but Miami signed the player likely to be among the two best of the ones listed. Chen is now projected to throw around 190 innings and put up almost three wins for the Marlins based on updated Steamer projections, meaning the Marlins have a solid above average starter behind ace Jose Fernandez. This helps to bolster a staff that is high on high-minors depth with low ceilings.
I advocated for the Marlins to trade one current single-year piece in Martin Prado and deal closer A.J. Ramos and allow a plethora of potential bullpen arms replace his innings. These moves would be made with an eye towards the future and a concession that Miami is unlikely to make the playoffs in 2016, and it would also save money along the way. The reasoning is that Derek Dietrich could potentially make an adequate replacement for Prado over the long haul, and the Marlins owe it to themselves to find out if he will fit their long-term plans. Dietrich is set to earn arbitration starting in 2017. For Ramos, the team has a good replacement at closer already with Carter Capps and could avoid the Steve Cishek problem they had this past season by dealing Ramos before he potentially loses value.
Alas, the Marlins have firmly decided they want to compete, so they are unwilling to sacrifice any big-league wins for salary purposes.
Accomplished: Review opportunities for Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna
The Marlins received offers for both players and even got deals for Jose Fernandez, though if you believe Miami, they did not listen to anything in particular. The team was unlikely to listen to deals on Gordon, which they should have done. They recently decided that they will keep Ozuna around, but at least they looked around the market and rightfully determine that the 2016 roster would be better with the potential three-win outfielder. The Fish were getting underwhelming deals such as the proposed Texas Rangers offer for Chi Chi Gonzalez, and outfielder alternatives such as moving Dietrich to left field were also not impressive. Ultimately, the team chose right to avoid dealing Ozuna, though they could have done more to explore Gordon's market before deciding on a contract extension.
To Be Done: Find a free agent starter gamble
This may be the move that helps put Miami over the top. The Marlins have to gamble on high-risk, high-reward players at this level. Given their limited payroll situation, gambling on a player and seeing if he pays off. If the Marlins don't get a payoff from the pitcher, they can leave without much concern. However, if the team does get the payoff, Miami benefits from the small investment and either gets a trade asset if they are out of contention or a boost towards the playoffs if they are in it.
What pitchers are still available? Doug Fister is the most played-up name in the past, but Fister is looking at a potentially expensive one-year deal. The general consensus is that Fister may make $10 million on a single year deal, though the Marlins could fidget with a potential player opt-out with a cheaper 2016 base salary. Something like a three-year deal with a first-year player opt-out that pays Fister less early on and tacks that extra salary onto the third year could be enticing. If Fister performs well, he may very well opt out anyway. The risk is that Fister will struggle and opt in.
The alternative is for the Marlins to go after young, injury-recovering pitchers. The classic examples is former Braves starter Mike Minor, who has been recovering from a second Tommy John surgery for what seems like a decade. Minor pitched poorly in 2014 and then underwent surgery and missed all of last year, but just a few seasons removed from a 3.5-win campaign, and he has always been a fix-up candidate. Cory Luebke is another potential name as a guy who hasn't pitched in the bigs following Tommy John surgery since 2012. He finally made it back to the minors and would be a really buy-low candidate.
Of course, the big name Marlins fans have been hearing about is Cliff Lee, as Lee is looking to make a comeback after missing 1.5 seasons with elbow problems. Nobody knows what the 37-year-old Lee will look like after a major injury and age has taken its toll, but if he is willing to sign in spacious Miami, Lee could prove to be a boon. The question is how much he would even ask for after all of the injury problem and whether he is willing to go to Miami given his desire to play for a contender. A Lee bounceback would make Miami a contender, but he would have to come here first.
The Marlins have accomplished a lot of the initial plan, but it seems the Fish still have at least one gamble to make with their remaining money.