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Marcell Ozuna rumors: Marlins pursuing ineffective starting pitchers from Rangers

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The Miami Marlins are interested in Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez for their starting pitcher returns from the Texas Rangers. These two are oddly ineffective choices for a trade return.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are rumored to be discussing a trade between them and the Texas Rangers involving outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna is a reasonable pickup for the Rangers, who are stuck currently with Josh Hamilton, Shin-Soo Choo, and the surprising but relatively unproven Delino DeShields Jr in their three outfield spots. Justin Ruggiano is their primary backup as well. Adding Ozuna would be a nice fit in center field, allowing DeShields to rotate around in a Jarrod Dyson-type role and pushing the more defensively-limited Hamilton and Choo to the bench or platoon roles as needed. They would also be acquiring a young hitter who could thrive in a run-friendly situation like Texas and could use a change in scenery.

But for the Marlins, the early suspected returns are questionable as of right now. Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald details the primary name possibly coming back.

Chi Chi Gonzalez is a righty who was brought up from the Rangers' system late last season as an interesting, fast-rising prospect. The man lesser known as Alex Gonzalez (of the non-shortstop variety) was the 23rd pick of the 2013 draft out of Oral Roberts University, and he quickly made a name for himself with some strong statistical work. He used his arsenal to post a 2.67 ERA and 3.36 FIP through 136 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A in the Rangers' organization in 2014. His college ace pedigree and the fast ascent made him a household prospect name, as he was ranked in the top 100 prospects in five major rankings, ranking as high as 29th for Baseball Prospectus and 28th for FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel.

The problems were in his relatively unimpressive stuff and statistical profile. From McDaniel's Rangers scouting report:

Gonzalez now sits 92-95, hitting 97 mph often and can spot and manipulate the pitch to sink, run or cut at 94 mph deep into starts. His plus mid-80’s slider is still the primary weapon and his changeup and fourth option curveball both flash average to slightly above at times. His command isn’t bad and should be average as well, giving Gonzalez #3 starter upside, but scouts complain that with his firm changeup, almost every pitch he throws is over 85 mph and often in the strike zone.

Gonzalez in truth worked primarily in the low-90s for much of the year, touching the mid-90s with his sinker / cutter. He still possessed a plus slider, but his other options, in particular the changeup, failed to reach average on a regular basis. The arsenal was supposed to lead to a high-floor, low-ceiling situation with third starter upside.

However, the statistical profile raised some red flags. In his best season, he got away primarily by avoiding home runs, as he posted a modest 19.3 percent strikeout rate and seven percent walk rate. These are decent numbers, but they are not outstanding for an elite prospect. It was reminiscent of another top pitching prospect Miami once acquired, Jacob Turner. Turner never dominated at any level but always got by with good numbers and had the excuse of being young for each promotion. His stuff slowly declined and became apparently more mediocre as well, which led to more concerns about his middling statistical performance.

For Gonzalez, the high floor was his salvation, as being a college prospect close to the majors made the risk of collapse less of a threat. But in 2015, his performance in the upper levels dropped that floor. He struggled to a 15 percent strikeout rate and a pedestrian 8.2 percent walk rate in Triple-A, en route to a 3.57 ERA and 3.96 FIP. When he earned a late-season promotion from the Rangers, the work in the majors was worse. He struck out just 30 batters in 67 innings while walking 32 hitters. While the 3.90 ERA looks fair, the defense-independent numbers for the most part pointed towards disaster.

These numbers also felt reminiscent to another former top pitching prospect Miami has acquired.

Player, Year IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Chi Chi Gonzalez, 2015 67 10.7 11.4 3.90 4.97
Jarred Cosart, 2013 60 13.2 14.2 1.95 4.35

Cosart also had a deceptive season in 2013, pitching 60 innings that appeared better than what they probably were. He walked more batters than he struck out as well, and his stuff was always questioned in the minors beyond his hard-throwing sinker. He also struggled to get strikeouts and had problems with control, especially as he got up to the majors. Cosart too worked a sinker and a plus secondary pitch with questionable work in his third pitches.

Gonzalez's 2015 season has to have lowered that previously high, guaranteed back-end starter floor of his and has to put his big league options into question. The Marlins would essentially be buying low on a pitching prospect with questionable stuff and numbers that worsened last year. The team would be giving up one of its best trade assets and the only one with whom it is willing to part for a declining lottery ticket.

The other pitchers that were rumored initially for the Marlins are not a whole lot better. Nick Martinez was never a top prospect for the Rangers, and the righty has essentially had two full seasons akin to the partial year Gonzalez just had! The "other piece" that Spencer discussed needs to be a relevant piece, because Miami would not be receiving a reasonable deal if they make this deal at this point.