The Miami Marlins were ready to make a big splash at the Winter Meetings, with Jeffrey Loria’s blessing to empty the vault for a top-tier free-agent closer like Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman. Even after whiffing on both, that money could potentially reel in other impact players.
But for the time being, the Marlins officially addressed depth concerns at a few positions. What these acquisitions lack in dazzling talent, they make up for with obscure records and unique paths to the big leagues. So let’s get to know them.
First up: Jeff Locke. After reassuring us that he does, in fact, play baseball, Locke uses the second sentence of his Twitter bio to proudly state that he was “born and raised in New Hampshire.” He’s the only active pitcher from there (coming off rotator cuff surgery, outfielder Sam Fuld is still around on the position player side). Those of you with a vivid imagination may be interested to learn that the all-time fWAR leader among New Hampshirites is Chris Carpenter. That’s the same Chris Carpenter who suddenly blossomed into ace in his age-29 season. Locke just turned 29 last month.
Locke spent his entire amateur career in The Granite State, then entered the professional ranks in 2006 as a second-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves. Just as the Braves run of NL East titles was coming to an end, that ‘06 class was supposed to infuse the organization with building blocks for a new dynasty. Losses of Kyle Farnsworth and Rafael Furcal to free agency the previous offseason equipped them with four compensatory picks early in the draft (six total picks within the first two rounds), but they failed to take advantage.
Underwhelming as Locke’s production has been to date, he’s already blown past most of the other Braves selections that year. None of their 18 position players ever made an MLB appearance, and Locke leads all 36 pitchers in major league innings (644.1 IP). Only 10th-rounder Kris Medlen emerged from that group to deliver more value.
The Marlins are guaranteeing Locke $3.025 million coming off a forgettable season—5.44 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 1.53 WHIP in 127.1 IP—with the hope that he can rediscover his All-Star form. Back in 2013, he became the first pitcher since Carlos Zambrano to lead the National League in walks and earn an NL All-Star selection in the same year. An uptick in hard contact has contributed to Locke’s decline, but he actually improved as a strike thrower from 2014-2016 (7.8 percent walk rate, compared to 11.8 percent in 2013).
This past summer, Locke was the epitome of inconsistency. He tossed a shutout in Miami on May 30, which makes him just the third pitcher to join the Marlins after doing that against them (Dan Haren and Sergio Mitre are the others). But two starts later, he coughed up 11 earned runs to the Colorado Rockies. Along with clunkers from Derek Holland and fellow Marlins offseason signee Edinson Volquez, it was tied for the highest individual earned run total of 2016.
We can’t be certain what Locke will bring from month to month or even from one game to the next, but we know he’ll be among the shortest left-handed starting pitchers in Marlins history. The 5-foot-9 Michael Tejera worked from a slightly lower altitude, as did 5-foot-10 Jesus Sanchez. Only a couple inches above them, the club’s newest arm is tied with Wei-Yin Chen and several other six-footers.
Between Locke, Chen, Dee Gordon, A.J. Ramos and Ichiro Suzuki, the 2017 Fish are going all in on the notion that great things can come in relatively small packages.