The Miami Marlins surprisingly find themselves in the thick of a playoff race nearly halfway through the 2016 season. Thanks to the struggles of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Fish now have only three other teams with whom to contend for two Wild Card spots available in the postseason.
To get themselves there, the Marlins want to add talent to their roster, specifically talent at the starting pitching position. The prevailing thought is that the Marlins might pick up a starting pitcher, with names like Jake Odorizzi, Drew Pomeranz, and Bud Norris as possible options. But the other option the team might explore is to try the Kansas City Royals treatment and acquire a bullpen ace to go along with the team’s decent staff. There are rumors that the team has interest in Aroldis Chapman or Fernando Rodney to help bolster the back of the bullpen for the team’s run.
An acquisition of a reliever would be the Marlins’ attempt at Royals baseball; get a trio of dominant relief pitchers to hold down the late innings so that the starting pitcher is not tasked to go deep into games. If you rarely or ever give up late-inning runs, you always provide your offense a chance, even when they are behind, or so the theory goes. The New York Yankees tried that this year with Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances, and the Marlins considered trading for Chapman and clearly had this strategy in mind.
Would that be a better idea now with the team in the thick of the race? It is hard to say. Chapman, for what it is worth, has been his typical dominant self, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.78 FIP with a sharp decrease in walks to make up for a small uptick in homers allowed. It would be fair to say that, even on the last year of his deal, a team is going to have to pay a reasonable premium to pick up Chapman. Still, Chapman is a reliever, and he would seemingly be worth less in a trade than a mid-tier guy like Odorizzi or Pomeranz via trade. As we discussed before, both of those guys are cost-controlled for several more seasons and may be difficult to acquire.
Chapman may be had for something like Jarlin Garcia and another Marlins pitching prospect. Whether half a season of an elite reliever is worth a decent but unspectacular prospect like Garcia is another story, but given the return that the Yankees gave up for him to start, it does not seem unreasonable that Miami provide a similar trade back. Chapman would most likely replace one of the bullpen guys the Fish have shuttled back and forth from the minors, leaving a core of Chapman, A.J. Ramos, David Phelps, Kyle Barraclough, Mike Dunn, and Nick Wittgren as a six-man group with one remaining long-relief straggler. That would be an impressive bullpen, though not elite level like the Yankees’ current cast.
Chapman would likely be about a win or so better than the flotsam Miami has been floating over the course of the year. Of course, the team’s remaining relievers would lose some value pitching in lower-leverage innings, but the point is that Miami would likely get about 30 strong innings out their acquisition. He would also be a second lefty in the team’s pen next to the struggling Dunn. Indeed, Chapman would fill some problem areas in Miami.
But for half a season, Miami would have to further dig through their limited farm resources. Chapman is highly unlikely to re-sign with the Marlins despite his Cuban roots; you have to suspect he will break past what Jonathan Papelbon made in his four-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and surpass $13 million a season. The Marlins just do not have that kind of money, meaning that this would be a rental. A rental may be worth it if the team is really close to contention, but that has not yet been determined. The team once rented Ugueth Urbina for the last few months of the season, and it worked out, as the 2003 pennant will always fly over Miami. At the same time, it lost Adrian Gonzalez to the deal, and that was when it could afford to make a trade like that. This roster cannot afford that deal for someone who is likely to leave shortly.
This does not appear to be a good fit for Miami, even if it would be an improvement. For better or worse, this season may have Miami digging through the trade scrap heap to afford a rotation or relief bolster.