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Fernando Rodney trade: Marlins creating bullpen ace trio

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Rightly or wrongly, the Marlins have opted for creating an ace bullpen trio as the way to improve their pitching staff by acquiring reliever Fernando Rodney.

MLB: Miami Marlins at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins had two choices in improving their pitching staff, the area of most need. With the few bullets they had to trade, the team could go after a starting pitcher like Rich Hill or Bud Norris (now acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers) or they could try to create something that they had in mind before the season: the bullpen ace trio. Before the 2016 season, the Marlins had two potential bullpen aces in A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps, guys who had swing-and-miss stuff who could help lock down the back of the bullpen. It’s a copycat league, and the Marlins had to like the Kansas City Royals’ plan for success to have Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera taking over games in the seventh through ninth innings.

Miami decided to go with the latter during the trade season, sending promising pitching prospect Chris Paddack to the San Diego Padres for closer Fernando Rodney.

Rodney now joins Ramos, David Phelps, and Kyle Barraclough as seemingly above-average relievers in what looks to be a stacked pen. Combine that with the recent success of Nick Wittgren, a guy who has always flashed minor league success, and the Marlins have to think they have at least five guys win the bullpen upon whom they can rely. In particular, they have an "ace trio" of Ramos, Rodney, and Phelps.

How good is Rodney though, and is he better than the team’s next best options? It is likely, but you can never really be sure with relievers, which is what makes this plan so risky. If you look at the relievers beyond Phelps, Ramos, and Barraclough, the Fish have been working with slim pickings. They had one of their better pitching prospects, Jose Urena, work out of the pen, but he was so disastrous they sent him to the minors to re-stretch out and abandoned the (worthwhile) experiment. They signed a procession of veterans to minor league deals and each one has been designated for assignment at some point this year. The guy who earned a Major League deal, Edwin Jackson, is also gone. The combined work of the guys who pitched fewer than 30 innings for Miami, not including the injured Bryan Morris, is staggeringly poor compared to the remainder of the pen.

Reliever, 2016 IP K% BB% ERA FIP
David Phelps 42 29.9 7.3 2.36 2.38
A.J. Ramos 31 29.5 14.0 1.74 2.64
Kyle Barraclough 30 2/3 40.4 17.7 2.93 2.54
Dustin McGowan 30 1/3 24.4 10.9 3.56 4.88
Rest of Staff 103 17.4 8.8 5.42 4.98

That's an ugly run from the remainder of the staff, encompassing 40 percent of the team's total innings pitched out of the pen. In other words, some 40 percent of the team's pitching performance has been, well, very bad. You could easily include McGowan's performance as well, but he is a necessity as the team's current only long reliever. For better or worse, Miami will keep McGowan on for their long relief.

And that is part of the issue here. Rodney is definitely an improvement over the flotsam Miami was sending out there earlier in the year. But just how much of an improvement is he, and how many of those 40-some percent of innings is he realistically going to pitch. The team's presumed best reliever is Ramos, and he threw just 31 innings in nearly half a season. Their next-best guy is Phelps, who threw 42 innings, or about 16 percent of the innings that were available to throw. How many is Rodney going to realistically end up throwing in the second half?

Let's be generous and have Rodney throw 20 percent of the team's estimated remaining, say, 200 innings of relief left on the season. That gives him 40 remaining innings which puts him at around 68 innings, which is what he has thrown in the last three years. If he throws 40 more innings, how much better is he expected to be than some 4.20 ERA generically bad reliever like, for example, Craig Breslow? Rodney is expected to put up a 3.45 ERA going forward, and that may be worth about half a win more than a replacement-level scrub. And that does not account for the lost value of having to shift guys who were previously in bigger roles down the line to lesser roles; if Phelps is moved from being the eighth inning guy to working the seventh, he will on average face lower-leverage situations and his performance will be worth less than if he stayed in the eighth, for example.

The improvement should not expected to be much, but it is an improvement. At the end of the day, the Marlins are probably better now than they were this morning, and for 2016, that is all that matters. The cost of trading a high-upside prospect like Paddack is still a major question mark and probably not the right move, but it helps the team today.