The Miami Marlins are interested in a starting pitcher, there is no doubt about this. Between the team’s current contention spot, its lack of fourth and fifth starters, and its need for depth due to inning constraints on Jose Fernandez, Miami is likely to pursue a starting pitcher. Ideally, it wants a team-controlled option who can provide depth long-term, like one of the Rays’ starters in Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, or Matt Moore. However, the price for a cost-controlled young starting pitcher may be too high in this seller’s market. Miami may instead have to acquire a rental piece, and there is no better rental than Oakland Athletics pitcher Rich Hill, who has been dominant while on the mound for the A’s and for the Red Sox last season.
Hill has spent some amount of time this year injured, most recently having had a blister injury sideline him just five pitches into what might have been his penultimate start for the A’s. Presuming the blister situation is righted by the deadline, it is still presumed that Hill will provide a team at least mid-rotation innings with the upside of the ace-like play he has shown off in the last year. In the past calendar year, Hill has posted a 2.06 ERA and 2.48 FIP in 105 innings, making him one of the best starters if you lower the innings limit enough. Those 29 innings last year do not appear to be some sort of fluke as of right now.
So can the Marlins, who have been connected to Hill before, pay the cost of acquiring him? MLB Trade Rumors estimated the expected return for Hill by comparing him to another ace-level performer on his contract year with Oakland.
Dating back to that four-start run, the journeyman has performed like an ace over a 105-inning sample, having recorded a 2.06 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 2.83 BB/9, 49.6 percent ground-ball percentage and 17.9 percent infield fly rate. As a result, the A’s are hoping to land a haul similar to the one they received from Houston for southpaw Scott Kazmir last year (two prospects, right-hander Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham), according to [San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser], who notes that a Hill trade isn’t necessarily a sure bet.
The price on Scott Kazmir, who was dealt to the Astros last year and struggled subsequently, was not an exorbitant one. Before the 2015 season, Jacob Nottingham did not have a high profile among Houston’s plethora of prospects. He was not listed in Minor League Ball’s John Sickels’s pre-2015 top 20 prospects. However, Nottingham had a strong campaign by midseason, and he finished out the year batting .316/.372/.505 while making a jump to a higher league. Before 2016, he cracked the top 100 for Baseball Prospectus and was rated a B/B+ prospect by Sickels before this season. Not everyone shared that sentiment, as FanGraphs’ Dan Farnsworth was lower on him.
Daniel Mengden was a high-minors riser who had a decent season in at two levels in 2015 and earned an eventual big-league promotion for a depleted A’s team in 2016. However, he was no elite prospect, and his performance has been questionable in the bigs so far.
Do the Marlins have this kind of prospect combination? A high-minors hand, either pitching or hitting, and a fast-rising prospect was what it took to nab Kazmir last year. Digging through the Fish’s barren farm system, you could come up with parallels to these two players.
Mengden is the easier of the two to find. The Marlins have a few guys who are at the Double- or Triple-A level who do not have a clear big-league path but could be depth pieces on a more talented farm system. Justin Nicolino has worn off all of his shine it would seem after another demotion, though Miami thinks they can scrap his cutter and get him back into last year’s form. The problems with strikeouts still persist, but at least he pitched in the majors.
Jarlin Garcia and Kendry Flores are guys who have spent minimal time at the big league level, leaving their ability to the imagination. Neither is good, but both are playable and perhaps better than Mengden was last year. The A’s could turn to either guy to help replace Hill in the rotation, and at least Garcia is a work in progress in terms of development. Both could be turned to bullpen options if starting does not stick.
This was the enticing part of the deal for Kazmir and it would be the harder spot to fill for Miami. There are three prospect names heading into this year whom the team would likely rank pretty evenly. Tyler Kolek, the team’s consensus top prospect before the year, has probably fallen off of that map thanks to his elbow injury and Tommy John surgery. Trading him at this stage would be meaningless, as no team would find him valuable after injury and ineffectiveness.
The Marlins’ two top hitters in the system remain as options. Josh Naylor was last year’s top draft pick and the team’s representative in the Futures Game this year, but he has not had an impressive year in the minors thus far. His .253/.307/.421 line in Low-A Greensboro is only five percent better than league average. Similarly, Stone Garrett was coming off a stellar New York-Penn League season in 2015 but has started off relatively slow with a .244/.303/.450 line that is only 12 percent better than league average. Neither guy looks like a "fast-rising" young prospect who was initially out of the top-100.
As for players who had strong starts this year, infielder Brian Anderson repeated the High-A level and mashed to the tune of a .302/.377/.440 line that was 42 percent better than league average. Of course, he did this at age 23, which may be a little old for a big-name prospect in High-A. He is struggling right now in Double-A Jacksonville, batting just .220/.335/.312.
Would something like Jarlin Garcia and Stone Garrett be enough to nab Rich Hill for half a season? Would Miami offer a contract going forward to the 36-year-old veteran in order to keep him around if he continued to pitch at a high level? This type of option may be Miami’s best bet for improving the rotation, but the cost for a rental, while more affordable, may still seem too steep for Miami. But if the Fish want the immediate impact upgrade of a guy like Hill, this may be the cost.