If the Miami Marlins are really interested in acquiring a starting pitcher, there has to be a strong mix of components leading to a successful acquisition.
1) The Marlins have to find a pitcher who would be an upgrade over their current fourth / fifth starters. This is not all that difficult.
2) The Marlins have to find a player who has the right amount of team control for that upgrade.
3) The Fish have to find a team willing to trade that starter.
4) The Marlins find a price that they would be willing and able to pay.
Too little team control and you are looking at a rental, which means you are either going after Rich Hill and his potential steep rental price or Jeremy Hellickson and his cheap cost. More team control and you get the situation with the three Rays’ starters, all of whom have lots of time left under cost-controlled prices but have more question marks and still cost more. The Marlins want team control, since they need cheap options monetarily to make up for their never-ending budget constraints. However, they have such limited trade assets that dealing for a player who has lots of control left or high-value ace potential would be difficult.
There is a middle ground somewhere. That middle ground may be New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda. From Jon Morosi of MLB.com:
#Marlins working to add starter, sources say. Hellickson, Cashner, Pineda on their list. #Yankees not ready to move Pineda yet. @MLB— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 19, 2016
The Marlins have expanded their list of names of interest to include Pineda and Andrew Cashner, who would be another rental piece with poor performance in this year but mild upside given his last few seasons. Pineda, however, strikes the middle ground between effectiveness, control, and cost that the Marlins may be able to pursue. Michael Pineda
Pineda’s 2016 season has not started off well. He owns a horrific 5.56 ERA, his performance against runners on base has been worse than usual, and the Yankees are not doing well, so there is some thought that a “fire sale” of the team’s non-controlled trade assets is on the way. Pineda may not be a long-term part of the Yankees’ future, so it may be the right time to trade him.
MT @jonmorosi #Marlins working to add starter... Pineda on their list. #Yankees not ready to move Pineda yet. pic.twitter.com/B3y9wJuHRP— Pinstripe Alley (@pinstripealley) July 19, 2016
At the same time, Pineda is not a scrub like Hellickson by any stretch of the imagination. The underlying performance metrics indicate good things to come. For one, his FIP still stands at a reasonable 4.04, and that is in large part because he has been giving up home runs at a massive clip. Pineda has already allowed 18 homers in 18 starts after giving up 21 last year in 27 starts. Part of that may very well be Yankees Stadium and his natural fly ball tendencies, except that Pineda has even done better to prevent more flies than usual. His grounder rate is at 44 percent, a tad above his career average of 42 percent.
Oh, and also, he is second in the American League in strikeout rate. Pineda owns a 27.2 percent strikeout rate, the best of his career, and his walk rate is at a complete not-alarming 6.2 percent. That 21 percent differential between those two rates is the best of his career. For a guy who is supposedly getting beat up by big-league hitters, he sure knows how to make them miss. His .342 BABIP seems highly unsustainable as well. A move to Miami should help on both fronts, thanks to Marlins Park’s deep walls and the team’s great defense.
Pineda has the upside of a second starter in a rotation, which makes him a distinctly strong candidate for upgrading the team’s bad final rotation spots. But his current performance will likely drop his cost, even with this year’s great need for starting pitching. It helps that the Yankees would be unlikely to trade with one of the major starting pitcher buyers in the Red Sox, who are in-division rivals. All of this serves to lower the pool of available buyers and thus further adds to the cost affordability.
Finally, the Marlins have to be happy with the middle ground of team control. Pineda is under control for another year after this, and his cost in his final arbitration season will likely be pretty affordable. This is Pineda’s second season under arbitration and he earned just $4.3 million thanks to his injury problems. It is likely he will earn something like $7 million next year, meaning the Fish will get him at a Mat Latos-like price for his final year of team control. He figures to be a prominent piece of the rotation next year as well as a contributor to the tail end of 2016, which is more than a guy like Rich Hill can offer cheaply.
What would be the cost of Pineda? Latos is a great example of a guy who struggled in his previous season heading into the last year of his team control, but had a decent track record before that. The Marlins gave up just Anthony DeSclafani, a decent starting pitcher prospect with a small amount of big-league time, and Chad Wallach, a player who was on the rise in the low minors but was never considered a prospect. Could the Fish send someone like Kendry Flores or Jarlin Garcia along with a bigger prospect name like Stone Garrett or potentially the team’s best prospect in Josh Naylor and nab Pineda? Naylor made the cut as the 100th-ranked prospect in Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects, meaning he would be the team’s top prize to deal. Could Naylor and, say, one of Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, or Kendry Flores do it?
If this is the type of cost, this may represent the team’s best chance to increase its contention odds for this year and next. The problem is going to be whether the Yankees will be willing to deal Pineda, who is still just 27 years old and showing obvious promise. If he is on the market, Miami should be willing to toss out its best remaining prospect for a rare chance for major upside in a potentially cheap acquisition.