After two quiet and unsuccessful seasons following the infamous 2012 "fire sale", the Marlins were back to being playoff contenders, according to some, when Spring Training 2015 came around.
Miami’s promising young core was starting to mature, and accompanying pieces had been added via trades (Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, Martin Prado) and free agency (Michael Morse, Ichiro Suzuki) in order to try to break the organization’s 11-year postseason drought.
The 2015 Marlins were competitive, but a rash of injuries ultimately ended the team’s season. The core, overall, performed well, and it was decided that when healthy, Miami was only one piece away from punching their ticket to play October baseball.
That piece was deemed to be left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen, who was signed for a guaranteed $80 million over five years, the most the Marlins have ever given to a free agent pitcher.
In return for its investment, Miami has seen career-worst numbers from Chen in multiple pitching categories and a two-month stint on the DL with an elbow injury. Things did not get better last night, either, as Chen gave up three earned runs over 4.1 innings in his first start since July.
This all means that the historically stingy Marlins may commit even less money to the free agent market this coming winter. The amount spent on Wei-Yin Chen eclipsed the total amount that the Marlins spent in each of the previous four off-seasons, and the lefty has not done much to prove that he was worth it.
The last time the Marlins delved as deep into their bank account was right before they moved into Marlins Park, when they spent nearly $200 million on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. That spending spree also turned out to be a bad experience for Miami, as all three lasted less than a year in South Florida, mainly due to poor performances (aside from Buehrle).
Could the same be true for Chen? It depends. The Marlins may see him as a bounce-back candidate, or he could be used as trade bait to obtain a younger arm with more potential.
The fact that he is having his worst season as a professional after his first big payday is not encouraging. Marlins players normally have short leashes when it comes to poor levels of production, especially when they take up a large portion of the team’s payroll. However, Chen will be of value to Miami if they do, indeed, cut back on the spending this winter and do not add another starting pitcher via trade.
A team cannot simply buy success, but free agents are more often than not worth the contracts they sign. Unfortunately for Miami, this has not been the case over the last few years, and it may well impact how the Marlins go about their business this off-season and beyond.