Until recently, the Marlins never spent much money in free agency. Then, a talented young core consisting of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and J.T. Realmuto arrived in Miami and upper management decided to start adding pieces around them in an attempt to try and get back to the postseason for the first time since 2003.
To remain frugal, though, the contracts the Marlins were offering to free agents were seriously back-loaded with opt-out clauses before the player really started to cash-in, and this tactic may be about to backfire in the shape of left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen.
It has been well-documented here on the site that the signing of Chen was a step in the right direction for the franchise, even if they had to pay slightly over the odds to acquire the former Baltimore Oriole's services before the 2016 season. Fast forward to 2017, and a serious injury will most likely mean that Chen will not opt-out of his contract, as it is very unlikely that he would receive anything close to a three-year, $52 million deal, which is what the Marlins are still on the hook for.
That would not be so bad for the franchise if Chen had performed more than ‘average’ at best, and more often than not ‘below-average’, when actually on the mound during his tenure in south Florida. The Taiwanese hurler has gone 7-6 with with a 4.85 ERA after initially being signed as the team's number two starter behind the late José Fernández.
After being limited to 22 starts by an elbow injury down the stretch in 2016, Chen only appeared in five games for the Marlins this year before being put on the disabled list on May 5th with arm fatigue, related to the partially-torn UCL he has been pitching through since last summer. The ailment has Tommy John surgery written all over it, but no surgery has been scheduled as of yet. He was given a plasma injection to aid healing over five weeks ago, but he is still far from returning to the mound.
Therefore, it looks like the Marlins will be paying his wages for the next few years, even if he is traded to another major league club (without covering his salary, Miami would not get much in return). On a positive note, if/when the Marlins rebuild, Chen would be a useful veteran presence in the rotation for younger arms coming through the pipeline, if he indeed was still with Miami at that point. If he was able to recapture his 2015 form at the same time, the Marlins would finally be getting a return on their investment.
There is always a risk when it comes to signing free agents, and the Marlins have been unlucky with Wei-Yin Chen. Whether he is playing in Miami for the next three and half years or not, he serves as an example of the cost of buying talent, rather than growing it, which the Marlins need to get back to doing soon if they want to be back in the playoffs before the next decade rolls around.