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Outrighting Brett Graves, Yadiel Rivera clears roster space for potentially big Marlins moves

The previously full 40-man roster has been trimmed to 38. Could we see a free-agent signing? Rule 5 Draft pick? J.T. Realmuto trade getting close??!?

MLB: Miami Marlins at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins are going to do something at the Winter Meetings; that much is virtually guaranteed. On Tuesday, the team announced that right-hander Brett Graves and Yadiel Rivera were each outrighted to Triple-A after going unclaimed by the rest of the league. The 40-man roster now stands at 38.

Graves joined the Marlins organization at this time one year ago, poached from the Athletics in the major league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft. His MLB debut was delayed several months by an oblique strain suffered in spring training. The 25-year-old’s performance from them onward was the living embodiment of “replacement level player” (5.40 ERA/4.51 FIP/4.83 xFIP in 33.1 IP). Graves, who was used exclusively as a reliever, never pitched back-to-back days and seldom got trusted in high-leverage situations. If not for the Marlins’ willingness to tank last season, he likely would’ve been returned to the A’s at some point.

The handling of Yadiel Rivera was difficult to understand. His .173/.269/.216 slash line resembled a starting pitcher much more closely than a steady major league infielder. Rivera’s 37 wRC+ ranked third-worst in the National League among those with at least 150 plate appearances, edging out only Pedro Severino and teammate Magneuris Sierra.

On the other hand, he had the rare distinction of playing seven different defensive positions in 2018 (everything except pitcher and catcher). Shades of Emilio Bonifacio!

Rivera has been playing winter ball in his native Puerto Rico, but continues to struggle with the bat. To crack the Opening Day roster, he’d have to prove himself in spring competition against non-roster invitees Deven Marrero and Jon Berti and talented prospect Isan Díaz.

In the meantime, the Marlins created flexibility for themselves. According to multiple reports, they’re putting an emphasis on receiving controllable, major league-ready talent in return for star catcher J.T. Realmuto (my proposal from Tuesday had them receiving Clint Frazier and Tomás Nido, among others). Most players fitting that description would require immediate placement on the 40-man roster, which was full prior to Graves and Rivera being outrighted.

Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweets that the Mets, Braves, Yankees, Phillies, Astros, Padres and Dodgers all have varying levels of interest in Realmuto at the moment.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic notes that the Fish are pursuing veteran hitters and relievers via both the trade market and free agency. They’re also poised to add somebody on Thursday in the Rule 5 Draft; a 98-loss campaign earned them the No. 4 overall selection in what talent evaluators believe to be a deep class of unprotected players.

By the end of the week, or even the end of the offseason, the Marlins won’t necessarily be improved at the major league level. The hyper-competitive NL East discourages them from spending in vain to keep pace with other clubs who have decided to go all in on 2019. Their “window” hasn’t opened yet.

However, we’ll be eager to see how the roster churns to improve the franchise’s long-term health.