Heading into 2020, scoring runs and bullpen production were two key areas that the Marlins identified as weak points that needed addressing if the team was to see improved results and move closer towards respectability in year three of the rebuild. The organization feels like they made great strides with the former by adding utility man Jonathan Villar, first baseman Jesús Aguilar, and outfielder Corey Dickerson this winter. Two of them are former All-Stars and each of the three has hit over 20 home runs and driven in over 60 runs in a season throughout their careers. Veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli, a career .269 hitter, has been added to the mix as well, and top prospects such as Monte Harrison and Jesús Sánchez should be debuting this season. All in all, improving the offense is one box that the Marlins can check on their to-do list.
As for upgrading the bullpen, the headline move was adding Yimi García on a one-year, $1.1 million deal back in December. García, 29, went 1-4 with 3.61 ERA over 64 appearances with the Dodgers last year, but allowed 15 homers in 62.1 innings. Sterling Sharp was acquired through the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings and will likely be given a shot at making his major league debut, although that is not a guarantee.
This week, minor league third baseman James Nelson was traded to the Yankees for lefty Stephen Tarpley. Tarpley has played in 31 games at the major league level to the tune of a 5.88 ERA (4.77 FIP) over the last two seasons. Ronard Paulino, Aaron Northcraft, and Josh A. Smith have also been added on minor league deals since the end of the 2019 season, and Tayron Guerrero, Tyler Kinley, Kyle Keller, and Austin Brice are all gone. In short, the Marlins have left a lot to be desired when it comes to revamping their relief corps.
It has been surprising that Miami has not been especially aggressive on this front after the bullpen ranked 26th in baseball last season in ERA (4.97) and let countless games slip away down the stretch. For a young team, those types of losses particularly deflating. Cost shouldn’t an obstacle—the 2020 payroll is lower than last year’s.
There are sure to be further additions as we get closer to Spring Training, although at this point they are likely to be minor league deals with invitations to camp. In terms of who is still available on the free agent market, there are four names in particular who Marlins fans will recognize: Mike Dunn, AJ Ramos, Sam Dyson, and David Phelps. These former Marlins could be a fit to shore up the bullpen early in the season before serving as trade chips before the trade deadline. Fernando Rodney is also available, but that name still haunts Marlins Park.
Mike Dunn holds the franchise record with 405 games pitched and produced a 3.59 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 1.28 WHIP between 2011 and 2016. He has spent the last three seasons pitching in Colorado, and has largely struggled. Ramos saved 92 games for Miami and was arguably the best reliever on the team when he was traded to the Mets in the summer of 2017. Sam Dyson has alternated between good and bad seasons since the Marlins traded him in 2015, but the 31-year-old right-hander still has a 3.40 career ERA. (Dyson is currently being investigated by MLB for a domestic violence allegation. Any credible findings stemming from that would certainly remove him from consideration.) Phelps missed all of 2018 through injury, followed by a decent rebound season with the Blue Jays and Cubs in 2019.
All of these relievers are age 35 of younger. A short-term deal with Miami may just appeal to them due to the success they enjoyed with the team in the past. The Marlins definitely need to add more proven arms to the bullpen mix before the season begins, and there are worse moves to be made than adding veterans who already know their way around the organization.