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Who’s in DFA danger: November 24, 2020

With no wiggle room on the Marlins 40-man roster, something’s gotta give.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Miami Marlins Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

It is possible that the Marlins complete their 2020-21 offseason without any splashy additions. Or maybe Kim Ng and the front office just need a brief period to digest reams of data before changing everything we thought we knew about the club. At the very least, it’s safe to assume that the Marlins won’t be running back an identical group of players despite last summer’s accomplishments. From blockbusters to waiver claims, bringing in newbies will require corresponding moves because Miami’s 40-man roster is full.

It has never been harder to anticipate specific targets for the Marlins. The free agent market is flooded with players, and Ng’s top priorities and the budget she has to work with haven’t been disclosed publicly. Ultimately, though, once the Fish decide on how to upgrade the roster, somebody will have to depart.

Periodically during this offseason, I will identify players on the 40-man whose futures with the Marlins are most in doubt.

1. José Ureña

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A little-known Dominican right-hander just shy of his 17th birthday, Ureña signed with the then-Florida Marlins in 2008. Relative to the original expectations, his professional career has been an unmitigated success. Ureña has faced the 10th-most batters of anybody in franchise history! And he’s the only pitcher still standing from the 40-man roster that was inherited by new Marlins ownership.

However, the relationship has seemingly run its course. Partly for reasons beyond his control, Ureña struggled in limited action in 2020 (5.40 ERA, 6.06 FIP, 1.50 WHIP in 23.1 IP), yet he’s due a raise in arbitration. Outside of spring training appearances, he simply hasn’t been effective for the past couple seasons.

The Marlins were not comfortable picking up their $4 million option on Brandon Kintzler’s contract. That’s essentially the same price being projected for Ureña, who lacks Kintzler’s consistency and defined role.

MLB teams have a Dec. 2 deadline to decide whether or not to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Expect Ureña to be on the outside looking in, even if they don’t have a replacement lined up yet.

2. Robert Dugger

I hate to spoil Dugger’s mood with his wedding coming up in a few weeks. Just being realistic.

He dazzled at Marlins Park against the Reds on Aug. 29, 2019 (7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K). Since then, he has rarely missed bats and constantly surrendered deep fly balls. That’s a terrible concoction. Although there was an uptick in his fastball velocity last year, it didn’t help him on the mound whatsoever.

Dugger snuck onto the 2020 Opening Day roster thanks to the unique short-season rules that allowed the Marlins to carry 17 pitchers. He is very unlikely to be needed in the same capacity heading into a more “normal” campaign.

Elieser Hernandez (strained right lat) is the only 2021 Marlins starting rotation candidate—excluding Ureña—who entered the winter with a significant injury. As long as the club is confident that Hernandez will be at full strength by February, I don’t see a case for retaining Dugger as depth.

Fish Stripes original GIF

3. Jesús Aguilar

Coming off a year of replacement-level mediocrity, Aguilar’s 2020 rebound was exactly what the Marlins needed. He embraced and even helped establish his new team’s clubhouse culture while boosting run production at the 1B/DH spots.

However, regardless of whether the designated hitter remains next season, the Marlins will be making some emotionless calculations about major league payroll. Aguilar provided great bang-for-the-buck at his pro-rated $2.575 million salary; it isn’t as much of a no-brainer if his compensation potentially doubles via arbitration.

As is the case with Ureña, Miami has an opportunity over the next week to non-tender Aguilar. That wouldn’t necessarily mean saying goodbye forever, but it’s a way to refrain from making a commitment to him until there is more clarity about the club’s 2021 revenue streams.

4. Jeff Brigham

One of my 2020 breakout candidates, Brigham contributed just a single inning to the Marlins pitching staff. He was among the few players who never made it back to the active roster after testing positive for COVID-19. Were his symptoms particularly bad? Or should we assume that, internally, there was a lack of confidence in him being effective down the stretch?

As a reliever, the Washington native combines an explosive fastball with a high-spin slider. He has the upside to help a Marlins bullpen in flux. On the other hand, Brigham believe it or not is nearly as old as Ureña. His career has been stalled by injuries—this was his fifth straight season with a stint on the IL.

The Marlins certainly want to re-evaluate Brigham in spring training if possible, but this is a numbers game and he’s a holdover from the previous regime. Don’t be surprised if they DFA him to make room for a proven veteran.