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Who’s in DFA danger: December 15, 2020

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

MLB: JUL 21 Marlins at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Marlins began the 2020-21 offseason without any wiggle room on their 40-man roster. After several pitching staff tweaks—Adam Cimber, Paul Campbell and Zach Pop are in; Brandon Kintzler, José Ureña and Ryne Stanek are out—it is full again.

The thing is, the Fish are not done yet. General manager Kim Ng continues to seek experienced relievers and bats. There will certainly be some bargain shopping, attempting to discover an impact player on a minor league deal (e.g. Jon Berti). But sometime between now and spring training, expect them to make more 40-man additions.

With hundreds of players still available via free agency and trade, it’s damn near impossible to predict who the Marlins will get. Instead, this article will focus on the leading candidates to leave Miami in corresponding moves.

In the previous edition of DFA danger, I put right-handers José Ureña and Robert Dugger in the top two spots. Since then, they have both been squeezed off the roster—Ureña is now a free agent while Dugger was claimed off waivers by the Mariners.

Will my educated guesses be just as accurate this time around?

Fish Stripes original GIF

1. Jeff Brigham

Brigham contributed just a single inning to the 2020 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 will turn 29 in February with only 55 23 mediocre major league innings on his résumé. 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. New trade pick-up Zach Pop profiles as a potential replacement. Pop showed comparable stuff to him—and translated it into awesome minor league results—when he last pitched competitively in early 2019. Also working against Brigham, he’s a holdover from the Jeffrey Loria regime. This new front office generally considers those players more expendable than the ones acquired since the ownership change.

Baseball Trade Values (BTV) views Brigham much like Adam Cimber, who the Marlins got from Cleveland last month for $100,000 in cash. That’d be better than losing him for nothing!

2. Magneuris Sierra

Sierra was in serious DFA danger earlier this year, too. Out of minor league options, the speedy outfielder was seemingly buried on the depth chart during 2020 spring training behind newly signed veterans Corey Dickerson and Matt Joyce as well as the hot-hitting Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Jesús Sánchez. However, with two weeks to go until the originally scheduled season opener, MLB suspended all activities due to COVID-19.

Sierra was a beneficiary of the pandemic-shortened campaign. Active rosters expanded from 26 spots to 30. That combined with the initial virus-related absences of Joyce and Brinson cleared the path for him to contribute on Opening Day. The 24-year-old demonstrated the versatility to handle all three outfield positions, good judgement on the basepaths and newfound selectivity at the plate.

That being said, Sierra finds himself back in a familiar, uncomfortable spot. Joyce is gone, but the Marlins retained Dickerson and Starling Marte to stabilize left and center field, respectively, and there are a handful of internal candidates vying for playing time in right. Even during his “breakout” 2020 performance, Sierra posted a 95 wRC+ (league average is 100), boosting his career mark to...58. The still-unresolved status of the universal designated hitter is another disadvantage him. Most of Sierra’s opportunities to make spot starts in the outfield would be contingent on teammates getting a half-day off at DH. Lastly, keep in mind that the outfield dimensions at Marlins Park were reduced a year ago. With less total ground to patrol, defensive range is not as important as it used to be.

It is reasonable to believe that Sierra will be a more impactful player than Brinson moving forward, who is two years older and severely limited in certain areas. But I expect the latter’s raw power potential, marketability and one remaining minor league option to help him survive the latest roster crunch.

3. Stephen Tarpley

Miami Marlins v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

We are less than one year removed from the Marlins trading James Nelson and cash considerations to the Yankees in exchange for Tarpley. He has several advocates within the organization who previously crossed paths with him in New York. Those factors may earn him a longer leash.

Even so...

  • Brigham’s MLB career: 5.32 FIP in 37 G
  • Tarpley’s MLB career: 5.21 FIP in 43 G

Yes, Tarpley has been plagued by a wacky .381 batting average on balls in play, but FIP strips that away. One of the keys to his minor league success was inducing grounders at an elite rate. So far, that hasn’t translated to The Show—his 41.5 GB% is below the MLB average. That leaves him more susceptible to slumps.

BTV values Tarpley more highly than Brigham, presumably because he is left-handed and a year younger. The Marlins should be able to count on receiving a modest asset in return if their 40-man situation forces a break-up.

Other names to watch: Lewis Brinson, Jorge Guzman, Harold Ramirez