As 2022 gives way to 2023, with a mere five-or-so weeks until the sight of pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, the Miami Marlins are wrapping up an offseason of unfulfilled promises.
“The commitment to this organization is very deep,” majority owner and chairman Bruce Sherman said in November. “We’re going to continue to measure success by winning championships.” Yet Sherman’s front office has done very little to demonstrate that “commitment” aside from signing free agent infielder Jean Segura to a two-year deal. The Marlins currently project to be only marginally improved from last season’s lousy form.
As the holiday decorations come down, clearance signs litter the supermarket shelves. The same rings true of the MLB free agent market. Although Sherman wouldn’t pay the premium to purchase any of the most popular toys available, there are off-brand alternatives that could still bring smiles to the faces of his franchise’s fans.
Here are some “bargain bin” free agents who could serve a purpose on the 2023 Marlins roster.
SP Johnny Cueto (3.5 rWAR)
After the 2021 season, if you would’ve told me that Johnny Cueto’s days pitching in the Major Leagues were numbered, I’d have been hard-pressed to argue with you. Coming off Tommy John surgery that prematurely ended his 2018 season, Cueto went on a three-year run of mediocrity, posting a 4.59 ERA (91 ERA+) over 194 total innings from 2019-2021.
Despite this, and the fact that 2022 was to be his age-36 season, the Chicago White Sox took a chance on him when the two agreed to a minor league deal in early April. Cueto found himself back in The Show on May 16. When all was said and done, he made 24 starts and hurled 158 1⁄3 innings—both his best such marks since 2017—finishing with a 3.35 ERA.
Johnny Cueto posted a 118 ERA+ in both 2015 and 2022, but got there in very different ways pic.twitter.com/1oG2065SNX— Ely Sussman (@RealEly) January 7, 2023
With an already-deep pitching staff, the Marlins don’t necessarily need Cueto, but one of the many inevitabilities in baseball is knowing that someone will get hurt. The reports of Miami expressing interest in the veteran right-hander coupled with trade talks surrounding some of their other starters, this is one we could soon see come to fruition. Beyond the value of his performance on the mound, adding a “good clubhouse guy” to one in need of a culture shock could pay further dividends.
RP Aroldis Chapman (-0.2 rWAR)
Aroldis Chapman, Wicked Slider Movement. pic.twitter.com/gyxfYDQlAR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 14, 2022
If the results of his first 12 outings of the 2022 season were indicative of the kind of year Aroldis Chapman was set to have, there’s no chance we’re talking about him as an attainable Marlins target. Chapman authored 10 1⁄3 straight scoreless innings, not allowing an earned run until May 11.
And then, it all fell apart. During his final 31 appearances, the fire-baller pitched to a 6.23 ERA (5.19 FIP), with opponents posting a .753 OPS against him. Throw in a trip to the injured list for an infection stemming from a tattoo and a snub from the New York Yankees postseason roster due to insubordination, Chapman’s 2022 was disastrous. Among relievers with at least 35 innings pitched, Chapman’s 6.9 BB/9 was tied for worst in the Majors, and his 4.46 ERA was the worst mark of his career.
Is one bad year enough to shut the guy out of the sport entirely? No, but there’s more to consider when discussing Chapman. He served a 30-game suspension in 2016 for violating the sport’s domestic violence policy, a recent topic of conversation amid the news of Trevor Bauer’s reinstatement following the longest suspension ever issued in big league history.
Aroldis Chapman rumor about offers from Dodgers and Padres is not accurate. Chapman had a bullpen in Miami yesterday in front of one MLB team, but there's nothing on the table yet, per sources. pic.twitter.com/0RsEZhrtky— Francys Romero (@francysromeroFR) January 6, 2023
As we’ve seen, the Cuban left-hander—who makes his offseason home in Miami—has been throwing in attempt to entice big league teams. His asking price figures to be lower than Cueto’s or anybody else in this piece, but signing him would elicit a polarizing response from fans and potentially teammates, too.
SP Zack Greinke (2.6 rWAR)
Zack Greinke in 2022:— Baseball Brit (@BaseballBrit) December 19, 2022
Threw absolute filth like this... pic.twitter.com/K2RkwBxm7d
The logic here is simple; if you miss out on Cueto, why not take a run at Zack Greinke?
Sure, he averaged less than 5 K/9 in 137 innings, but Greinke still proved awful productive when he was out there in what was a return to where it all first started in Kansas City. The former Cy Young Award winner continues to beguile big league hitters. Even in what was his age-38 season, the future Hall of Famer posted a 3.68 ERA over 26 starts.
It’s worth mentioning, too, that the pitch-to-contact-happy Greinke would have a much-improved defense behind him in Miami. By defensive runs saved, the Royals were collectively worth minus-40 runs (28th), while the Marlins were more middle-of-the-pack at plus-11 (16th).
INF/OF Jurickson Profar (3.1 rWAR)
Remember when the Marlins were reportedly in on signing Dodgers utility-man Chris Taylor last offseason? As we know, that didn’t work out, with Taylor re-upping on a 4-year/$60M deal to return to LA.
Jurickson Profar is cut from the same cloth. While he may not offer the same level of power, Profar did finish 2022 with 15 home runs in a generally pitcher-friendly NL West, posting a 111 OPS+. He did so whilst walking in more than 11% of his plate appearances, and striking out less than 16% of the time.
Though last season saw him play exclusively in left field, as recently as 2021, Profar saw time at 5 different positions on the diamond, which should only make him more valuable to teams. And he’s relatively young by “veteran” standards, turning 30 years old in February.
Affordability should not be a concern. The Marlins were reportedly willing to pay José Abreu close to $40 million over the next two seasons earlier this winter. Combining Profar’s projected deal with the $17 million spent on Segura wouldn’t even match that total.
DH Nelson Cruz (0.1 rWAR)
Nelson Cruz at 57 years young still hitting piss missiles. Incredible. pic.twitter.com/ZAGinIo5jJ— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) April 21, 2022
As far as fits go, there are several reasons as to why Nelson Cruz does not make sense for Miami. At 42, only Rich Hill will begin the 2023 season older than Cruz. Defensively, Cruz is long done in the field, having last played more than 40 games anywhere but DH since 2016. The Marlins appear to have the spot well-staffed already with Jorge Soler and Garrett Cooper, who possess defensive limitations in their own right. Also, Cruz finished last season as a below-average hitter (90 OPS+) for the first time since 2007.
And yet, there’s the fact that Cruz hits the ball very hard, as evidenced by his batted-ball data on Baseball Savant. Cruz’s expected slugging percentage (xSLG) was higher than his actual output on 6 of the 7 different pitch types he saw in 2022. If he repeats that in 2023, his results should be better.
As we said earlier with regards to Cueto, every clubhouse can use somebody like a Nelson Cruz.