To start, I will commend Randy St. Claire for his work with this pitching staff, considering the challenges that occurred with them this season. No one could have done a better job with this staff this year.
As for the pitching itself, this past season the Marlins pitching had its moments of success, but also its share of struggles. There are things to be concerned about, but the Marlins’ pitching is in position that, with the right moves this offseason, they can be a playoff caliber pitching staff. To get the pitching to that point, there are a few things to consider or do.
Josh Johnson Question and Solution
First, a question about Josh Johnson begs to be asked: should the Marlins trust Josh Johnson to be their ace pitcher? This would be the most important question of all when entering the offseason and determining moves to make. At this point, the answer to that question would be no. The Marlins should consider adding another frontline starter that can wrest the #1 starting spot away from JJ. It’s nothing against JJ, but his health issues have made for a situation that screams of not placing all of the Marlins pitching eggs into the JJ basket.
This offseason, there is a pitcher available that can take over the #1 spot over JJ. If the Marlins are willing to place the money saved from their deadline trades back into the team, Zack Greinke would be the most important move that the Marlins could make. In fact, that would be a no-brainer if his price tag and total years offered don’t get ridiculous because of a bidding war. The Marlins would be secure if Johnson gets injured again. If JJ is healthy with Greinke, they would make up a duo that could dominate a series if the Marlins could make it into the postseason. While some may say that it would be impossible to get Greinke, there are things to consider. Greinke is one of the more likely possibilities of giving a “hometown discount” if the Marlins get within his price range. He has indicated in the past that he is not fond of pitching in a big market and would not mind pitching closer to his home in Florida. The Marlins are certainly capable of being in the contract range of what will be offered to Greinke. And being a Florida team along with the Tampa Bay Rays (who won’t be bidding) gives the Marlins an advantage. This is a move that can and should be made – healthy JJ or not.
Buehrle, Turner, Eovaldi, and LeBlanc
The rest of the starting pitching has a little bit less uncertainty when it comes to Mark Buehrle, Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi, and Wade LeBlanc. These four pitchers should be back without a doubt (I will address Ricky Nolasco shortly). As for these four, Buehrle did a superb job for the Marlins this season and certainly should return in his role as the #2 or, preferably, #3 starter if the Marlins add another frontline starter. Turner, Eovaldi, and LeBlanc should all return to battle for the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation. If Eovaldi or Turner don’t win a spot, the odd man out of these two should return to the minors for more seasoning. If LeBlanc is the odd man out, he can resume his role as the team’s long reliever and spot starter. If LeBlanc does win one of the starting roles, then the Marlins will need to add a long reliever in the bullpen.
The Nolasco Situation
Ricky Nolasco can be an enigma, however, that can be easily resolved. He has been in his latest, routine hot streak. Considering that everyone has seen this before out of him, we know what will happen again next season. What will happen will be the continued disappointment that Nolasco has specialized in. Before that can happen again, it would be wise to use Nolasco as trade bait this offseason to clear money that can be spent elsewhere and to add prospects that can be used for another trade to maybe add a much needed run-producing bat. In the very least, trading him clears some money to help add the aforementioned Zack Greinke. There is not much to lose in trading Nolasco. It certainly is a move to consider because the facts are that keeping him isn’t likely to benefit the team next year, especially since he will likely be gone after his contract expires at the end of the 2013 season, and won’t be worth taking the risk of offering a qualifying offer for compensation because he may accept it.
Cishek and the Bullpen
With bullpens, outside of the closer, production really can’t be predicted from season to season. All that can be done by organizations is to get pieces to fill roles in a stable manner. For the Marlins, the closer that the bullpen will surround, will be and should continue to be Steve Cishek, the young kid that took over the closer’s role after Heath Bell faltered severely this season. Cishek had his share of struggles as the season closed, but this kid has been impressive and the late season struggle can be attributed to his youth and first time in the role. If he continues his progress next year, Cishek could be around long enough to be the Marlins most stable closer since Rob Nen.
As for the rest of the bullpen, the Marlins need to secure the role of lefty specialist and need to determine the set up role considering the issues tied into the bullpen. Guys like Mike Dunn aren’t helping the situation. Options like Ryan Webb, Dan Jennings (the pitcher), A.J. Ramos, etc. can be solutions to help fill the middle roles. Beyond these and the other middle roles, the Marlins need to assure that they have a long relief/spot starter type ready to go if Wade LeBlanc wins a starting spot. Personally, I felt that was something they took a step back from when they traded Burk Badenhop in the offseason. If internal options such as Alex Sanabia aren’t available or capable, they need to make it a focus in their offseason shopping list. They may also want to see if they can convince Carlos Zambrano to return in that role. Once these are sorted out, there will always be a variety of free agents that can be added to fill any other bullpen holes.
The Heath Bell Dilemma
The situation with Heath Bell, while seemingly going non-stop and incapable of getting worse, has become undoubtedly way beyond repair. While there may have been a chance a couple of weeks ago for this to be salvaged for a working relationship, that chance seems to no longer be there. And unfortunately, it also makes it more difficult for all parties involved to part ways. With 2 years left on Bell’s overpaid contract, unless the Marlins are willing to exchange it for another bad contract or just eat the money, it is going to be a serious challenge to send Bell elsewhere in a transaction that satisfies anyone of the parties – at least the Marlins and Bell parties. As for an inquiring team, the “buyer beware” issue makes any deal extremely into a “nothing to lose” deal for that acquiring team, which certainly hurts the Marlins significantly as they will be paying big dollars for a player to go away – dollars that could have gone to a much welcomed, needed piece on the roster. The only easy thing in this is being able to say that this marriage is over and it is just a matter of how the severance will take place.
In closing, once the pitching is sorted out, the Marlins can have everything stabilized. While many are concerned that the Marlins pitching is far from being solid, they actually aren’t that far from being a quality group. It just takes the right moves and they will be able to get the job done. The pitching can actually become the core of the Marlins potentially becoming a playoff team next year, despite this year’s massive disappointment.