The Miami Marlins have just $36.1 million in salary committed for 2014 at present, and a large chunk is being spent on relievers. Of course, that’s misleading since $4 million is money owed to the departed Heath Bell, but they’ll also pay Steve Cishek $3.8 million in his first arbitration year, pay Mike Dunn $1.4 million in the same situation and signed Carlos Marmol for $1.25 million. Chump change for any other squad, a surprising 29 percent of the budget for this “small-market” squad.
So does this mean you should expect a strong Marlins bullpen? Well, yeah, it kind of does, but not because of the money. A deep pen is necessary given that the bullpen ranked 10th in innings pitched in 2013 (11th in ERA, fourth in FIP) and there’s not really a sure bet for 200 innings in the rotation. There is a surprising amount of talent here, especially when it comes to piling up strikeouts. There’s hardly a safe, lock-down name, as good as Cishek’s been, but there’s nary a soft-tosser in the bunch.
That’s the question Eno Sarris asked back in mid-January on these pages when he highlighted the Steph Curry lookalike’s top-10 reliever season. Cishek now has three full seasons under his belt and they’ve all been impressive – his ERA has topped out at 2.69, his FIP at 3.22, and his strikeout rate has climbed each season to reach 26.3 percent in 2013. He’s 52 for 58 in career save opportunities and has 66 shutdowns to just 19 meltdowns. Sure, the 92 MPH fastball maybe doesn’t jump out at you and scream lights-out closer, but he gets enough strikeouts to matter, keeps the ball on the ground and has a friendly home park when neither of those work out. The only concerns here are a platoon split (partly negated by the tough-on-lefties home park) and some solid options behind him should he stumble.
Three Names Waiting
As mentioned, there is some serious talent in the pen behind Cishek. Dunn is a lefty and has been perhaps too up-and-down in his career to be a legitimate threat to the closer’s chair, but he appears a solid set-up arm at worst. With a strong minor league track record of high-strikeout performance, Dunn finally trimmed his walk rate to an acceptable level in 2013, helping him to a 2.66 ERA and 3.12 FIP. He was good enough against righties but death to lefties and will act as the team’s top late-inning lefty. The next two names are more interesting in the save chase.
Capps was acquired from the Mariners in the Logan Morrison trade and has the typical “closer’s profile” people look for, sporting a mid-high-90s fastball with a slider to complement. In 84 career innings, he’s struck out 24.4 percent of batters (10-per-nine) with a reasonable walk rate (nine percent, 3.6-per-nine) but was killed by the long-ball in 2013 en route to a 5.49 ERA. Projection systems like him to the tune of low-to-mid-threes FIPs, but you’ll obviously want to see it before you invest, especially with Cishek firmly in the closer’s chair.
Ramos has long looked the “closer in waiting” for the franchise, never posting a strikeouts-per-nine rate of less than 11.67 at any minor league stop. In 2013, the strikeouts carried over to the majors (25.4 percent) but control issues manifested themselves. The fly ball ways and the walks were covered up some by the defense and park (4.6 percent HR/FB, .266 BABIP), and that’s hardly going to change. The big concern with Ramos, however, is a significant platoon split – he looked the part of a ROOGY last year, not a potential closer (yet).
Look Away, Just…Don’t Even
Yes, the Marlins signed Marmol on the cheap this offseason, surely with the goal of rehabilitating his value and then flipping him near the deadline. With Marmol, that may actually work. His stuff can be so overpowering that he’s prone to impressive hot streaks (all of 2010, his 21-game stint with the Dodgers in 2013), and if he starts the season on a tear, teams may bite. Conversely, Marmol’s control issues are so glaring that he’s also prone to sickening cold streaks (most of 2011, his 31-game stint with the Cubs in 2013). You’re going to see a strikeout rate that’s reached 30 percent in the past and think “buy low.” That’s your prerogative, but he’s walked 18 percent of batters over the past two seasons, too, so bargain hunter beware.
Jennings is the only other lefty who appears likely to break camp and he looks like a pretty standard-issue reliever. There’s not much potential here for fantasy purposes given his likely role and lack of elite track record. Caminero is more interesting with some really impressive strikeout rates on his resume and a 2.77 ERA in a 13-inning debut last season. He’s a ways down the depth chart and needs to further refine a secondary pitch, but the potential is there. Dyson has rarely struck anyone out in the minors but continues to post strong ERAs. He might make the team but the fantasy upside is terribly low.
Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.