Ranking the Best Remaining Players the Marlins Could Invite to Spring Training
We're less than a month away from when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, so it's time to assess what the Miami Marlins need and who is still out there to be had.
But before we begin, let's check the Marlins shopping list and see if there's anything the Marlins forgot to buy.
An offensively skilled catcher? Check. The Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year contract worth $21 million.
A power-hitting first baseman? Check. The Marlins signed Garrett Jones to a two-year deal worth $7.75 million.
An upgrade at second base? Check. The Marlins signed Rafael Furcal to a one-year agreement worth $3 million. Furcal can also earn an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Fixing the black hole known as third base? Check. The Marlins signed Casey McGehee to a one-year pact worth $1.1 million. McGehee can also earn an extra $400,000 in performance bonuses.
About the only item still on the Marlins shopping cart is a veteran reliever, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, especially after the Marlins nontendered Ryan Webb, who signed with the Baltimore Orioles, while Chad Qualls inked a deal with the Houston Astros.
Looking back at last season, the Marlins signed Qualls and Jon Rauch and they had a few commonalities. For starters, both guys signed a one-year pact—Qualls on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training while Rauch joined the Marlins on a $1 million contract. The other commonality they had was Qualls and Rauch had experience in high-leverage situations—Qualls has 51 career saves while Rauch had 62—which might come in handy as Steve Cishek was penciled in as the team's full-time closer.
Now, the Marlins are probably looking to add a reliever or two in the same mold as Qualls and Rauch even though Rauch was designated for assignment six weeks into the 2013 season while Qualls (5-2 record, 2.61 ERA in 62 innings) exceeded expectations.
Without further ado, in descending order, here are the best remaining available free agent relievers the Marlins could target for an invitation to spring training or sign to a major league contract.
LHP Mike Gonzalez
Mike Gonzalez's 2013: 0-3 record, 4.68 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 60 strikeouts in 50 innings, 11 holds
Gonzalez might not be as effective as he was earlier in his career when he posted an ERA below 4.00 in five out of six seasons from 2004-09. In fact, Gonzalez's collective ERA the past four seasons is 4.12, compared to 2.41 from 2004-09.
But there are some reasons for the Marlins to inquire about Gonzalez.
One, as Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reports, Gonzalez was well-liked by teammates and he proved to be durable as he led the club with 75 appearances, although he pitched only 50 innings. Moreover, the Brewers aren't interested in bringing him back.
Two, Gonzalez could at least add valuable depth if he's not an upgrade over Dan Jennings as the Marlins' second left-hander. Despite some down years, Gonzalez's peripheral numbers are still decent as he averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year. However, Gonzalez seemed to be more hittable as well last year as he yielded 10.4 hits per nine innings.
But most importantly, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore believes Gonzalez can be had on a minor league deal, which is music to the Marlins ears.
RHP David Aardsma
David Aardsma's 2013: 2-2 record, 4.31 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 36 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings
Aardsma's claim to fame has almost always been his last name as he's almost always the first player listed alphabetically.
As a baseball player, he hasn't always been at the top of most lists, but at least he's trending upward, which the same cannot be said for Gonzalez, after missing most of 2011 and most of 2012 because of offseason surgery on his left hip followed by Tommy John surgery in July 2011, according to ESPN.com.
Last season, Aardsma posted a 4.31 ERA in 43 appearances with the New York Mets. But before he became a Met, Aardsma was with the Marlins organization.
The New York Yankees released Aardsma on April 4 because manager Joe Girardi felt Aardsma "didn't really fit" in the Yankees bullpen as someone who can pitch multiple innings, according to the YES Network.
A little more than a week later, ESPN.com's Buster Olney tweeted that Aardsma signed a minor league contract with the Marlins. Aardsma had four teams he felt he could've latched on to, but in the end, he chose the Marlins.
"The Marlins made a strong financial offer, and more important, they had a plan for me," Aardsma told the Wall Street Journal. "They made that clear to me, that if I pitch well, I have an opportunity to claim a role."
But a month later, Aardsma asked to be released, and the Marlins honored it. FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted there was a clause in Aardsma contract that if he was not in the majors by May 15, Aardsma would be released at the pitcher's request. Less than a week later, Aardsma signed with the Mets.
At his peak, Aardsma saved 69 games and had a 2.90 ERA during the 2009-10 seasons with the Seattle Mariners. Plus, at 32 years old and about four years younger than Gonzalez, the Marlins might be able to get more out of Aardsma, even if it's just a one-year deal.
RHP Joel Hanrahan
Joel Hanrahan's 2013: 0-1 record, 9.82 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, 5 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings, 4 saves
For the first time in Hanrahan's major league career, he was on a winner.
So it was not hard to imagine that the hardest part of Hanrahan's 2013 season wasn't undergoing Tommy John surgery, but rather watching the Boston Red Sox march to the club's third World Series championship in a decade.
“The hardest part for me was I really wanted to come and be part of the playoffs, but I also didn’t want to look like, ‘Oh, we’re in the playoffs and now he wants to be part of the celebration’ something like that,” Hanrahan told WEEI.com. “My focus is trying to get healthy and I didn’t want to take time away from the trainers who are trying to keep the guys on the field who are playing. I didn’t want to be in the way. It was tough for me, but it was a whole heck of a lot of fun watching at home and seeing the success they had.
“To be the first time I was ever in the playoffs, and to see them win the World Series, I was a big cheerleader. But it’s not how you envision your first playoff run or your first World Series championship. It was different being at home, sitting watching the games with my wife or my friends. But that’s just the hand I was dealt this year. It just makes me want to work harder to get a chance to get back to the playoffs.”
Sounds like a motivated man, right?
Prior to 2013, Hanrahan established himself as an All-Star closer with the Pittsburgh Pirates as he accumulated 76 saves with a 2.24 ERA between the 2011-12 seasons.
What his future holds will depend on how he auditions. FOX Sports' Jon Morosi tweeted about two weeks ago that Hanrahan is throwing off a mound at 75 percent and Hanrahan hopes to throw for teams sometime in March.
Based on accomplishments alone, Hanrahan is better than Aardsma and Gonzalez, but Hanrahan's recovery from Tommy John surgery is also why he is lower on this list.
RHP Frank Francisco
Frank Francisco's 2013: 1-0 record, 4.26 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings
Among the relievers chosen for this exercise, Francisco might have the biggest character issues.
After signing a two-year, $12 million deal with the New York Mets, Francisco went on to have the worst season of his career as he posted a 1-3 record and a 5.53 ERA with 23 saves. But that was just the beginning.
Francisco underwent offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, the Star-Ledger reported, and the Mets stated that they expected him to be ready for Opening Day.
Well, that never happened.
According to Matthew Cerrone of SNY.tv, Francisco was placed on the disabled list after he was shut down in February due to discomfort in his elbow. When the Mets tried to send Francisco to the minors, he had another setback even though doctors said it was fine.
By June, the New York Daily News' Andy Martino questioned why Francisco was out indefinitely even though Francisco didn't need surgery. A few months later, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reported that the Mets seriously considered not allowing Francisco to pitch for the Mets in September because Francisco could audition himself and increase his value to sign elsewhere as a free agent during the offseason. However, the Mets relented and activated Francisco off the disabled list, the New York Daily News reported.
Francisco's best years were a four-year stretch from 2008-11. He went 12-16 with a 3.54 ERA and saved 49 games with the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. The only reason Francisco is rated better than Hanrahan is because Francisco pitched at the end of last season and seemed to be healthy and ready to go in 2014. The same can't be said of Hanrahan.
But hey, last season pales in comparison to Francisco being arrested and charged with felony battery after he threw a chair into the right-field box seats and hit two spectators in the head, one of which broke the woman's nose, during his rookie season.
RHP Carlos Marmol
Carlos Marmol's 2013: 2-4 record, 4.41 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 59 strikeouts in 49 innings
Despite his improvement as a Los Angeles Dodger, Marmol is still Marmol, which means he probably still has bouts of wildness.
After losing his job as closer of the Chicago Cubs a week into the 2013 season, Marmol was designated for assignment in late June and was eventually traded to the Dodgers in early July even though he had a limited no-trade clause with six teams that he could block, including the Dodgers, according to ESPNChicago.com.
To Marmol's credit, the Dodgers immediately designated Marmol for assignment upon arrival, although CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted that the Dodgers and Marmol agreed on the move so Marmol could go to the minors and pitch.
About three weeks later, the Dodgers promoted Marmol back to the majors.
Although Marmol did well with the Dodgers (2.53 ERA, 1.55 WHIP in 21 1/3 innings) compared to how he fared with the Cubs (2-4 record, 5.86 ERA, 1.70 WHIP in 27 2/3 innings), it didn't seemed like he changed. Then again, three weeks probably isn't enough time to change.
First of all, Marmol had only one hold in 21 appearances with the Dodgers, which suggests Marmol was held out of high-leverage situations as much as possible. Also, Marmol still struck out plenty of batters (11.39 strikeouts per nine innings with Dodgers compared to 10.41 with Cubs) but gave out walks as if they were free samples (8.0 walks per nine innings with Dodgers compared to 6.8 with Cubs).
The difference between Marmol's stint with the Dodgers and the Cubs was that when Marmol was with the Dodgers, he kept the damage to a minimum. Opponents hit just .187 and slugged just .253 against Marmol as a Dodger, whereas opponents hit .252 with a .485 slugging percentage when Marmol was a Cub.
Marmol's best years came from 2007-10, when he went 11-12 with a 2.54 ERA. During that span, he had 73 holds as a setup man and 61 saves as a closer. The 2011 season marked Marmol's downward spiral as he had 10 blown saves that year.
Now, there are some clubs who believe Marmol can help. Perhaps the Marlins are one of those clubs. Heyman tweets that the Milwaukee Brewers are one of the teams interested in Marmol, while the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer tweets that the Boston Red Sox have chatted with Marmol as well.
Even if clubs get the 2011-14 version of Marmol, that's still better than most still in the market because of his ability to miss bats and his relative youth at 31 years old. And if clubs get the 2007-10 Marmol, well, then he should be much higher on this list.
RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Kyle Farnsworth's 2013: 3-1 record, 4.70 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 28 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings
Soon-to-be 38 years old, Farnsworth is the oldest of the group, but he still might have the goods to be worth an invite to spring training.
In fact, some teams have varying interest in Farnsworth, as MLB Trade Rumors' Zach Links tweeted up to eight teams are looking at him. Moreover, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com thinks Farnsworth would be available on a one-year deal.
If the Marlins are intent on getting someone with experience, then there may not be someone more qualified than Farnsworth.
A 15-year veteran, Farnsworth has a 43-63 record with a 4.26 ERA. He also has 54 saves and has accumulated 945 strikeouts in 960 innings pitched. Now, McCalvy said he might not have as much heat on his fastball as he did three years ago, but he did finish strong with the Pirates (1-1, 1.04 ERA, nine strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings) after he was designated for assignment in mid-August by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Farnsworth showed he still has enough gas to miss bats and more importantly, unlike Marmol, Farnsworth is more predictable and can be relied upon to not discombobulate in any given inning.
Of course, some might not agree with that assessment. And some Marlins fans might grin when they remember Farnsworth as one of the Chicago Cubs pitchers who was on the mound in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.
Farnsworth replaced Mark Prior with one out in a 3-all tie, and his first task was to intentionally walk Mike Lowell to load the bases. The next batter, Jeff Conine, hit a sacrifice fly to right field to drive home Miguel Cabrera for the go-ahead run. Then, after another intentional walk, Farnsworth served up a bases-clearing double to Mike Mordecai as the highlight of the Marlins' eight-run inning in the Marlins' 8-3 victory. The next night, the Marlins beat the Cubs to advance to the World Series, where they claimed the title in six games against the New York Yankees.
One way or another, Farnsworth could provide the Marlins with some fuzzy feelings if he were to get an invite to spring training.
RHP Manny Corpas
Manny Corpas 2013: 1-2 record, 4.54 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 30 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings
On the surface, Corpas hasn't had a standout year since his rookie season in 2007 when he had 19 saves and 16 holds with a 2.08 ERA with the Colorado Rockies.
But a closer look might provide more perspective.
The 31-year-old Corpas has pitched a mile high above sea level in six of his seven years in the majors, and the results have varied.
In 2006-07, Corpas' ERA was a scintillating 2.53. But since then, he's had four consecutive seasons with an ERA above 4.50 with the Rockies, but his WAR (wins above replacement) was in the negative just once during that span, which came in 2009 when he had a 5.88 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP.
In the one season Corpas pitched at sea level, he posted a mediocre 5.01 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP with the Chicago Cubs in 2012. However, there's a reason for his poor performance: It was his first season back in the majors after missing all of 2011 because he had Tommy John surgery in September 2010.
Basically, Corpas has always pitched behind the eightball because of geography or medical reasons.
Corpas could fit with the Marlins because last season he signed with the Rockies on a minor league deal, according to the Denver Post. But at the end of the season, Corpas was taken off the 40-man roster to create room for prospects, a source told the Denver Post.
Furthermore, Corpas is nowhere as wild as Marmol as Corpas averages 2.7 walks per nine innings in his career compared to Marmol's 6.1, and Corpas is nearly seven years younger than Farnsworth.
RHP Kevin Gregg
Kevin Gregg's 2013: 2-6 record, 3.48 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 56 strikeouts in 62 innings, 33 saves
Among the relievers on this list, Gregg is probably by far the best player available.
Gregg is the only reliever on this list who posted an ERA below 4.00 in 2013. And unlike Hanrahan and Marmol, Gregg didn't lose his closer's job because of injury or ineffectiveness.
In fact, the Cubs signed Gregg to a minor league contract on April 14, less than a week after Marmol lost his closer's job. Two days later, the Cubs promoted Gregg from Triple-A Iowa. By May 8, then-Cubs manager Dale Sveum named Gregg as the team's closer.
So why is Gregg still available despite his best season since 2010, when he had 37 saves and a 3.51 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays? It might have to do with an incident between Gregg and the Cubs front office.
With a little more than a week left in the season, Sveum conveyed to Gregg that the club was going to give setup man Pedro Strop a few save opportunities to see how he handles the role. Gregg then told reporters how unhappy he was with the situation.
"The game didn't unfold the way I wanted it to, but from what they told me over the past few days it makes it difficult to play anyways, let alone knowing what they think," Gregg told ESPNChicago.com after the Cubs 9-5 loss in which Gregg gave up four runs in the ninth inning. "... For an organization to come out and say, 'Hey, we are going to go a different direction,' a little professional courtesy would have been nice."
Later, Gregg met with Sveum and vice president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. After the meeting, it was construed Gregg misunderstood Sveum.
"I told him how disappointed I was with him given the way we treated him this year -- bringing him back after the first stint didn't go well," Epstein told cbssports.com. "He ran to the media. That was his decision. I told him, as a man, I didn't respect that. ... After a couple minutes he understood that he was wrong and apologized profusely."
The following day, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Cubs accepted Gregg's apology and decided not to release him. Since then, the only team known to have reached out to Gregg have been the Mets, according to the New York Daily News' Andy Martino.
If the Marlins call Gregg, he might want to return to the franchise that gave him his first closer's job. During the 2007-08 season, Gregg saved 61 games and had a 3.48 ERA.