The Marlins are in trouble. With Steve Cishek unable to find home plate at the moment and flunking out of the closer role, and with Rafael Soriano apparently wanting his weight in gold to sign anywhere, the bullpen options have gotten very slim in South Florida.
We talked on Tuesday about the Astros, and about how their bullpen rebuild had helped them turn around quickly. The Marlins are on the opposite end of that. In 2014, the Miami's relievers combined to post a 3.33 ERA with 519 strikeouts in 510.1 innings. And they did it with almost exactly the same cast that has a 4.56 ERA and only 99 strikeouts in 108.2 innings in 2015. The failure of this collective is a major reason why Miami sits three games below .500.
Thankfully, it's not a bullpen-wide issue. A.J. Ramos (1.00 ERA, 23 K in 18 innings) is still a revelation, and will get a chance to pick up saves now with Cishek demoted. Sam Dyson (2.55, 18 K in 17.2 IP) seems perfectly fine. Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris have both struggled slightly, but the real damage has been done by Cishek and his 10.32 ERA and long reliever Brad Hand (6.48).
More on the Marlins
Of course, the solution is going to be more difficult than just swapping out Cishek and Hand. The only minor league Marlins reliever who seems to be ready to step in is Carter Capps, and his control is worse than Cishek's at this point. Unless they are willing to ease prospects Justin Niolino or Jose Urena into the majors in a relief role, there's no one who can help close at hand. Moreover, as the Marlins still rightly have their sights on the second NL wild card, they need to act quickly to prevent wins from slipping away.
Wait, there is good news
The good news is that relievers are available. Jonathan Papelbon, while a confirmed knucklehead, continues to be one of the best closers in baseball. In 14.1 innings for Philadelphia, he has struck out 16 batters and allowed only two runs while saving all seven of his chances. He is as automatic as it gets. With a hefty $13 million price tag and a vesting option that he seems fairly certain to reach (35 more games finished will guarantee his 2016 salary at another $13 million), he comes with perhaps more cost than the Marlins will want to take on, especially given that they just balked at the price tag for Soriano.
Still, perhaps by including Cishek in any deal and/or asking the Phillies to take on more of Papelbon's contract in exchange for a better prospect, the Marlins could save enough money to rent him for a while. After all, short term additions who get traded immediately after the season ends are the foundation of Marlins baseball.
A K-Rod on the horizon?
The other player the Marlins should be considering at this point is Francisco Rodriguez. The Brewers have admitted that they are in the process of selling off assets and GM Doug Melvin seems more reasonable about the going rate for his players than Phillies GM Ruben Amaro. K-Rod is 33 (how is he still only 33???) and is under contract through 2016 with an option for 2017 as well. Despite the length of the commitment, he will still cost less than Papelbon, as the Marlins would only be on the hook for about $12 or 14 million, depending on whether they pick up the last year or not.
Despite concerns about his long term outlook, Rodriguez continues to be one of the most reliable back-end relievers in the game. He has never had a season in which he's struck out fewer than a batter per inning and his walk rate has dropped precipitously over the last three seasons. It's now less than half of what it was in 2012. He can still get a little homer-prone, but he has saved 61 out of 66 opportunities since reclaiming the closer role in 2013. He has a 1.38 ERA and, despite diminished velocity, is still racking up strikeouts.
Acquiring a proven closerTM, may seem needlessly expensive for a club that has a brilliant potential end-of-game performer on hand in Ramos, but acquiring a player with a fixed salary to fill that restrictive role will allow Mike Redmond to use his best reliever more creatively and in situations with higher leverage. It also will reduce Ramos's arbitration awards by denying him save opportunities, which the always budget-conscious Marlins should appreciate for years to come.