With a starting pitching market full of established arms, a depressed economic landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic could allow Miami to acquire quality pitching at a fraction of the usual cost.
A noticeable strength of the up-and-coming Miami Marlins is their young starting pitching. Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, and Sixto Sánchez all appear to be locks entering 2021, but with questions surrounding the long-term projection of Elieser Hernandez, and the quandary of whether Trevor Rogers will need more seasoning in the minor leagues, they’ll be considering outside reinforcements. Here are a few established names Miami could bring in to help bolster the rotation.
Before delving into the list of possibilities, it is imperative to note that these commitments would all be on a short-term basis. Many of the names you’ll see here are nearing the tail ends of their respective careers or coming off injury filled-seasons, yet still offer substantial upside for a team that’s determined to contend.
- Mike Fiers – RHP
A South Florida-native—having been born in Hollywood and attending Deerfield Beach High before being selected by the Brewers out of Nova Southeastern in 2009—Fiers is best remembered by Marlins fans for plunking Giancarlo Stanton in the face during a September 2014 matchup when the then-Marlins right fielder being in the midst of an MVP-caliber season prior to what would later result in multiple facial fractures and lacerations. But now, given Stanton’s mammoth contract no longer being of real issue to the Marlins, the stance on Fiers seems to have softened, particularly around the game as he was the lead whistleblower in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal. As for Fiers the pitcher, while not among the elite arms available this winter, the 35-year old has been nothing short of dependable throughout his career, averaging 30 starts a year from 2015-19. His career 101 ERA+ won’t jump off the page, and there are concerns with a career low 88.4 average fastball velocity in 2020, but the team would certainly benefit from having a veteran presence in their rotation.
- Corey Kluber – RHP
If there were ever a chance for a low-risk, high-reward addition to the starting rotation, Corey Kluber would check that box. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner has been ravaged by injuries the past two seasons, with his 2019 being limited to 7 starts following a fractured right arm he suffered on a comebacker from Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson the previous May. Since the start of 2019, Kluber has thrown just 36 2⁄3 innings, pitching to a 5.80 ERA. The silver lining in this, a small sample size for a starting pitcher, is Kluber’s more modest 4.06 FIP. But concerns surrounding Kluber’s diminishing fastball velocity—which has steadily declined every year since 2015—may indicate his decline has already begun. Regardless, Miami would be foolish not to kick the tires of the likes of Kluber, who, it should be noted, pitched his college ball at Stetson, a mere 3 hours north of Miami. Should Kluber find himself pitching well amidst a struggling Marlins team, the team could recoup some value in dangling him on the trade market.
- Cole Hamels – LHP
While it may seem more likely that Hamels goes home to San Diego and pitches the twilight years of his career with the upstart Padres, divisional-familiarity could aid Miami in their pursuit of Hamels, as well as give them some much-needed left handed help in the rotation. The 2008 World Series MVP, won 114 games in parts of 10 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 123 ERA+, and making three All-Star teams in the process. While not the same pitcher he was during the first decade of his career, Hamels has managed to remain a more-than-serviceable arm the past few seasons, pitching to a 3.94 ERA and 116 ERA+ over 483.2 innings since the start of 2017. Though only limited to one start with the Braves in 2020, Hamels shouldn’t have problems finding employment in 2021, and where better than in the division he knows best?
- Gio Gonzalez – LHP
The Hialeah-native and 12-year veteran is near the end what has been a productive career. 2 All-Star appearances, a 20-win season, and a respectable 3.70 ERA, 3.68 FIP are among the numbers that stick out for NL East foe. Across 123 innings against the Marlins, Gonzalez owns a career 2.49 ERA, including a 2.82 ERA in 9 career starts at Marlins Park. As would be the case for the aforementioned Fiers, a homecoming could prove beneficial to Gonzalez and the team as a whole. Spending the 2020 season with the Chicago White Sox, Gonzalez pitched to a 4.83 ERA over 31 2⁄3 innings, his worst such mark since 2009, per baseball-reference, a sign that he has certainly slowed down. However, average fastball velocity has, while below league average, hovered around 90 mph since 2017, a span of time in which Gio posted a 121 ERA+ over 491 innings pitched. Like Kluber, though to a much lesser extent, Gonzalez is a case of low-risk, high-reward.
- Taijuan Walker – RHP
A name most wouldn’t have immediately connected to Miami, Walker is unlike the other names on the list, as age and untapped upside are still in his favor. Not expected to turn 29 until August 13th of next year, Walker took major steps forward in 2020, as the former top-prospect of the Seattle Mariners posted a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts between Seattle and Toronto. Though FIP has proven to be a more reliable means of measuring pitcher run prevention, and Walker’s 4.56 mark in 2020 represents some cause for concern, the increased usage of his slider, which topped 21.2 percent this past season as well as the implementing of a splitter (17.9 percent) make him an appealing name to multiple teams. Walker’s presence alongside Alcantara and Sánchez could pose a formidable front three should things play out for Miami, though it make take more than one-year to swoop the 6-foot-4 right-hander up off the market.