Tough decisions ahead for the Marlins as they move closer to constructing their 2021 team.
Welcome back to another edition of DFA Danger, where I identify specific Marlins players whose 40-man roster spots could soon be in jeopardy.
As of Wednesday morning, the Marlins roster is full. Most recently, the club announced the signing of free agent left-hander Ross Detwiler while designating fellow lefty Stephen Tarpley for assignment. The previous DFA Danger article explained why Tarpley could be on the chopping block, though there is still a slim chance that he clears waivers, at which point Miami could outright him to the minors and keep him within the organization. “DFA limbo” lasts a maximum of seven days, so his status will be resolved by Jan. 10 (if not sooner).
The Marlins have been linked to free agents Adam Duvall and Yasiel Puig by Craig Mish and Mark Feinsand, respectively. This comes on the heels of a Jon Heyman report that they’re shopping for corner outfielders, preferably those who bat from the left side and can hold their own defensive in right field. I’m skeptical of the Marlins spending big money, but they seem to be taking their search seriously enough that it will lead the acquisition of a veteran who requires a 40-man spot.
Which familiar face could be squeezed off the roster in a corresponding move?
1. Jeff Brigham
Brigham remains atop this list. He contributed just a single inning to the 2020 Marlins pitching staff. He was among the few players who never made it back to the active roster after testing positive for COVID-19. Were his symptoms particularly bad? Or should we assume that, internally, there was a lack of confidence in him being effective down the stretch?
As a reliever, the Washington native combines an explosive fastball with a high-spin slider. He has the upside to help a Marlins bullpen in flux. On the other hand, Brigham will turn 29 in February with only 55 2⁄3 mediocre major league innings on his résumé. His career has been stalled by injuries—this was his fifth straight season with a stint on the IL.
December trade pick-up Zach Pop profiles as a potential Brigham replacement. Pop showed comparable stuff to him—and translated it into awesome minor league results—when he last pitched competitively in the Orioles farm system. The Marlins sent a player to be named later to the Diamondbacks for Pop, signaling that they anticipate him sticking with them throughout 2021 (as a Rule 5 draftee, he cannot be optioned to the minors until next offseason). Because Pop underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019, the Marlins may plan for him to begin next season on the 60-day injured list—which would free up a 40-man spot—but they must wait until the beginning of spring training to make that transaction.
Also working against Brigham, he’s a holdover from the Jeffrey Loria regime. This new front office generally considers those players more expendable than the ones acquired since the ownership change.
Sierra was a beneficiary of the pandemic-shortened campaign. Active rosters expanded from 26 spots to 30. That combined with the initial virus-related absences of Matt Joyce and Lewis Brinson cleared the path for him to contribute on Opening Day. The 24-year-old demonstrated the versatility to handle all three outfield positions, good judgement on the basepaths and newfound selectivity at the plate.
That being said, Sierra finds himself back in a familiar, uncomfortable spot. Joyce is gone, but the Marlins retained Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte to stabilize left and center field, respectively, and the rumors cited in the introduction suggest that they don’t trust their internal candidates in right. Even during his “breakout” 2020 performance, Sierra posted a 95 wRC+ (league average is 100), boosting his career mark to…58.
The still-unresolved status of the universal designated hitter is another disadvantage for Sierra. Most of his opportunities to make spot starts in the outfield would be contingent on teammates getting a half-day off at DH.
Lastly, keep in mind that the outfield dimensions at Marlins Park were reduced a year ago. With less total ground to patrol, defensive range is not as important as it used to be.
From the previous DFA Danger article:
“It is reasonable to believe that Sierra will be a more impactful player than Brinson moving forward, who is two years older and severely limited in certain areas. But I expect the latter’s raw power potential, marketability and one remaining minor league option to help him survive the latest roster crunch.”
The front office’s strong interest in the corner outfielder market now has me less confident in Brinson’s future with the Fish.
During 2020, Brinson improved his production versus non-fastballs. His defense was excellent. From late August through mid-September, he may have been the most valuable Marlin. Because of that hot streak, his backstory and his charisma, some fans are understandably enamored with the former top prospect.
However, don’t lose sight of the big picture. Since his 2017 MLB debut, Brinson has been among the league’s worst players. Despite the nice flashes, I think it speaks volumes that with Joyce slumping and Marte injured, Don Mattingly mostly kept him on the bench during the Marlins’ postseason run. Even Sierra received a larger share of playing time.
Baseball Trade Values (BTV) ranks Brinson as the Miami’s second-worst trade asset, only ahead of Dickerson whose value is sabotaged by his high salary.
Other names to watch: Jorge Guzman, Jordan Holloway, Harold Ramirez