MIAMI -- As pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Wednesday, the Marlins put the finishing touches on a revamped bullpen by acquiring right-hander John Curtiss from the Rays for Minor League first baseman Evan Edwards. With a full 40-man roster, the Marlins designated outfielder Harold Ramirez for assignment as the corresponding move.
Curtiss is the Marlins’ sixth offseason addition to the relief corps. He follows free-agent signees Anthony Bass and Ross Detwiler, trade acquisitions Dylan Floro and Adam Cimber, and Rule 5 Draft pick Zach Pop. Miami made the bullpen a priority after the unit compiled a 5.50 ERA (26th in MLB) and a 1.55 WHIP (26th) in 2020. It will be tasked with complementing a young but talented starting staff that likely will see workloads managed.
Though Marlins manager Don Mattingly wouldn't commit to naming a closer, he did say that the bullpen will set its own roles based on how things play out over the spring.
"This 'pen has quietly been just kind of keep putting quality guys into it," Mattingly said on Zoom. "I think quite kind of sneakily almost. Anthony's a guy that gets a lot of leverage last year either the ninth or the eighth, so obviously he's a guy that's a candidate for the back end of the game. Yimi [García] was really good back there. Floro -- we love what he does. He was not used in as much leverage in L.A. Obviously, they were stacked in a World Series-winning team. But we think he's capable being that kind of guy. Richard Bleier's another guy that can pitch late.
“We feel like almost every guy that we put into our 'pen can pitch late in the game. And I think that's where we'll be able to match up. Keep guys strong not always having to go to the same couple of guys at the end of the game."
In 17 regular-season outings last year, Curtiss provided flexibility -- starting three games as an opener, recording two saves and finishing seven games. He posted a 1.80 ERA, a 237 ERA+ and a 0.96 WHIP across 25 innings, allowing 21 hits, striking out 25 batters and walking just three.
According to Statcast, Curtiss’ 3% walk rate was in the top 1% among Major League pitchers last season. Curtiss used a two-pitch mix of a four-seam fastball that averages 94 mph (55.7% of the time in 2020) and a slider (43.5%). From ’17-19, he made 18 appearances between the Twins and Angels.
Curtiss, who will turn 28 in April, fits the mold of what the Marlins have sought: strike throwers with team contractual control and postseason experience. A rookie in 2020, he won't become eligible for salary arbitration until '23 and won't be eligible for free agency until after the '25 season. Like Floro, Curtiss appeared in the World Series last fall.
"In terms of Floro and Curtiss, two real good arms to add to our mix," Marlins general manager Kim Ng said on Zoom. "I think one of the really intriguing things about [Floro] was that he's obviously played for the Dodgers and won a championship with them, and has experienced postseason play for the last several years of his career. He's been pretty high on our list all offseason long, and we're just lucky enough to grab him when the timing was right.
"Curtiss is a very good arm, had some nice success last year. Just brought him in to compete for a place in our 'pen."
Not a prospect or a stopgap, Ramirez was part of a numbers crunch, and Ng noted that the Marlins are trying to trade him so he can land with another big league club. When the Adam Duvall signing became official earlier on Wednesday, the Marlins had nine outfielders on the 40-man roster: Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Duvall as the projected starters; Ramirez and former prospects Lewis Brinson (one Minor League option left) and Magneuris Sierra (no options remaining) in the mix for bench roles; and prospects Jesús Sánchez, Monte Harrison and Jerar Encarnación rounding out the group.
The 26-year-old Ramirez, who signed with the Marlins as a free agent on Nov. 25, 2018, accounted for three of Miami's five walk-off wins in ’19 as a rookie. He posted a .276/.312/.416 slash line with a 92 OPS+ in 119 games. But in ‘20, he returned from the COVID-19 injured list only to strain his left hamstring in his first game back.
"A lot of them are tough calls," Mattingly said. "And I think we're finding out this year, with all the guys that we've had to DFA, I think they've all basically been picked up or there's been a trade. So we're starting to have our roster's getting good enough that we're going to lose some good guys here and there. And Harold's one of those guys. You know he's a casualty of us getting better and getting deeper."
Edwards, Miami's fourth-round selection in the 2019 MLB Draft out of North Carolina State University, slashed .281/.357/.442 with a .799 OPS in 73 games split between the low Class A and Class A levels in ’19 to begin his professional career. The 23-year-old was not ranked by MLB Pipeline on the organization's Top 30 Prospects list. Lewin Díaz, ranked as Miami's No. 8 prospect, is a first baseman who made his big league debut in ’20 and is expected to take over the position in the future.