MIAMI -- The Hot Stove is gaining steam, so let's waste no time diving into the latest Marlins Inbox.
The Marlins were interested in Manny Piña, but he went to Atlanta. Will they pivot to another small free agent signing, or do you think the next catching acquisition will come via trade now? -- @Sevento17
Several fans inquired about the Marlins' catching situation, and understandably so. In 2021, Miami backstops compiled a -0.1 WAR per FanGraphs -- 26th in the Majors. At the GM Meetings in late October, Kim Ng was asked whether the 2022 Opening Day catcher was on the roster. Her response? "We're looking to get better, however we can get better."
That's certainly not a vote of confidence for Jorge Alfaro, who is a non-tender candidate come Tuesday in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Alex Jackson as well as rookies Nick Fortes and Payton Henry don't appear ready for primary catching duties, so an external option will be needed to handle the pitching staff and provide enough production behind the plate.
MLB.com colleague Mike Petriello recently wrote a piece about the difficulty of finding a catcher in a weak free-agent market. Only three of those backstops posted a positive WAR in 2021. Miami's best bet was always going to be via the trade route. That's where having a top-5 farm system comes in handy. In order to receive talent, especially at a position lacking depth across the Majors, one must give up talent. Two weeks ago, MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi tweeted about Toronto's Alejandro Kirk. Petriello likes Minnesota's Mitch Garver. Fans would prefer Chicago's Willson Contreras or Pittsburgh's Jacob Stallings. Many factors will come into play -- from years of club control to prospect packages to what the organization values most from a catcher.
Which of our pitchers do you see as being trade chips, untouchable or possible movers? Or could we hold on to them and bolster the bullpen with their arms? -- @marlinso05
Ace Sandy Alcantara, who is reportedly nearing an extension, and NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Trevor Rogers should be untouchable. In the Kirk discussion, Morosi brought up right-handers Pablo López and Elieser Hernandez as trade chips. That makes sense because both are arbitration eligible for the first time and have injury histories. López has more value with a 132 ERA+ over the past two seasons, but you bring up a good point about boosting the bullpen. Hernandez would be a great candidate with his wipeout slider (32.7% whiff rate). Plus, his splits the first time through the order (.675 OPS) compared to the second (.827) and third (1.429) fit a reliever profile.
It's no secret that starting depth is the organization's strength, giving Miami the ability to trade from a surplus. However, as was quite obvious in 2021, teams can never have enough pitching. The Marlins, in fact, set a franchise record with 18 pitchers making a start. Consider it a cautionary tale since López, Hernandez, Edward Cabrera, Sixto Sánchez and Cody Poteet have been limited by injuries.
Speaking of ...
Is Sixto Sánchez still a part of the Marlins' long-term plans?
The Marlins certainly aren't going to give up on the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto trade. Sánchez, ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 41 overall prospect, is rehabbing from right shoulder surgery. Last month, Ng said that players who underwent season-ending procedures were on track. But how will the 23-year-old Sánchez look come Spring Training?
Will the Marlins spend $50 million or more on the free-agent market? If so, how is it spent? If not, why? -- @bassmasterrrr4
I think a more fair question is how much will the payroll increase in 2022? The Marlins have 11 players up for arbitration, including Alcantara. If players like Alfaro are non-tendered, that frees up additional money to sign free agents.
Adding multiple bats won't come cheap via free agency or trade. The Marlins will always face stiff competition when trying to sign free agents because larger markets can outbid them. At the end of the day, there is only so much a club can do; a player might see a different spot as a better fit. Remember, the Mets were unable to sign several top free agents last year.
"A lot of players go their whole career to get the opportunity to be a free agent, so I'm sure their phones are ringing from all different organizations," CEO Derek Jeter said on Friday. "When you go through that process, all we can do from our standpoint is just make sure that they're aware with what we're building here and give them all the information that they need to make a decision. So that's one of the benefits of being a free agent: You have choices. I think people are aware of what we're doing down here. They're aware of what our expectations are here in Miami, and I think they've appreciated the meetings that we've had."