MIAMI -- MLB’s new rule requiring relievers to face a minimum of three batters or finish an inning in 2020 has reshaped the thinking of front offices when it comes to how they construct their bullpens.
After completing a couple of roster moves on Monday, the Marlins have now shaken up the left-handed reliever options manager Don Mattingly will have at his disposal this season.
As corresponding moves made to free up 40-man roster space for right-hander Brandon Kintzler and outfielder Matt Joyce on Monday, lefty relievers Jarlin García and José Quijada were designated for assignment. The Marlins have seven days (from Monday) to either trade García and Quijada or place them on irrevocable waivers.
Whatever the outcome is for those two, Miami now must address its left-handed bullpen situation. Who will get the nod to face tough lefty hitters?
The hope is García and Quijada’s replacements already are in the organization: Stephen Tarpley and prospect Alex Vesia now are in line to take their places.
The Marlins acquired Tarpley from the Yankees for infield prospect James Nelson on Jan. 15. Vesia, a 17th-round pick by Miami in 2018, will be in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
Lefty Adam Conley, the club’s most experienced lefty, avoided arbitration in January by signing for $1.525 million. Another potential left-handed option is Pat Venditte, a non-roster invitee with big league experience who throws with both hands.
With MLB rosters expanding to 26 this year, each club can carry no more than 13 pitchers. The Marlins likely will keep at least two left-handers, with Conley and Tarpley the front-runners. Vesia is viewed more as a lefty of the future, basically inheriting Quijada’s role.
In the case of García, being out of options factored into the decision, as the organization couldn’t send him to the Minor Leagues if he were to struggle during the season. Tarpley has two more option years remaining, giving the club more roster flexibility.
Tarpley offers versatility because he’s been a starter in the past, though he hasn't started regularly since 2016. And the Marlins will be counting on him being able to handle both right- and left-handed hitters. He has limited big league experience from 2018-19, appearing in 31 total games with one start, when he opened one of the Yankees' London Series games vs. Boston in '19. In 33 2/3 MLB innings, Tarpley has a 5.88 ERA.
At Triple-A last year, however, he was 5-1 with a 3.13 ERA in 31 2/3 innings. Tarpley appeared in 21 games and had a 6.93 ERA in 24 2/3 innings with the Yankees in 2019. Left-handed hitters in the Minors last year batted .163 off Tarpley, compared to .240 for right-handed hitters.
Vesia is not currently on MLB Pipeline's list of the Marlins' Top 30 Prospects, but he is a promising southpaw from Cal State East Bay. At three levels in 2019, the lefty was 7-2 with a 1.76 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. Opponents hit just .187 off him.
Vesia was especially dominant at Double-A Jacksonville, where he didn’t allow a run in 16 1/3 innings. He also impressed in the Arizona Fall League (no runs allowed in 10 1/3 innings). While it is unlikely he will make the Opening Day roster, Vesia could move quickly through the system, and become an option for Miami this season.
Spring Training will help sort out roles for the relievers, and the Marlins will get more answers once pitchers and catchers’ workouts get underway on Feb. 12 at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.