MIAMI -- After devoting much of the offseason to upgrading a stagnant offense, the Marlins’ attention in the weeks leading up to Spring Training has shifted to the bullpen.
Even though Miami has already made some moves to address the 'pen, the organization is hoping to add at least one more piece.
“We’re not done with our offseason additions,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said earlier this month on a conference call. “We’ll try to be optimistic in adding additional pieces to our bullpen before we report to Jupiter next month.”
Spring Training launches for the Marlins with pitchers and catchers workouts on Feb. 12 at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. The full-squad workouts get going on Feb. 17.
As the organization sorts through free-agent and trade options, here's a look at how the bullpen currently shapes up, and what possibilities are still out there.
Frontrunners for relief spots
The leading candidates to secure high-leverage spots are right-handers Drew Steckenrider, Ryne Stanek, José Ureña, Yimi García and Jeff Brigham. The list of lefties includes Jarlin García and Adam Conley, who avoided arbitration by signing for $1.525 million. Stephen Tarpley, who was acquired in a trade with the Yankees, offers the ability to throw multiple innings, as does Rule 5 Draft pick Sterling Sharp, previously with the Nationals. José Quijada is also on the 40-man roster, and he gained big league experience -- with mixed results -- as a rookie in 2019.
No one currently on the 40-man roster has a proven track record to close in the big leagues. And it’s still possible, if not probable, the choice to close by Opening Day is not yet in the organization. Of the in-house candidates, Steckenrider may be the best option. Foremost, Steckenrider must show he is healthy and sharp. The right-hander was limited to 15 appearances in 2019 due to right elbow inflammation. In '18, Steckenrider had five saves and appeared in 71 games, mostly in setup situations.
Stanek had experience as an opener and closer with the Rays. After he was dealt to Miami last July, he had his struggles closing, and finished with a 5.48 ERA in 22 appearances. Ureña, the Opening Day starter the past two years, is being switched to the bullpen, and he could be a potential closer. Even though he had a 9.00 ERA in 10 innings of relief last September, that’s far too small of a sample size to draw any conclusions.
There are some interesting non-roster invitees who could find themselves on the Opening Day roster -- or being called up early in the season. Pat Venditte, a “switch-pitcher,” provides two different looks -- as a lefty and a righty. With MLB’s new rule requiring relievers to face a minimum of three batters, having Venditte as an option makes plenty of sense.
Alex Vesia, the Marlins’ 17th-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, was a standout lefty in 2019, combining for a 7-2 record and 1.76 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. Pitching with a deceptive delivery, he also had a 0.95 WHIP. The southpaw got more seasoning pitching in the Arizona Fall League. Right-hander Tommy Eveld, who showed signs of promise last year in Spring Training, looks to bounce back after an otherwise inconsistent '19. At Triple-A New Orleans, he had a 7.71 ERA in 23 1/3 innings, but showed improvement after being moved to Double-A Jacksonville, posting a 2.77 ERA in 26 innings.
With less than three weeks to go before Spring Training, there promises to be a flurry of signing activity soon. The Marlins likely will be in the mix. Pedro Strop, who made 50 appearances for the Cubs last year, is a free agent drawing plenty of interest from multiple clubs -- but his asking price may not make him a match for Miami. David Phelps, with the Marlins from 2015-17, was also with the Cubs last year. He, too, is weighing all of his options. Jeremy Jeffress, a 10-year veteran and an All-Star in '18 with the Brewers, remains on the market, and could be a rebound possibility for Miami. Greg Holland had 17 saves with Arizona last year, and 206 for his career. The question with Holland is how much does he have left?