Miami aims to strengthen 'pen this offseason

Marlins eye closer candidates internally or through free agency

November 8th, 2018

MIAMI -- At the Marlins' organizational meetings in late October, manager Don Mattingly addressed the problems his team had preserving late-inning leads. It was a recurring issue all season that led to numerous demoralizing losses.
The Marlins converted just 57 percent of their save chances, and they are aiming to do something about that during the Hot Stove season. That's why the front office is exploring the reliever market and is open to signing free agents or trading for bullpen help.
Why put a premium on closer candidates on a last-place team? The rationale is simple -- blown saves deflate morale in the clubhouse. Additionally, Miami currently doesn't have a clear-cut closer.
was a possibility, but he was traded to the Nationals in October for $1 million of international bonus pool money that went toward signing Cuban free-agent outfield prospects Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr.
, coming off a season in which he appeared in 71 games, and are internal candidates.
"We're open to looking at every way as it fits for us to improve and get better," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "I think a number of our younger players in the 'pen showed a lot of promise. Steckenrider, Conley, Guerrero all showed they can pitch in high-leverage innings and get meaningful outs for us. But as young players do, they had their hiccups. So overall, as we look at our team, we need to improve."
Why prioritize the 'pen?
The Marlins saved 30 of 53 opportunities, which clearly shows a need to improve in that area.
There also is an issue of wear and tear. Miami relievers logged 606 1/3 innings, seventh most in the Majors. Overuse is part of why the bullpen's 5.34 ERA was the highest in the game.
The ninth inning was especially frustrating, and the numbers spoke for themselves. Miami's ERA in the ninth was 6.10, again worst in the Majors, as was its WHIP (1.61) and batting average against (.287).
Potential targets
The Marlins aren't expected to be big spenders in free agency, but they are open to signing a few veterans to help lock down late leads.
Fitting the mold of what Miami covets are free agents like , Jake Diekman, , Jim Johnson, and .
Closer frontrunner?
As of now, Steckenrider, who had five saves in 2018, is the most logical choice. The right-hander showed promise in the role in his second big league season, but he carried a heavy workload, striking out 74 in 64 2/3 innings.
Guerrero is the hardest thrower of the group. According to Statcast™, his average four-seam fastball was 98.8 mph, tied for the fifth-fastest four-seam or two-seam fastball of any pitcher in the league.
Conley, who converted from the rotation to the 'pen this year, could be a reliable closer. He had 50 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings. But he may be more valuable being used situationally, and he can throw multiple innings.