Marlins won't sacrifice young arms for offense

December 16th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Adding an impactful hitter remains the Marlins' top priority, not subtracting any of their controllable starting pitchers.

The organization continues to move in the direction of addressing its highest need -- to bolster a sluggish offense -- even with a majority of MLB teams repeatedly checking the availability of three controllable starters: Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and Pablo López.

"I'd say a majority of the marketplace has checked in on the availability of our starting pitching," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said on Wednesday night at the Winter Meetings.

But rather than part with anyone from the rotation, the Marlins are more likely to swing a deal with any number of free-agent hitting options. Outfielder Kole Calhoun, as first reported by's Jon Paul Morosi, is a possibility.

Hill confirmed on Wednesday night that much of Miami's activity at the Winter Meetings has been meeting with representatives of free-agent hitters.

"That's been the majority of the meetings here," Hill said. "Most of our peers we deal over the phones for 11 months. We sort of just work from our rooms with ideas and go back-and-forth. It's more of the agent that wants the face time here."

Calhoun, 32, fits what the Marlins are seeking: a proven veteran who can be a placeholder until some of the top outfield prospects, like Monte Harrison and Jesús Sánchez, are ready.

With the Angels in 2019, Calhoun hit .232/.325/.467 with 33 home runs and 74 RBIs. He and Corey Dickerson, among others, are free agents the Marlins have met with.

At the Winter Meetings, the Marlins did have a discussion that didn't go far with the Rangers regarding outfielder Nomar Mazara. Whether it was sincere is not clear because the Rangers asked for Alcantara, a proposal that was immediately rejected.

The Rangers on Tuesday traded Mazara to the White Sox for center-field prospect Steele Walker.

"There's still teams, a lot of teams, that call on our starting pitching, because it's young, it's good and it's affordable," Hill said. "That's always the case. If you have good, young affordable pitching, you're going to get phone calls."

Alcantara has emerged as Miami's ace, logging 197 1/3 innings in 2019 with a 3.88 ERA.

Smith, the lone left-hander projected in the rotation, went 10-11 with a 4.52 ERA in 153 1/3 innings. His first half was dramatically better than his second (3.50 ERA in 13 starts before the All-Star break, compared to 5.42 in 15 starts afterwards).

López, 23, has missed time the past two seasons with right shoulder issues, going 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 111 1/3 innings in 2019.

To move any of their controllable starters, the Marlins are seeking a high return. Another drawback to moving the young starters is the ramifications it would have on the short- and long-term goals of the organization.

Even with Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez and Robert Dugger providing depth with big league experience, the Marlins are cautious about trading any starters.

A year ago, the Marlins used 10 different starters, and in 2018, they needed 13 to cover the season.

The Marlins are open to trading José Ureña, who doesn't have a defined role right now because he could either start or relieve. They also are trying to avoid having to go into the trade or free-agent markets for starters because the cost to acquire is so high.

Recently, right-hander Tanner Roark reportedly signed for two years and $24 million with the Blue Jays, and Jordan Lyles went to the Rangers for two years and $16 million.

That's not even mentioning the contracts that went to the top arms of the free-agent class. Gerrit Cole agreed with the Yankees on a record-setting nine-year, $324 million deal, the richest contract for a starter. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Nationals for seven years, $245 million, and Zack Wheeler went to the Phillies for five years, $118 million.

All those contracts have made Miami rethink trading young starters, especially with the organization in the third year of its building process and not a player or two away from contending in 2020.

"It's a scary thought when you think about the market and how difficult it was to acquire the starting pitching that we acquired," Hill said. "It would have to be a piece that we really feel is a big part of the near term and the future, for us to part with it."