Spring Training for the Marlins gets underway with pitchers' and catchers' workouts beginning on Feb. 14 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. As the countdown continues, MLB.com is taking a position-by-position look at how Miami's 2017 squad is shaping up. This is the second in a multipart Around the
Spring Training for the Marlins gets underway with pitchers' and catchers' workouts beginning on Feb. 14 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. As the countdown continues, MLB.com is taking a position-by-position look at how Miami's 2017 squad is shaping up. This is the second in a multipart Around the Horn series that will run periodically until camp starts. Today's focus: the bullpen.
MIAMI -- After coming up short in the free-agent sweepstakes for closers Albertin Chapman and Kenley Jansen, the Marlins redirected and signed a couple of veterans to help solidify an already deep bullpen.
The additions of Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa will strengthen what the Marlins felt was a strong relief corps. Without a dominant rotation, Miami is banking on the bullpen being able to shorten games and lock down leads.
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Along with Ziegler and Tazawa, the Marlins also brought back one of their own free agents, right-hander Dustin McGowan, who returns after posting a 2.82 ERA in 2016.
"You're just adding layers of quality in that 'pen," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "Our goal is to try to build the deepest, most versatile, but most importantly, the most effective bullpen possible."
Ziegler, Tazawa and McGowan join a bullpen that already features closer A.J. Ramos and right-handed setup men Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps.
If Chapman or Jansen were added, Miami would have had that dominant closer. But each would have come at a high cost -- more than $80 million over five years. Without the big-ticket closer, the Marlins allocated their financial resources across the board. This year, Ziegler will make $7 million, Tazawa will make $5 million and McGowan will make $1.75 million.
Ramos, who saved 40 games and was an All-Star in 2016, avoided arbitration by signing for $6.55 million. Phelps' salary will be determined at an arbitration hearing. The right-hander filed at $4.6 million, and the club countered at $4.325 million. It will be one of those two figures. Perhaps if Chapman or Jansen came to Miami, the Marlins may have considered trading one of their core relievers.
Now, the bullpen has strength in numbers. It has six proven veterans, who all happen to throw right-handed.
Hill has said the best group of seven, or maybe eight, will make the club, regardless of the side on which they throw. The bullpen also provides a variety of looks, and it has swing-and-miss stuff. Barraclough topped all National League relievers last year in strikeouts per nine innings (14.00), while Phelps was seventh (11.84) and Ramos 24th (10.27).
Ziegler had a ground-ball percentage of 65.8 percent, which was fourth highest among relievers in the Majors. McGowan had a ground-ball rate of 55 percent, tied for 37th among all relievers.
The Marlins don't have many left-handed options. Hunter Cervenka is a southpaw on the 40-man roster, and he pitched in Miami last year. But the club may go with right-hander Jose Urena, a hard thrower who has started and pitched in relief. Urena is out of options, meaning if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, the Marlins risk losing him on waivers.
The Marlins are not short on bullpen depth. There is a possibility Nick Wittgren and Brian Ellington could both open the year at Triple-A New Orleans. Wittgren threw 51 2/3 innings and Ellington threw 33 with Miami last year.
Austin Brice and prospect Drew Steckenrider are a couple of right-handers who throw in the upper 90s who may also open at New Orleans.
From the big league level to their upper Minor League affiliates, the Marlins have created bullpen depth. And still more moves could come. If a reliever remains available that makes sense, another signing could occur before Spring Training begins.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.