Relive all of the ups and downs of the 2023 Miami Marlins with our Fish On First Season Review, containing detailed articles about a wide variety of players. The FOF staff analyzes the individual impact that each of them had and what it means for their future with the organization.
This installment focuses on right-handed reliever Matt Barnes.
- January 30—acquired via trade along with cash from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Richard Bleier
- April 1—made Marlins debut (1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K)
- June 2—placed on injured list with left hip impingement
- June 27—began minor league rehab assignment
- July 4—scratched from scheduled rehab appearance
- July 13—announced that he and wife Chelsea are expecting a child in January 2024 (it’s a boy, they later added)
- July 25—underwent season-ending left hip femoral acetabular impingement surgery
Season stats: 24 G/1 GS, 21.1 IP, 5.48 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 1.64 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR (age 33)
The Marlins recognized that they needed to do something during the 2022-23 offseason to change the composition of their bullpen. They pounced when the Red Sox designated Matt Barnes for assignment, seeing plenty of bounce-back potential in the former All-Star and World Series champion. Coming off his least effective Marlins campaign, lefty Richard Bleier went the other way in the trade, and Boston even included enough cash to bridge the gap between their salaries.
Creative thinking, but it turned out to be a lose-lose transaction.
Rookie manager Skip Schumaker did not name a traditional closer during 2023 spring training. Rather, the Marlins planned to mix-and-match their way through high-leverage situations. Barnes would be among those considered for save opportunities, Schumaker said.
Barnes, who had 47 career saves in Boston, did not add to that total this season. He was mainly utilized in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. He even “opened” a game for the Marlins on May 6, his first start since 2015. On the few occasions that he pitched in the ninth, the Fish were trailing by multiple runs.
Barnes didn’t miss enough bats to earn Schumaker’s trust—he set a new career low in whiff rate. Prior to 2022, Barnes had struck out 31.0% of opposing batters in his MLB career, an elite mark. That plummeted below the league average to 19.3% during his final Red Sox season. Barnes only improved slightly in that department as a Marlin, to 20.2%.
Declining fastball velocity made it more difficult for Barnes to generate swinging strikes. Accustomed to sitting in the mid-to-high 90s, his average velo dipped to 93.4 miles per hour this season. Opponents posted a .395 batting average against his four-seamer. Barnes added a splitter to his pitch mix, as explained on What a Relief, but used it only 6.0% of the time.
To be clear, though, the main issue was not Barnes’ performance: it was his lack of availability. Entering May 21, he owned a solid 3.44 earned run average through 19 appearances. Then he slipped on the mound at San Francisco’s Oracle Park (h/t MLB.com’s Christina De Nicola) and never got back to full strength. In Barnes’ final game before landing on the IL (June 1 vs. the Padres), he allowed five earned runs while recording only one out. That inflated his ERA to 5.48, his worst-ever mark for a single season.
Barnes continued to spend a lot of time around the team following his hip surgery, though it’s unlikely that he would’ve been able to pitch no matter how deep they advanced into the postseason.
Future with the Marlins
Barnes’ contract comes with a club option for the 2024 season. According to Cot’s Contracts, the value of that option rose from $8 million to $9 million based on games finished. Either way, that’s a steep price for a 33-year-old middle reliever, especially for a team like the Marlins preparing to spend on hitters at several positions and a starting pitcher to fill Sandy Alcantara’s shoes. Expect them to pay his $2.75 million buyout instead.
It is still possible that the Marlins bring Barnes back on a cheaper one-year deal, but he will have the freedom to negotiate with other teams in free agency once that option gets declined.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images