The Miami Marlins have exceeded expectations so far in 2023. However, to sustain this (and to better position themselves for perennial postseason contention), they’ll likely need to acquire help from outside the organization. Leading up to the August 1 MLB trade deadline, Fish On First will profile potentially attainable players who would fit with what the Fish are building.
The bullpen has been a surprising strength of the Marlins roster this season. The club has a trusted closer in A.J. Puk. Tanner Scott is throwing more strikes than ever and excelling. It’s been a career year for Steven Okert and an exciting breakout for Andrew Nardi, who has found his niche inheriting messy situations.
What do all of those names have in common? They’re lefties.
The Marlins are more vulnerable from the right side. High-leverage standouts during the first quarter of the season, both Huascar Brazoban and Dylan Floro are in the midst of extended stretches of mediocrity. Bryan Hoeing has come down with a bad case of gopheritis (5 HR in his last 8.1 IP). Matt Barnes will undergo season-ending hip surgery. By default, JT Chargois is the bullpen’s most reliable right-hander, and to his credit, the offseason acquisition enters Sunday on a streak of eight scoreless appearances in a row (with all six of his inherited runners left stranded). But Chargois is relying heavily on ground balls while inducing swinging strikes at a career-low rate.
There are some intriguing internal candidates like prospects George Soriano, Sean Reynolds, Anthony Maldonado and Zach McCambley. Injured righties Tommy Nance and Anthony Bender (and maybe even Max Meyer) have a chance of making it back before season’s end.
If this was a typical Marlins season, letting the kids play would be a reasonable approach. As you’ve surely noticed by now, the Fish are atypically competitive (66.2% odds to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs). I think the front office should seriously pursue a formidable right-handed reliever from outside the organization.
I’m not strictly opposed to rentals, but the Marlins should prioritize arms with club control beyond 2023. Floro and Barnes (once they decline his club option) are heading for free agency this winter. Also, Miami’s farm system is on shaky ground already, making it hard to justify depleting it even further for somebody who’s only going to pitch 20-25 innings through the remainder of this regular season and then leave (e.g. David Robertson and Jordan Hicks).
The Marlins should look at righties who perform particularly well with the platoon advantage. The ability to work on back-to-back days is crucial considering how many close games this team finds itself in. Assuming that the Marlins stick with a catching tandem of Nick Fortes and Jacob Stallings, newcomers must do their part to limit the running game—far too many opponents have gone first to third by stealing second and forcing a throwing error. Ideal targets are quick to the plate with their deliveries and have low walk/hit-by-pitch rates.
Honorable Mention: Adbert Alzolay (Chicago Cubs)
I really wanted to highlight Alzolay, a Baseball Savant darling who has been outstanding in his first full season as a reliever. But the more I mull over it, the less I think he’ll be available at a reasonable price due his combination of upside, club control through 2026 and the Cubs’ aspirations to be contenders in the not-too-distant future.
Let’s focus on these four guys instead.
Justin Lawrence (Colorado Rockies)
2023 stats: 2.70 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 1.41 WPA in 46.2 IP
Lawrence is even farther away from free agency than Alzolay (still pre-arbitration eligible). Thankfully for the Marlins, he’s on a rudderless Rockies team that should be aiming to offload most of their productive big leaguers at this deadline.
Throwing from a low arm slot, the 28-year-old uses his mid-90s sinker for soft contact and his mid-80s sweeper for punchouts. He has allowed only two home runs in his 46 career appearances at Coors Field (52.2 IP).
Lawrence has stranded 23 of his 25 (92%) inherited baserunners this season, a success rate unmatched by any other MLB reliever who has inherited at least 20.
Scott Barlow (Kansas City Royals)
2023 stats: 4.09 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 0.19 WPA in 33.0 IP
Barlow has been Kansas City’s primary closer for much of the last three seasons. Even in a down year by his standards, he’s been amazing against right-handed batters (allowing .423 OPS with 39.4 K%).
Barlows ranks in the 93rd percentile among all pitchers in the majors in hard-hit rate allowed. He was in the 96th percentile in 2022.
Earning a $5.3 million salary this season, Barlow will be getting a raise during his final trip through the arbitration process into the $8 million range if he remains healthy down the stretch. That’s more than the Marlins are generally comfortable spending on any individual reliever, but that factor ought to help them acquire him from the Royals without forfeiting any of their top-tier prospects.
Carlos Estévez (Los Angeles Angels)
2023 stats: 1.75 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 2.47 WPA in 36.0 IP
A first-time All-Star in 2023, Estévez’s win probability added is the fifth-highest in the majors. He’s the hardest thrower of anybody I’ve mentioned in this article, averaging 97.1 miles per hour on his four-seamer. Unconventionally, he continues to stick with his heater in two-strike counts (83.7% of his strikeouts via fastballs).
The ever-disappointing Angels have lost 10 of their last 12 games, dropping their playoff odds into the single digits.
Like Barlow, Estévez would come with one more year of control ($6.75M in 2024). The Angels don’t need to trade him now, but this is likely the peak of his value.
Paul Sewald (Seattle Mariners)
2023 stats: 3.22 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 2.32 WPA in 36.1 IP
Sewald is the most consistent pitcher in this group and he’s doing it with 26th percentile average fastball velocity. He possesses one of the sport’s most aesthetically pleasing sweepers. The shape of that pitch is unlike any of the Marlins’ current righties—always a bonus when you can construct a bullpen with as many “different looks” as possible.
If you want to nitpick the 33-year-old, he’s been susceptible to homers when pitching on back-to-back days.
The Mariners were trending up before the All-Star break, but overall, they’re in a similar spot to the Angels and they just lost a home series to the Tigers. Yikes. They’ll need to get hot again leading up to the deadline to justify keeping their current roster together.
Sewald is under control through 2024 at a salary that will be in the Barlow/Estévez range.
Photo courtesy of carlosestevez28/Instagram