And there were three.
If the Miami Marlins were hoping for simple decisions for their rotation, they have another thing coming. The fact the team used the offseason to make deal after deal for pitching – both in the rotation and in the bullpen – will cause many sleepless nights for both arms and management.
The Marlins have a situation that many teams would envy, with too many arm and not enough spots on the roster. While the minor league system is thin, the 40-man roster provides hope that the pitchers who do not make the main roster will start the season in both New Orleans (Triple A) and Jacksonville (Double A).
The first four spots in the rotation appear to be locked, but the fifth spot – the one that maligned the team most of the season – is a cause for concern and competition.
“The front office has made it clear it is open to non-traditional approaches to get the most out of its staff,” writes Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. “Dan Straily, Jeff Locke and Jose Urena will be in the running for the final rotation spot, but it appears all three will make the Opening Day roster.”
Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said manager Don Mattingly, pitching coach Juan Nieves and vice president of pitching development Jim Benedict are figuring out how to get the most out of what the organization has.
The Marlins also have to figure out what it will do with Jake Esch. Luis Castillo and Austin Brice were jettisoned to Cincinnati in the Straily trade. My guess is Esch starts the season in New Orleans and could move to the main roster during the season due to injury. A starter in the minors, he could be used as a long reliever on the major league level. Justin Nicolino also falls in the same situation. Nicolino spent time between both New Orleans and Miami for most of the season. The Castillo trade makes things a bit easier to deal with now that one potential spot opens up in the pitching staff.
Straily will go into Spring Training as the leader in the clubhouse (pun intended) to claim the fifth spot in the rotation after Locke was the presumed leader to start for the Marlins once he was signed in free agency from Pittsburgh. Locke could fill the role that David Phelps did last season – starting out in the bullpen and then move to the rotation when needed to fill in gaps due to injury or poor performance.
Frisaro said the Miami also intends to give Urena every chance to make the club. The hard-throwing right-hander is out of options, so he can't be sent to Triple-A New Orleans if he doesn't get on the roster. He'd have to first be designated for assignment, and chances are slim that he would clear waivers and come back.
The Marlins could end up trading Urena, but they haven't made strong attempts to do so because they believe he has too much upside. Miami doesn't have much big league-ready starting pitching depth, and the club doesn't want to part with Urena.