Let me begin by saying that Steve Cishek is the Marlins closer. The only way that is going to change is if the front office in Miami gets a great offer in trade. Here is the thing, that is not completely inconceivable. Cishek was a hot name on the market for much of the second half of last year, but the Marlins held firm in the stance not to trade the side-arm reliever. If Cishek continues to rack up saves for Miami, they may not have a choice. Here are some potential replacements if they decide to pull the trigger on a trade.
Balfour is one of the better closers on the market. He saved 38 games last year for the A’s, but I wouldn’t expect them to be able to resign him with Oakland’s brand of money ball that they use. Balfour posted an ERA of 2.59, which is the fourth consecutive year of an ERA under 3. He struck out an excellent 10.34 hitters per 9 innings, with a strand rate of 84%.
Things aren’t all great for Balfour. He is an elder statesman for a pitcher at 36 year’s old, certainly a question mark around how much longer he can be effective. He is also coming off some injuries in recent years that could cause some general managers to be wary.
Regardless, some team is going to take a chance on signing Balfour, likely to a 3 year deal. Look for one in the low 20 million. The question is whether Miami would be interested. If I were assuming that Cishek was traded, then I would believe that Balfour would be an option. Since he isn’t, I can’t see Miami paying for Balfour.
Likelihood of Becoming a Marlin:1/10
Mujica was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals two seasons ago, and has seen his career take off. Since pitching as a set-up man for the Marlins, he rose to the role of closer on the Cardinals last year, following some injuries to their bullpen. He took full advantage of that with a sparkling season that will help his next contract.
Mujica is not a traditional closer, considering that he has a career strikeout rate of 7.17. Last year he benefited greatly from a spike in strand rate, jumping 13 percentage points from his career average, 73 to 86. His 86% shouldn’t be sustainable which will see is ERA jump. Another cause for concern was a FIP that was almost a full run higher than his ERA. He posted a career best in walks allowed per nine innings, effectively cutting it in half. All of these signs point to a regression next year, and some team may end up paying for a career year, yet getting a set-up man.
One positive for Mujica is his control. Many closers struggle with accuracy at times, but Mujica has a career walk rate of 1.39 per nine innings. Generally he won’t beat himself in the ninth inning.
I think the Marlins would value their familiarity with Mujica, but he probably won’t be interested in returning to a set-up role, considering the large discrepancy in salary between the two. I don’t think he is going to return to St. Louis since they have a young Trevor Rosenthal who seems primed to step onto the big stage. Someone will pay Mujica his money, I just don’t think it will be the Marlins, and I am grateful for that.
Likelihood of Becoming a Marlin Again: 2/10
The Marlins would be wise to pay attention to Ryan Madson this off-season. It seems as if injuries have derailed a once promising career, but it might allow the Marlins to take a chance on a potentially stellar bullpen arm, if healthy. Madson saved 32 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, unfortunately that was also the last season that he threw a pitch in the major leagues. He lost the next season to injury, and repeatedly had set-backs during his rehab that cost him 2013 as well.
It is possible that some team might view him as a closer, but he is certainly on the bottom of the barrel of a relatively deep closer class in free agency. I suspect that someone might give him an opportunity to set-up, with the potential to close if an existing closer struggles.
Steamer projects Madson to strike out nearly 9 per inning, to go along with an ERA of 3.32. Those numbers would be fine for Madson’s projected upcoming contract. I feel that for Madson to get anything more than a one year deal with playing time incentives would be a stretch. The Angels basically threw away 3.5 million dollars last year and Madson didn’t get into one game. Look for him to drop to around 1 million dollars this year.
Madson would fit into the Marlins budget and could be a valuable arm for them. Madson could also prove to be a trade chip himself if he pitches well and Miami continues to ignore offers to obtain Cishek. I question what signing Madson would do to Cishek’s confidence, which would certainly be a concern I would have, but I think he could help the Marlins, particularly where Dan Jennings struggled last year.
In the end, I don’t expect the Marlins to sign him, but he is the closest that I can see to Miami signing a reliever.
Likelihood of Becoming a Marlin: 3/10
Here is the complete list of free agent closer’s this off-season:
Grant Balfour (36)
Joaquin Benoit (36)
Rafael Betancourt (39)
Kevin Gregg (36)
Joel Hanrahan (32)
Ryan Madson (33)
Edward Mujica (30)
Joe Nathan (39)
Chris Perez (28)
Fernando Rodney (37)
Jose Veras (33)
Brian Wilson (32)
I want to give a special shout-out to MLBTradeRumors.com for compiling all the lists that we have used over our free agent discussions. Go check their site out and read up on the Marlins there also.
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