To say the Marlins enjoyed diminished returns from their acquisition of Wei-Yin Chen would be a kind way to put it.
Prior to the 2016 season, Wei-Yin Chen was brought in to augment Jose Fernandez and the starting rotation. Believed at the time to be a second “ace” potential starting pitcher, The Marlins signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal, with a $16 million vesting option that Chen is very unlikely to achieve. In the meantime, the Marlins will pay Chen $20 million for what will undoubtedly be his last season in south Florida.
The Marlins signed Chen after the left-hander dropped a pretty good 2015 on the Baltimore Orioles. He was 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.218 WHIP over 191 1/3 frames. Chen averaged 176 2/3 innings and a 1.252 WHIP over his four seasons with the Birds.
The Marlins, and those of us watching hopefully from a distance, didn’t have to wait long before disappointment reared its head. Limited by injury to 22 starts in his first season with the club, Chen was 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA, well below the National League “break even” point and a team fourth-worse -0.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
2017 would be the only season that Chen has finished the season “above replacement level,” with WAR of 0.4. Unfortunately, Chen missed from May until September with an injury, and pitched only 33 innings. His season-ending 1.030 WHIP was by far the best mark of his career, and a mark he wouldn’t again approach.
In 2018, Chen made 26 starts for the Marlins, ranking behind only righty José Ureña‘s 31. Chen was 6-12 with a rotation-worst 4.79 ERA and a 1.385 WHIP. Terrible numbers to be sure, but marks that would dwarf Chen’s 2019 output.
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After a very disappointing Spring Training, Chen and his expensive left arm were taken out of the rotation and sent to the Marlins bullpen. Unable to unload Chen’s untenable deal and unwilling to dole out “money for nothing,” the Marlins felt that Chen could best serve as a swing-man.
Chen failed to live up to Miami’s considerably diminished expectations. In 45 appearances in relief, Chen racked up a 1.537 WHIP and a 6.59 ERA while serving as the last option in a mostly “four-A” bullpen – and while collecting a team-high $20 million. Chen’s -1.1 WAR was the worst mark of his career, but still considerably ahead of Marlins teammate Lewis Brinson (-2.2), slightly ahead of Martin Prado (-1.3) and Austin Dean (-1.2), and tied with fellow lefty Adam Conley (-1.1).
Going forward, it remains impossible that anyone will trade for Chen and his massive deal. The best the Marlins can do right now is to waive Chen and free up that valuable roster spot for someone who can actually impact the club in a more positive manner. So far, however, Miami has not indicated any such inclination.
Look for Chen to open the 2020 campaign as he opened the 2019 – as an expensive and nearly unusable drag to an underwhelming bullpen.