Prior to this year, the Marlins organization had been notoriously known throughout Major League Baseball as one not to shy away from a “fire-sale.” They took this approach in both years following their World Series Championships in 1997 and 2003, and they also cleaned house when their experiment with Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and so on did not work out. “Tanking” a couple seasons does not excite a fanbase whatsoever, but this rebuilding strategy is proven to work, and the recent success of teams like the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs can be attributed to this method.
The Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, and Cincinnati Reds are all ballclubs taking some degree of this approach for the upcoming season, and with so many teams doing so in the National League for 2016, it seems odd for the Miami Marlins to be floating somewhere in the middle. The Marlins finished 19 games back of the first place New York Mets in the NL East last season but were without their ace, Jose Fernandez, and the most dangerous power bat in the game, Giancarlo Stanton, for a large portion of the year. Miami also had injured and off years from players like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, and theyended up firing their manager Mike Redmond before the All-Star break even hit.
Despite the team’s messy and lost season of 2015, the Marlins are actually not a bad ballclub. Their lineup and core players are all talented and fairly young, and they could probably make some noise in the National League Wild Card race had they just a bit more pitching. Now, they aren’t fully committed to going for this season, but the Marlins at least acquired an arm to step in behind Fernandez in the starting rotation, lefthander Wei-Yin Chen.
Ken Rosenthal first reported that Miami was actively pursuing Chen this week, and while other teams were still in on the 30 year-old, they were a bit more distant with Chen attached to a draft pick. This weeded out teams like the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals, so the coast was clear for the Marlins whose first round pick in the 2016 draft is protected. According to Buster Olney, Chen’s deal is worth $80MM over the course of five years, with an opt-out after two, and a sixth-year vesting option based on how many inning he pitches (180 IP in 2020, or 360 IP between ‘19 and ‘20). Chen’s deal is also backloaded for the most part, as he will receive a $8MM signing bonus, $6MM for 2016, $14MM for 2018, and he would end up forfeiting $52MM if he chooses to opt-out.
There is no doubt that Miami slightly overpaid to bring on Chen, but the consensus as to whether this was a good move or not is a bit more gray. Some believe that Chen is an underrated lefty starter, while others feel some of his success was indicative of the way the Orioles had the luxury of using him with their strong bullpen and just a little bit of luck on his side. Chen generally sits somewhere between 90-94 MPH with his velocity, and while he’s deceptive in his delivery, he doesn’t miss a ton of bats, nor does he generate a lot of ground balls. He is a flyball pitcher that has been susceptible to the home run, having a HR/FB ratio of about 11.2%, but he is also 14 games over .500 in his four-year career.
Though Chen profiles as more of a number-three starter than a number-two, this is a solid arm and a good pick up for the Marlins. Chen’s 3.34 ERA last season was probably thanks in part to Baltimore’s stellar defense, but he will be moving to one of the bigger ballparks in all of baseball in Miami and may benefit from the shorter lineups of the National League as he is not a real innings easier. Though the standard statistics don’t jump off the page for Chen, the advanced metrics shows that he is a great deal more effective than he often gets credit for. Chen finished 2015 ranked seventh among all qualifying pitchers in the Majors in soft-contact. His 21.9% soft contact rate was just one point behind NL Cy Young Winner Jake Arrieta and .2% better than runner-up, Zack Greinke.