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The Marlins’ Next Batch

Any ink spilled over the Florida Marlins usually pertains to ownership, fire sales, or (until recently) relocation ideas. Their front office consistently works under a mysterious shroud and probably doesn’t get the due they deserve because of their economic standing. When one references Andrew Friedman or Billy Beane, the usual statement that follows is, “Imagine if they had Brian Cashman’s payroll.” With the Marlins, it’s more like, “Imagine if they had the Rays’ payroll.”

One of the areas the Fish seemingly succeed at – and rightfully so – is finding cheap relievers. Some of the skill is simply adaptation, since the Marlins wear gloves when looking at the more expensive options just to ensure they aren’t forced to purchase the product after a stain or smudge appears. They may as well wear Isotoners. Only three relievers have received more than $2M from the Marlins in one season since 2005. For comparison, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the third lowest payroll in the majors last season, and they had two relievers making more than $2M.

Here’s how the Marlins have ranked in reliever ERA and FIP in each season, with steady improvement noted:

2005: 27th in ERA, 16th in FIP
2006: 24th in ERA, 23rd in FIP
2007: 15th in ERA, 17th in FIP
2008: 12th in ERA, 17th in FIP
2009: 11th in ERA, 10th in FIP

The line of one-and-done relievers since 2005 is startling, with its length making John Calipari blush. First came Todd Jones, then Joe Borowski and Matt Herges, then Joe Nelson, then finally Doug Waechter, Brendan Donnelly, and Kiko Calero. Throw in a few extended stays, like Justin Miller and Kevin Gregg, and the picture becomes clear.

Even with rumors of Gregg potentially returning, the Marlins have added a few arms who look like the next junkyard rental. First came Scott Strickland, who’s pitched well since flaming out with the Houston Astros in 2005. Then Clay Hensley, technically a re-signing who spent most of his 2009 starting with the Marlins Triple-A affiliate. A pair of power arms followed, with Jose Veras and Derrick Turnbow also signing on this week.

Veras split last year between the Indians and Yankees. His fastball routinely touches over 95 MPH, although his contact rate is essentially league average. Issues with walks and longballs left him on the outside looking in. Turnbow is similar, with an extra dosage of Steve Blass’ disease. He’s thrown 30 innings in MLB and Triple-A over the last two seasons and walked 63 while doing so.

In other words, look forward to those two leading the N.L. in reliever ERA come next July.