The Marlins are going for it.
For the first time in years, the Marlins made a splashy midseason trade designed to strengthen their roster, acquiring veteran reliever Fernando Rodney from the San Diego Padres in exchange for a minor-league pitching prospect.
Rodney, 39, has 17 saves and a minuscule 0.31 ERA for the Padres this season and immediately bolsters the back end of a Marlins bullpen that wasn’t bad to begin with.
“It’s strengthened a strength,” said Mike Berger, the Marlins’ assistant general manager. “It’s not as if we addressed an area of weakness. We have a very strong bullpen to begin with. Now it’s one man stronger.”
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To land Rodney, the Marlins gave up Chris Paddack, a promising right-hander who has not allowed a hit for Single A Greensboro (North Carolina) in his past three games.
Paddack, 20, was the Marlins’ eighth-round draft pick in 2015 and owns an impressive 0.95 ERA.
But Paddack is probably a few years away and, with the Marlins still in contention, their front office decided to move ahead of the market and make a deal now rather than wait for the Aug. 1 trade deadline. That meant giving up one of their few good prospects in an otherwise talent-depleted minor-league system.
It’s not the first time they’ve pulled off such a move.
In 2003, they dealt future All-Star Adrian Gonzalez for a half-season of reliever Ugueth Urbina, who was instrumental in that year’s World Series title run.
Whether the Marlins intend to make Rodney their closer or use him in a setup role for incumbent closer A.J. Ramos remains a mystery. Ramos has converted all 24 of his save opportunities this season.
But Rodney has 14 years of major-league experience and 253 career saves.
“Right now, until we have a chance to talk to Fernando, there’s nothing I want to talk about role-wise publicly,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Rodney is scheduled to join the team on Friday.
“I think we look at it as we just added a guy who has been rolling this year,” Mattingly said of Rodney, who has given up just two earned runs in 28 1/3 innings. “He has a history of being really good late in games.”
No matter who ends up closing — Rodney or Ramos — the Marlins have significantly improved the late-inning depth to their bullpen, which will enable Mattingly to ease the workloads of their other bullpen arms, most notably David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough.
“It just makes our team better,” Phelps said. “That’s all it really boils down to. We’ve seen it in the past. Kansas City was a perfect example what they’ve done the past two years to shorten the game, get to their bullpen.
“It takes some stress off starters and takes stress off our bullpen as well. In an ideal world it plays out great. We’re just excited to have another good arm in the bullpen.”
Other than the prized prospect they had to give up in Paddack, Rodney comes relatively cheap. The Marlins will be required to foot the pro-rated portion of his $1.6 million contract for this season and hold a team option for 2017 at $2 million.
The Marlins aren’t done shopping. They’re still hoping to trade for a starting pitcher.
“I don’t think the club’s finished,” Berger said. “If there’s an opportunity to make this club better, our guys deserve it. They deserve it. Whether anything else comes to fruition remains to be seen.”
▪ With one less pitch in his weaponry, the Marlins are hoping to see improvement from Justin Nicolino when he takes the mound on Friday night against Atlanta.
The Marlins are expected to recall Nicolino from Triple A New Orleans.
Nicolino was demoted after going 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA for the Marlins.
But since returning to New Orleans and dropping the cutter from his arsenal, the lefty has shown improvement, allowing only two runs in 13 1/3 innings in two starts for the Zephyrs.
▪ Friday: Marlins LHP Nicolino (2-4, 5.17 ERA) at Atlanta Braves RHP Julio Teheran (3-7, 2.46), 7:35 p.m., Turner Field.
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (10-3, 2.28) at Braves (to be announced), 4:10 p.m., Turner Field.