As front office executives for the Marlins departed the Winter Meetings here on Thursday, they left with a number of items crossed off their to-do list.
Starting pitcher? Check. They signed Jeff Locke.
Backup catcher? Check. They signed A.J. Ellis.
Bullpen arm? Check. They signed Dustin McGowan.
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But the one big-ticket item on their list carried not a check but a question mark.
The Marlins were left dangling in their quest for a premier closer when Aroldis Chapman cut a record-seeing deal with the New York Yankees and Kenley Jansen kept everyone in suspense as he contemplated his options.
The Marlins, Nationals and Dodgers are all engaged in a bidding war for Jansen, who could announce his choice at any time. Does he leave Los Angeles, where he has piled up 189 saves during the past seven seasons? Or does the 29-year-old native of Curacao join the Nationals or Marlins, who seem hellbent on sprucing up their bullpen, no matter the cost?
Just how desperate are the Marlins to lasso a top-end closer?
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the historically frugal Marlins have offered Jansen a five-year deal worth more than $80 million. Their five-year offer to Chapman was rejected late Wednesday when the “Cuban Missile” accepted an $86 million package from the Yankees to return to the Bronx.
It was the richest contract ever awarded to a reliever.
But Jansen, unlike Chapman, would cost the Marlins more than just a wheelbarrow load of money. Because Jansen rejected the Dodgers’ qualifying offer to remain in Los Angeles, the Marlins would also have to forfeit next year’s first-round draft pick — 13th overall — to complete the deal.
Clearly, owner Jeffrey Loria, who has led the crusade for a closer, is prioritizing the present over the future and was directly involved in his team’s maneuverings at the Winter Meetings. Because of the tragic death of Jose Fernandez and an unappealing market for free agent starters, the strategy has been to bolster the bullpen with the best closer available.
But two of the Big 3 came off the table at the Winter Meetings when Mark Melancon signed with the Giants and Chapman accepted the Yankees’ offer over the Marlins’.
That left three teams vying for Jansen.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly would dearly love to be reunited with Jansen, whom he managed with the Dodgers. Mattingly told reporters Wednesday that he put in a call to Jansen to gauge his interest in Miami.
“If you look at his postseason numbers, this guy is incredible,” gushed Mattingly. “He’s a guy that’s durable. He’s a guy without a lot of innings on him. He’s a guy that has shown he’s capable of going one-plus [inning].”
And Jansen would anchor a Marlins bullpen that isn’t exactly shabby to begin with, not with an incumbent closer — A.J. Ramos — who registered a higher save percentage last season than Chapman or Jansen.
But what if the Marlins lose out on Jansen the way they fell short on Chapman?
The Marlins are looking at a handful of other Plan B relievers, none of whom rank with Chapman or Jansen but aren’t nearly as costly either.
Those names include Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa.
“We’re exploring numerous reliever options,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “The offseason is still ongoing. You don’t know the timeline on these things, and we’ll continue to stay in touch with the respective representatives and follow where things go.”
▪ Journeyman outfielder Matt den Dekker announced he has signed with the Marlins. It is a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.
▪ The Marlins took three players in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft: outfielder Cal Towey, lefty reliever Nick Maronde and infielder Alex Yarbrough.