As spring training comes to a close on Sunday, Marlins manager Don Mattingly and president of baseball operations Mike Hill provided some clarity regarding the team’s major-league roster heading into Opening Day. Here are the highlights:
Chen to the bullpen
The biggest news of the day: Wei-Yin Chen, the Marlins’ 33-year-old left-handed pitcher, will move to the bullpen.
Chen, who still has two years on his contract and is due $20 million this season and $22 million in 2020, had widely different results last year depending on where he played.
On the road, Chen went 1-9 with a 9.27 ERA — the highest in the majors. At Marlins Park, he had a 1.62 ERA.
“For us, we’re just looking at what’s best for this team, for this organization, to maximize our assets and put ourselves in the best position to win ballgames,” Hill said. “We felt like, given that information that we’ve gone through spring, that it was the best fit to have him as an additional lefty in the ‘pen to come get outs for us.”
The move is a big one for Chen, who has been a starter for all of his seven years in the major league except for when he made four relief appearances while recovering from a partially torn UCL.
For his career, Chen is 59-50 with a 4.02 ERA over 174 appearances (170 starts). During his three years with the Marlins, Chen is 13-18 with a 4.75 ERA.
Chen had a 9.37 ERA over five appearances. His one solid performance came on March 9 against the Washington Nationals, during which he gave up just one hit in four shutout innings out of the bullpen. He retired 12 of 13 batters he faced, never facing a batter twice. He gave up at least three earned runs in every other outing.
“Given the choice, I’d like to be a starter for the Marlins, because starting is what I’ve always been doing. It’s more natural and comfortable for me,” Chen said. “But, of course, I’m in the bullpen and I’ll try to make the best the decision and I will not let it affect me mentally. I will look to fit into that role and help the team as much as possible.”
Where does that leave the rotation?
Jose Urena is the Opening Day starter. That much we know.
The rest of the rotation — the other four starters and the order in which they will make their starts — has still not been publicly announced.
“We still haven’t have conversations with everyone and that’s the only true holdup,” Mattingly said. “I’m not quite sure when we’ll announce the order but we still have to make sure we have those conversations. … Thursday at noon the rosters get posted. I think guys in general have pretty good ideas but you would like to at least have a conversation with them.”
There are five guys competing for those four spots: Dan Straily, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith.
But regardless of how the order shapes out, Hill made a point to say that “those six starters in some form or fashion will be in the big leagues to open the season.”
With that, there are two likely scenarios with how this plays out. The first — and most likely — is that the one who doesn’t make the rotation starts the year out of the bullpen and makes spot starts when one of the five needs a breather and to help divide innings for the younger starters. The second is that one of those four starts on the Injured List as the team eases him into the season.
Riley Ferrell, a Rule 5 draft pick from the Houston Astros who has impressed this spring, is dealing with bicep tendinitis and his status for Opening Day is up in the air.
As a Rule 5 pick, Ferrell has to stay on the 25-man roster all season and be active for at least 90 days or else he will be returned to the Astros.
In seven appearances this spring, Ferrell has struck out eight and given up just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.
“His fate can impact the rest of our bullpen,” Hill said, “so that’s why nothing is ever finalized until it’s final.”
Should Ferrell open the season on the Injured List, Nick Anderson or Tyler Kinley could be potential replacements in the bullpen to start the year. Both are on the 40-man roster.
A small group of non-roster invitees that had opt-out clauses in their minor-league contracts made decisions about their future with the organization.
Catcher Bryan Holaday requested his on Thursday, which triggered a 48-hour window in which the Marlins could negotiate with him to add him to the 40-man roster or grant him his unconditional release and make him a free agent.
First baseman Pedro Alvarez both exercised his opt-out clause on Saturday, starting a 48-hour window. Hill said Alvarez was informed he will not be on the 40-man roster.
Harold Ramirez, Deven Marrero and Dixon Machado did not exercise their opt-out clause and barring a change over the next few days will report to Triple-A New Orleans.