Barry Jackson

Miami Marlins plan for payroll purging, face pitching problems

Marlins' pitcher #61 Adam Conley throws a pitch in the first inning as the Miami Marlins host the San Francisco Giants on Monday, August 14, 2017.
Marlins' pitcher #61 Adam Conley throws a pitch in the first inning as the Miami Marlins host the San Francisco Giants on Monday, August 14, 2017.

A few Marlins notes on a Monday:

• As the Marlins begin to strategize how to slash about $50 million from what would be a $140 million payroll if the team is kept intact, among their biggest challenges is assembling a big-league caliber starting rotation.

Face it: The Marlins enter the winter with only two reliable starting pitchers: Dan Straily (10-9, 4.26) and Jose Urena (14-7, 3.82).

It’s possible the Marlins could dangle Straily for young pitching prospects - essentially doing something like last winter’s Luis Castillo trade with the Reds in reverse.

Beyond that, there’s no clear cut third starter, let alone a fourth or fifth.

Wei-Yin Chen would easily project as the No. 3 starter if the Marlins could count on him being healthy. But they can’t.

Though he reportedly won’t need surgery at this time, he was shut down again late in the season with elbow discomfort, prompting Don Mattingly to say: “I’m not really sure if he’s going to be able to get back next year. We know [the tear] is there. It keeps coming back, it kind of gets extended a little bit.”

Chen, 32, made just five starts for the Marlins earlier this season before missing most of the year because of left elbow problems.

Chen was diagnosed with a partial tear of his left ulnar collateral ligament during the summer of 2016 - his first year with the Marlins- and ultimately pitched just 123 1/3 innings in his first season with the Marlins. This year, he was limited even more, pitching just 33 innings between the rotation and the bullpen.

He’s due $18 million next season.

The Marlins have high hopes for left-hander Dillon Peters but are making no assumptions. Meanwhile, lefty Adam Conley’s regression, particularly in velocity, puzzled them.

One Marlins official said Peters “needs to lose weight” and would be more effective if he did.

Peters went 1-2 with a 5.67 ERA in six starts after pitching very well in the minors last season.

"Command is something I think will get a lot better," manager Don Mattingly said of Peters in September. "In his starts in September, we saw flashes of pretty good, and then we saw flashes of where he's kind of battled, not having command, but he still kind of gets through it.

"Hopefully, there are some good indicators there for him moving forward. If he can get a hold of that command, which I think he can, then it puts him in a little different light. He has the makings and the framework of a guy who can be dependable for you."

Meanwhile, the Marlins official said one of Conley’s problems is that he “thinks he has all the answers” and must listen to pitching coach Juan Nieves more.

Conley was 8-8 with a 6.14 ERA in 20 starts, a major regression from 2016, when he was 8-6 with a 3.85 ERA.

The other starting options aren’t appealing. Among them: Chris O’Grady (2-1, 4.36 ERA, six starts), Vance Worley (2-6, 6.91 ERA, now a free agent), Odrisamer Despaigne (2-3, 4.01 ERA, eight starts) and Justin Nicolino (2-3, 5.06 ERA, eight starts).

Edinson Volquez, who would have been one of the Marlins’ top three starters, is expected to miss next season after Tommy John surgery.

And the Marlins simply don’t have the money to bid on a legitimate top of the rotation starter in free agency.

So figure on Miami asking for at least some pitching back in its payroll-purging trades expected in the next two months.

• One Marlins front-office official said though J.T. Riddle and Miguel Rojas “are better suited as utility” players, one or both probably will become starters after payroll purging.

That front-office official said Derek Dietrich is better suited to the outfield because he bulked up too much to play the infield effectively.

• With the Yankees’ season now over, and contracts of some of their top people up, the Marlins are expected to have conversations with the Yankees, or potential some of those employees with expiring contracts, about possibly following executive Gary Denbo from the Yankees to the Marlins.

Yankees special assistant Jim Hendry has been mentioned as one possibility but the Marlins hadn’t reached out to him as of Friday, per FanRag Sports. Peter Gammons has said Hendry is a candidate for the Marlins’ GM job, under president/baseball operations Michael Hill.