Scouting the Trade Market: Miami Marlins relievers

Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Due to recent events, the bullpen is going to be a hot topic between now and the July 31st trade deadline. The Yankees have lost far too many games at the hands of the bullpen the last few weeks, and as long as they’re in the postseason race, they’re going to look for ways to improve the roster. They could call some youngsters up. They could also look outside the organization. Odds are they’ll do both.

The Marlins are far out of a postseason spot and expected to sell before the trade deadline, making them a potential trade partner. They shipped Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays a week or two ago, so yeah, the Marlins are open for business. In fact, they’re said to be scouting the Yankees’ farm system. Miami figures to market some of their pricier bullpen pieces before the deadline, and perhaps one or two of them are a match for the Yankees. Let’s take a look.

RHP Kyle Barraclough

Background: The 27-year-old Barraclough went from the Cardinals to the Marlins in the Steve Cishek trade three years ago. So far this season he has a 3.54 ERA (3.89 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 14.7% walks in 40.2 innings. In parts of three MLB seasons Barraclough has thrown 137.2 innings with an 3.01 ERA (2.87 FIP). He’s settled in as a setup man for the Marlins.

The Stuff: Barraclough is a two-pitch reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a hard upper-80s slider. He has pretty consistently thrown 55% fastballs and 45% sliders as a big leaguer. Pretty straightforward guy. Barraclough gets ahead with the heater and tries to put hitters away with the slider.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Barraclough misses a ton of bats. A ton. Last year only Dellin Betances (126) and Andrew Miller (123) had more strikeouts among full-time relievers than Barraclough (113). That career 32.0% strikeout rate is no accident. Barraclough’s slider is a legit put-away pitch, and relievers who can make hitters swing and miss are the backbone of any successful bullpen. The pitch is so good he has a small platoon split (career .275 wOBA vs. .258 wOBA in favor of lefties). Also, Barraclough won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, so he’d be a long-term buy. (At least as long-term as any 27-year-old slider happy reliever can be.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? With those strikeouts come a lot of walks. Barraclough’s career walk rate is 15.1% and it’s been high throughout his career, even in the minors, so this is just who he is. You can survive as a late-inning reliever with command issues (see: Betances, Dellin) though no one like free baserunners in the late innings of a close game. Also, Barraclough’s strikeout rate has dropped from 36.9% last year to 24.5% this year, which is a red flag. Lots of walks and fewer strikeouts generally isn’t a good combination.

RHP David Phelps

Background: Phelpsie! The Yankees traded Phelps to the Marlins three years ago, and initially he continued to do the swingman thing, then last season he moved into a full-time short relief role. The 30-year-old Phelps has a 3.68 ERA (3.53 FIP) with 26.4% strikeouts and 8.8% walks in 44 innings this year. In three years with the Marlins he has a 3.98 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 131 innings as a starter and a 3.06 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 111.2 innings as a reliever.

The Stuff: As a true one-inning short reliever, Phelps will average right around 95 mph with his two and four-seam fastballs and 91 mph with his cutter. He’s shelved his changeup entirely out of the bullpen and instead uses a low-80s curveball as his top secondary pitch. So it’s four distinct pitches out of the bullpen. A straight four-seamer, a running two-seamer, a cutter, and a curveball.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Phelps has found a home in short relief. He was okay as a swingman all those years, but when he can air it out for an inning or two at the time, Phelps can miss bats and be a weapon in the late innings. Plus he’d remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played for the Yankees before, so he knows the ropes.  You always wonder how guys are going to react when they first come to New York and all that. There’s no such worries with Phelps.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. Phelps still walks a few more guys than you like — how he got a reputation for being a strike-thrower with the Yankees, I’ll never know — and that’s about it. It is worth noting he’s not cheap. Phelps will earn $4.6M this season and probably something close to $7M next season, his final year of arbitration-eligibility before qualifying for free agency.

A.J. Ramos

Background: Ramos, 30, took over as Miami’s closer back in 2015. He has a 3.51 ERA (3.60 FIP) with 29.6% strikeouts and 12.7% walks in 33.1 innings this year, making this his worst season since breaking into the big leagues for good in 2013. His career numbers are much more impressive: 2.75 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 27.8% strikeouts and 12.6% walks in 321 innings.

The Stuff: Ramos is a three-pitch reliever with mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s changeup, and a low-80s slider. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch. Ramos will also cut and sink his fastball on occasion, and he even throws a curveball once in a while. He’s primarily a fastball-changeup-slider guy but there are more tools in the shed.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Among Miami’s relievers, Ramos has the longest track record of missing bats, and only veteran sidewinder Brad Ziegler has more experience in the late innings. He’s been pitching high-leverage innings for a few years now and he’s shown he can handle them thanks to three pretty good pitches and the ability to keep the ball away from the fat part of the bat. Also, Ramos will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018, so he’s not a rental.

Why Should The Stay Away? The walk rate (career 12.6%) and general lack of ground balls (career 39.5%) are pretty scary, even though Ramos has not been home run prone in his career to date (0.48 HR/9). Still, walks plus fly balls is a less than ideal combination in Yankee Stadium. Also, Ramos is making $6.55M this year and could pull down upwards of $9M next season through arbitration. That’s what 89 career saves (and counting) will do for you. That’s pretty darn expensive. It’s not crazy to think Ramos might be a non-tender candidate after the season, so maybe he is a rental after all.

RHP Junichi Tazawa

Background: The Marlins gave the 31-year-old Tazawa a two-year deal worth $12M this past offseason, and so far he has a 5.87 ERA (5.97 FIP) with 18.4% strikeouts and 11.2% walks in 23 innings. That one isn’t working out too well. He’s been relegated to mop up duty the last few weeks.

The Stuff: All things considered, Tazawa’s stuff is relatively unchanged from the last few years. He’s still low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and upper-80s with his splitter, and he also throws a mid-70s curve.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? History suggests Tazawa is not actually this bad. He dealt with a rib injury earlier this season and that certainly could have negatively affected his performance. Tazawa is a buy low bounceback candidate, basically. Just last year he had a 4.17 ERA (4.23 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks. That’s … better. Plus he knows the AL East from his time with the Red Sox.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? A lot of reasons, really. For starters, his performance has been terrible this year, and we can’t ignore that. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up, and hitters are squaring him up more than they have in the past. There’s also $7M left on his contract for next season, so he’s not cheap (by middle reliever standards) either. There is something to be said for buying low on a guy. I think steering clear of a reliever with a 4.45 ERA in 131.1 innings over the last three years is a pretty good idea no matter what the peripherals and track record say, and that goes double for dudes with a decent chunk of change coming their way.

RHP Nick Wittgren

Background: Wittgren, 26, is probably the guy you’ve never heard of in the Marlins bullpen. He has a 3.62 ERA (3.31 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 4.6% walks in 37.1 innings this year, and that’s after a 3.14 ERA (3.67 FIP) with 19.7% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 51.2 innings last year. The Marlins have themselves a nice little cheap, homegrown middle reliever.

The Stuff: The right-handed Wittgren is low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and he backs it up with a mid-80s changeup and a breaking ball right around 80 mph that sometimes looks like a slider and sometimes looks like a curveball. He throws both secondary pitches pretty regularly, so he is a true-three pitch reliever.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? I dunno, Wittgren is reasonably effective and he’s young and cheap with minor league options remaining, which makes him a decent depth piece in my opinion. He’s also shown improvement from last year to this year, namely in his strikeout rate. I don’t think Wittgren will one day be a shutdown high-leverage reliever or anything like that. Can he get outs in the sixth inning though? Sure, and the Yankees need a guy like that.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The biggest concern with Wittgren is his propensity to give up fly balls (career 36.5% grounders) and home runs (career 1.11 HR/9). He won’t beat himself with walks and he can miss enough bats to escape jams, so the home run risk is mitigated somewhat. Is another unspectacular reliever the solution to the Yankees’ bullpen woes? I mean, sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think Wittgren moves the needle a whole bunch.

RHP Brad Ziegler

Background: Miami tried to strengthen their bullpen with Tazawa and Ziegler over the winter and it hasn’t worked. Ziegler received two years and $16M and has a 6.52 ERA (4.29 FIP) with 12.3% strikeouts and 9.4% walks in 29 innings. He is still getting a ton of ground balls (64.6%), which has always been the Ziegler trademark. He’s a funky sidewinder who keeps the ball on the ground.

The Stuff: From that funky arm slot comes a low-to-mid-80s sinker, a mid-70s changeup, and a low-70s slider. Ziegler is the rare submarine pitcher with a changeup. The velocity seems alarming but that’s who he is. Ziegler’s been a mid-80s sinker guy for years. The deception and arm angle make it work.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? As with Tazawa, Ziegler is a buy low bounceback candidate, though we don’t have to look back too far to see the last time Ziegler was very good. Just last season he had a 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP) with 20.1% strikeouts, 9.0% walks, and 63.3% grounders in 68 innings for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Ziegler has been pitching in late-inning roles for a long time and he’s comfortable in any role. He’ll set up, close, middle relieve, whatever. Basically, any team looking at Ziegler is thinking his .382 BABIP won’t last and I want him on my roster when the correction comes. (Career .288 BABIP.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? At 37 years old (38 in October), it’s entirely possible Ziegler has reached the point of no return and this is who he is now. The BABIP is way up and the strikeouts are way down, from 20.1% last year to 12.3% this year — to be fair, he had a 13.7% strikeout rate with a 1.85 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 2015 — and his walk rate keeps trending up. Ziegler’s margin for error seems to be shrinking. And he’s got $9M coming to him next season, which isn’t great.

* * *

Given the way the Marlins operate, my guess is they would love to unload their pricey relievers (Ramos, Ziegler, Phelps, Tazawa) and keep the cheap guys in their pre-arbitration years (Barraclough, Wittgren). Well, I guess every team would like to do that, right? The Marlins aren’t so unique in that regard.

I am kinda sorta intrigued by Ziegler as a buy low candidate. Phelps and Ramos are the headliners here though. They’re performing well and they come with an extra year of team control, even if it will be on the expensive side. The Yankees have reportedly contacted the Marlins about both guys already and that in no way surprises me. They’re going to call on every available reliever between now and the trade deadline out of due diligence.

2012 Draft: Nick Wittgren

The 2012 amateur draft is less than one week away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Nick Wittgren | RHP

Background
Wittgren was raised in Lafayette, Indiana and attended Parkland Community College (Illinois) for one year before transferring to Purdue. He was a shortstop in high school and didn’t begin pitching full-time until arriving at Parkland.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., Wittgren is a career reliever and owns an 88/19 K/BB with 21 saves in 84 innings for the Boilermakers over the last two springs. Although his fastball only sits at 89-91 and touches 93 on most days, the pitch plays up and generates swings and misses because of the deception in his delivery. His power curveball in the upper-70s/low-80s gives Wittgren a legitimate put-away offering. He throws both pitches for strikes despite his relative inexperience.

Miscellany
Considered a 7th-10th round type of talent, Wittgren starred on the Cape Cod League last summer is exactly the type of prospect the Yankees usually target in the later rounds — a strike-throwing reliever with two good pitches and a track record of success. Slot money for the post-fifth round is under $160k and that won’t net you any future stars, but it’s a solid investment for a potentially quick-moving bullpen arm. The expected return on a pick that late is basically zero anyway.