When it comes to the Marlins, there's one thing that they've consistently done well in recent memory, beyond trading away veterans and skimping on their payroll: finding good, cheap relievers.
As R.J. Anderson outlined on FanGraphs last month, the Marlins have spent the past few years filling their bullpen with "one-and-done" guys that rarely would spend more than a year or two in the organization. In 2008, the club hit big on Joe Nelson and Doug Waechter, getting solid performance for pennies. Last season was much of the same, with Kiko Calero and Brendan Donnelly highlighting what was one of the better bullpens in the league.
This offseason, "the Marlins' next batch," as Anderson coined it, consisted of Clay Hensley, Mike MacDougal, Jose Veras, Seth McClung, Scott Strickland and Derrick Turnbow. The team has since released MacDougal, McClung, Strickland and Turnbow, while Veras appears to have a spot in the 'pen and Hensley is still battling for the No. 5 spot in Florida's rotation, behind Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad.
But today, I think that the Marlins may have landed their next quality short-term relief option in former Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson, assuming that the Tigers are covering the vast majority of Robertson's 2010 salary. Robertson started off his career in Florida and was dealt to Detroit in the 2003 Mark Redman deal, and his solid work earned him a three-year contract extension after the 2007 season. In his first two seasons since signing the extension, he's posted a 6.14 ERA in 218 innings, with a poor 1.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
But Robertson has continued to do one thing well throughout his career, and that's dominate left-handed hitters. Robertson has faced over 1,100 lefties in his career, posting a 3.34 FIP and 3.49 xFIP against them, compared to 5.21 and 4.72 marks against righties, respectively. Against left-handers, he misses more bats, walks less guys, and induces more groundballs, making for a significantly better pitcher all-around.
Now, Robertson's been durable and he was good enough to post WARs between 1.9 and 2.6 each year for a four-year span as a starter in Detroit. But with that kind of domination against left-handers, it seems that Robertson could make for one damn good lefty specialist. And for a team whose best left-handed relievers are Renyel Pinto and Dan Meyer, having another high-quality option around would be pretty smart.
It's unclear whether the Marlins plan to give Robertson the fifth starter's job right off the bat, and frankly, he could probably make for a decent No. 5 starter on a team with a glimmer of hope for contention. But with his skill set, he's a pitcher that could end up becoming a major asset out of the bullpen.
(Note: I just realized this after putting up the post, but this deal means that Dontrelle Willis should actually end up in Detroit's Opening Day starting rotation. And, I'm sorry, but that's just freaking awesome. Few things baseball-related would give me more pleasure than Dontrelle actually succeeding in the majors again. A few weeks ago, this guy was dead and buried as far as Major League Baseball was concerned. Now he's in the rotation for what many consider to be a contender. Go figure.)