The Miami Marlins have made it clear from the start of the offseason that they had one goal — upgrade their pitching staff, specifically the bullpen. The Marlins started the offseason with the additions of Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke. Neither of them will put the Marlins rotation on par with the Nationals or Mets, but Volquez and Locke have room for improvement.
After adding two starters, they chased after two of the top closers in the game in Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. Reports had them offering more money to both pitchers, but Jansen chose to return to the Dodgers and Chapman went back to the Yankees.
Over the past week, the Marlins turned their attention to the next tier of relief pitchers. In the past two days they have signed Junichi Tazawa and tonight, Brad Ziegler. Tazawa signed for $12 million over two years, and Ziegler will receive $16 million over two years.
Tazawa has spent his entire career in Boston and found success, minus a bump in the road in 2016. Last season saw Tazawa have the second-worst ERA and fWAR season in his career, but the good news is he has seen an increase in his K/9 over the last few seasons, to a career best of 9.79 in 2016. He has been a dependable arm for Boston late in the game- and minus the 2016 season he has been consistent. A two-year commitment for $5 million and $7 million a year, respectively, does not hamper the Miami payroll too much while attempting to push Miami into the playoff picture in the National League.
Ziegler is another signing that will not cost the Marlins too much considering the way relief pitching is getting paid this winter. Early reports show he will make $7 and $9 million over the next two years, so Ziegler will not present the long commitment that Jansen or Chapman would have. Ziegler may get an opportunity to unseat A.J. Ramos in the ninth inning in Miami, as he has found success closing in Arizona and a little in Boston the last two seasons. Also, similar to Tazawa, Ziegler posted a career high in K/9 in 2016 — while working mostly in the 9th inning for Ziegler.
Another aspect Tazawa and, to a lesser extent, Ziegler bring to the Marlins is their postseason experience. Besides David Phelps, Tazawa and Ziegler will be the only pitchers in the bullpen to have pitched in the postseason. As the Marlins bring together a mix of veterans and young arms in the bullpen, Tazawa (World Series champion in 2013) and Ziegler can bring their postseason experience to the table in Miami.
In 2016, the Marlins had a bullpen that was 17th in fWAR and 14th in ERA — in general a middle-of-the-pack bullpen in baseball. The Marlins saw the need to make their pitching staff better this winter, and with the lack of impact starting pitching in free agency, the Marlins did what the market dictated — bring in relievers. They did so in a way that was cost effective when looking what they would have spent on Jansen or Chapman. The contracts of Tazawa and Ziegler cost less combined than what Jansen or Chapman individually would have cost Miami, so this leads me to believe Miami may still have room and money to spend to improve their bullpen further. Just to throw an idea out there — the Marlins lack a lefty after losing Mike Dunn to Colorado, so how about Jerry Blevins?
I would not say the two signings move the needle the way a Jansen or Chapman signing would have, but they are improvements to a bullpen, and more importantly a pitching staff, that would rely heavily on them in 2017. The Marlins plan on challenging the Nationals and Mets in 2017 and while their starting pitching may hold them back, a solid bullpen could be what helps Miami take a step forward next year.
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.