Around the Horn: Rotation

Marlins' staff success will hinge largely on ace Fernandez

Around the Horn: Rotation

Pitchers and catchers open Spring Training for the Marlins on Feb. 19 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. As the first workout date approaches, MLB.com takes a position-by-position look at the 2016 Marlins. The first installment is the rotation.

MIAMI -- Restructuring the rotation has been the Marlins' top offseason priority, and the club took major steps in doing so last month with the free-agent signings of Wei-Yin Chen and Edwin Jackson. But how successful the starting five may ultimately perform largely depends on what the team gets from its ace, Jose Fernandez, who is fully healthy but also will be on an innings limit.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Marlins and Fernandez are in the process of structuring an innings range, which is expected to be around 180. The challenge is how to stay within the parameters while also making the 23-year-old, who had Tommy John surgery in 2014, available late in the season -- and perhaps into the postseason.

Waltz on Fernandez, Marlins

The Marlins are weighing how to do the math. Will it be as simple as capping Fernandez at six innings over 30 starts to reach 180? Another possibility is reducing the right-hander's innings in the first month, then gradually building him up.

Without question, Fernandez is the best Miami has. But that doesn't mean he will start on Opening Day. He could be pushed back in the rotation in April, or he may be asked to skip a start or two, especially if he were lined up to throw in cold weather in April. Whatever program is put in place, it will be crucial that Fernandez and his representative, Scott Boras, buy into it to avoid any potential controversies.

In 2015, the Marlins used 13 starters, so they're seeking as much veteran depth as possible. Miami still is in the mix for free agents Kyle Lohse and Alfredo Simon. The signing of Chen, a left-hander, gives Miami a proven top-of-the-rotation arm who made 31 starts for the Orioles in each of the 2014-15 seasons. Tom Koehler projects as the No. 3 starter. The right-hander paced Miami with 187 1/3 innings and 31 starts last year.

Marlins introduce Wei-Yin Chen

If the rotation is to take the next step, Jarred Cosart will need to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2015. Hindered by a bout of vertigo and an inner-ear infection, Cosart made just 13 starts and 14 appearances last year.

The competition for the fifth spot will be among the most interesting Spring Training storylines to follow. Jackson may have the inside edge, but he will have competition in David Phelps, who made 19 starts in 2015. Phelps dealt with an injury last year, missing the final seven weeks due to a stress fracture to his right forearm, but the team says the right-hander should be ready for the start of Spring Training.

If neither Jackson nor Phelps cracks the Opening Day rotation, both are candidates to go to the bullpen.

The Marlins have two promising lefties in Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino, both rookies last year. But the depth brought in could result in both opening at Triple-A New Orleans.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.