What does next year's pitching rotation look like?
Ideally, the Marlins would like to add two starting pitchers during the Hot Stove season. Until that happens, we can only look at candidates already on the roster. Internally, it appears three spots are set -- left-handers Wei-Yin Chen and Adam Conley and right-hander Tom Koehler. Chen was the Opening Day starter this year, mainly because Jose Fernandez was on an innings plan. Chen, though, missed two months with a sprained left elbow. The Marlins will be banking on the 31-year-old to perform like he did in Baltimore, before he signed as a free agent with Miami. Based on pure stuff, Conley is a candidate to start Opening Day, and Koehler has been a mainstay in the rotation the past few years. David Phelps offers versatility to start or relieve, but the club may be leaning to keeping him in the bullpen. Jake Esch, Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena each have experience starting.
Who are the Marlins most likely offseason targets?
It's no secret that starting pitching is at the top of their list. The free-agent market is thin, and there could be interest in Jeremy Hellickson and Rich Hill. But Hellickson may be leaning towards returning to the Phillies, and Hill should have plenty of options. Barring a complete overspend on Hill, I don't see him being a realistic signing for Miami. A couple of free agents who make sense for the Marlins are Doug Fister and Ivan Nova. If the Nationals don't pick up the $12 million club option on Gio Gonzalez, the lefty would be a likely target. The same holds true for Edinson Volquez, who has a $10 million mutual option with the Royals.
What is the payroll going to look like in 2017?
Team president David Samson says the payroll is expected to rise. The question remains by how much. In 2016, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Marlins' Opening Day payroll was $74,364,500. My guess is the increase will jump to at least $90 million. To stay in that range will be tricky, especially if the club intends to keep all of the players who are under contract for next year, plus the six players in arbitration. The six signed for '17 are Martin Prado ($11.5 million), Giancarlo Stanton ($14.5 million), Chen ($9 million), Dee Gordon ($7.5 million), Ichiro Suzuki ($2 million) and Christian Yelich ($3.5 million). They combine for $48 million. The six arbitration-eligible players are Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria, Koehler, Phelps, A.J. Ramos and Derek Dietrich. According to MLB Trade Rumors projections, their salaries would combine for $28.3 million. The total for all 12 players is $76.3 million. The math sugggests their will be at least a couple of trades involving either players who are already signed or eligible for arbitration.
What prospects are most likely to make an impact in 2017?
Three of Miami's top pitching prospects are lefties Jarlin Garcia and Dillon Peters and right-hander Luis Castillo. According to MLBPipeline.com, Garcia is ranked as the Marlins' third-best prospect, while Castillo ranks fifth and Peters is 14th. Garcia had injury issues in 2016, and he currently is pitching in the Arizona Fall League. Castillo and Peters are considered middle-of-the-rotation-type talents who are close to being big league ready. Right-handed reliever Drew Steckenrider, who is also pitching in the Arizona Fall League, is a hard-throwing right-hander who could help out in the bullpen.
Are the Marlins more likely to move a bat to acquire an arm or to test an underwhelming free-agent starting-pitcher market?
I anticipate you will see both. If a free agent makes sense, you could see a signing. But I feel their big-splash free-agent push may be for a closer like Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen. I also anticipate some trades. The names that could be available are Ozuna, Hechavarria and Dietrich.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. 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.