Bolstering 'pen could help solidify rotation

Marlins' Hill looking into all options for club when it comes to pitching

Bolstering 'pen could help solidify rotation

MIAMI -- Since Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident, the Marlins have been dealing with the reality of having to move forward without a bona fide ace. They hope to find some answers this week at the General Managers Meetings in Arizona.

President of baseball operations Michael Hill and his staff are measuring all their options in the early stages of the Hot Stove season. They may wind up believing that bolstering Miami's bullpen is the best way to solidify the rotation.

"We're not going to replace him," Hill said of Fernandez. "There's not 28 aces in the game. So to lose one and think you're going to be able to readily replace him -- if it was last year's free-agent market, then maybe. You had those types of players out there. But that's not the case this year. The market kind of dictates the direction you go."

Hot Stove Tracker

A year ago, David Price and Zack Greinke headlined a list of front-line starters. This year, two of the top starting-pitching free agents are Rich Hill and Jeremy Hellickson.

Hill turns 37 in March and has dealt with blister problems, and Hellickson has received a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Phillies. The right-hander has until Monday to either accept or reject the offer.

The Marlins may be hesitant to sign a player with a qualifying offer because they'd also have to part with a compensatory Draft pick. With an already thin Minor League system, the club may be hesitant to part with a high Draft choice.

A more practical path to find a starter or two could be trades.

"You don't have to do it through free agency, necessarily, although we're looking into it," Hill said. "You always measure the marketplace. You use these Meetings here to get a gauge on what our peers are doing and if you get an opportunity. It's never easy. It's a rough market to be in, but there's different ways to address it."

Rays right-hander Chris Archer could be a trade target. But he will come with a high price.

It would be difficult to pull off a deal for Archer without moving at least one or two core players off Miami's big league roster. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria could be possible trade pieces.

But rather than go for a front-line starter, the Marlins may wind up seeking veterans -- No. 3-caliber starters -- who have established durability, and then surround them with a deep bullpen.

In the playoffs, we saw the importance of versatile relievers.

"You see the trends now, and the analytics, and they may say you don't want to face guys a third time through the lineup," Hill said. "It puts more of an emphasis to have a stronger bullpen. A lot of our success this year was because of our strong bullpen."

Free-agent closer Aroldis Chapman could be a target, if Miami wants to make a big splash. The Marlins have had interest in Chapman for years, and if they overspend on a free agent, it may be the hard-throwing lefty.

Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers is another top free agent. But the hard-throwing right-hander also received a qualifying offer.

Mark Melancon of the Nationals is another top closer on the free-agent market.

Miami already has a strong back end of the bullpen with A.J. Ramos, David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough.

"You look at the playoffs and how that changed so much," Hill said. "Obviously, you can't do that [overuse relievers] over 162 games, but if you can be as deep as possible, you're giving yourself a chance with that quality bullpen.

"We'll look at these Meetings and see if there is an opportunity for a trade."

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.