Straily addition opens rotation competition

Acquisition of veteran righty creates depth for Marlins

Straily addition opens rotation competition

MIAMI -- Rotation spots will be up for grabs when the Marlins open Spring Training on Feb. 14 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

For much of the offseason, it appeared Miami's big issue would be how the starting five would line up. But the acquisition of Dan Straily from the Reds on Thursday swings the competition wide open, with at least seven or eight candidates vying for rotation spots.

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Manager Don Mattingly, pitching coach Juan Nieves and vice president of pitching development Jim Benedict will be spending plenty of time evaluating who should make the starting five and who will wind up in either the bullpen or at Triple-A New Orleans.

"We have pitchers who we feel are all starter candidates," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "In talking with Donnie and Juan Nieves, we're going to let those guys compete for the five starter spots. Some of that grouping has options, so they may end up as depth at Triple-A, and others may end up as length options for us at the Major League level."

Front-runners to be at the top of the rotation are -- in no particular order -- Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley and Wei-Yin Chen. Tom Koehler, who has been the club's most durable starter the past few years, projects to be the third or fourth starter.

That leaves Straily and left-hander Jeff Locke as the leading candidates for the fifth spot. But Hill pointed out that right-hander Jose Urena, who is out of options, and left-hander Justin Nicolino also are in the mix.

At this point, you can't rule out Odrisamer Despaigne and Jake Esch, who both pitched in the big leagues late last year. Those two, however, are expected to be in New Orleans' rotation when the season gets going.

"I think that's really what our goal has been this offseason," Hill said. "It's to give Donnie as much depth and options, multi-inning pieces in his 'pen to go along with a number of options to use as starters. We wanted to give him as many choices as possible to give ourselves the best opportunity to win."

To land Straily, the Marlins parted with pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfielder Isaiah White. To Miami, the cost was worth it.

"We got what we wanted," Hill said.

The Marlins lack an overpowering starter, but they've succeeded in their quest to bring in starters who have displayed durability.

Straily is coming off his finest season, going 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA in 191 1/3 innings. Volquez made 34 starts and logged 189 1/3 innings with the Royals in 2016, and Locke threw 127 1/3 innings with 19 starts and 11 relief appearances for the Pirates last year.

The decision to trade Castillo is also a signal that the club will give Urena every chance to make the team, either as a starter or a reliever. Castillo had been viewed as a candidate to open at Triple-A and move to the big leagues around midseason.

In Urena, Miami feels it has a hard thrower who has yet to scratch the surface. He had an inconsistent 2016, going 4-9 with a 6.13 ERA in 83 2/3 innings. Yet according to Statcast™, Urena's average fastball velocity of 95.83 mph is the highest of any starting candidate.

Urena's terrific start

"It's a great arm," Hill said. "The one thing that you want to do is give him every opportunity to reach his potential. I think we've seen glimpses of it. Obviously, you want to see it on a consistent basis. I think that's what he's striving to do. If we are able to see a more consistent version, he will help us."

Chen, who started last Opening Day for the Marlins, missed about two months due to a left elbow sprain. He finished 2016 with 22 starts and 123 1/3 innings.

"We've stayed in contact with him this offseason," Hill said. "He's healthy. He feels great. He's looking forward to having a great 2017."

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.