I hate to break it to the following MLB teams, but, um, well…it may be too late for them to save their best-laid plans for the winter.

In fairness, the hot stove season isn’t a walk in the park. It’s more like a stroll through a minefield. Things don’t always go as planned even for teams that carefully chart their courses.

We’re here to talk about four such teams. Their situations are largely different, but what they have in common is they’re now left to pick up the pieces from grand offseason plans that have fizzled. Some are in deeper trouble than others, such as the…


Miami Marlins

The Marlins were the little engine that could in 2016, staying in second place in the National League East until late August. But they started slipping in September and then experienced an unthinkable tragedy when ace pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident.

Mourning came first, but the Marlins were eventually going to have to address what was a mediocre starting rotation even despite Fernandez’s efforts. That put them in a bind with a free-agent market devoid of top-of-the-rotation talent.

Thus, the Marlins settled for a couple of depth signings with Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke. Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, their plan to get around their lack of starting talent was to instead filter talent into their bullpen. They wanted a “super pen.”

Not a bad idea! The Marlins bullpen was powerful and effective in 2016, averaging an NL-best 94.0 mph in fastball velocity with a solid 3.63 ERA. If they could add Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, they would indeed have a super pen that could downplay their weak starting rotation.

Well, nobody can say they didn’t try.

Heyman reported the Marlins were willing to go above $80 million to sign Chapman, but he took $86 million from the New York Yankees instead. According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, the Marlins offered Jansen more than the $80 million he accepted from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Like that, the Marlins whiffed on the guys who could have granted their wish. Plan B is looking less audacious.

The Marlins have signed Junichi Tazawa, who is perfectly serviceable but no more than that. Frisaro reported they’ve also signed Brad Ziegler, who is better but still not the shutdown reliever Miami desires.

The only way the Marlins can get back on that path is by turning to the trade market, where big targets like Zach Britton and David Robertson reside. But this is unrealistic. With a farm system that Baseball America ranked at No. 29 going into 2016, the Marlins are not well off with prospects. Also, it’s not good for their leverage that the word is out how badly they want an ace closer.

The Marlins might have had a shot at upsetting the 2017 NL East race if they’d gotten their super pen. But now whatever shot they have will be of the long variety. The Marlins weren’t better than the Washington Nationals or New York Mets in 2016, and they haven’t gotten better this winter.

But speaking of teams in the NL East with closer trouble…


Washington Nationals

Mind you, the Nationals aren’t quite in the same boat as the Marlins. They began the winter in a better place after winning 95 games and the NL East in 2016. They’ve also advanced forward. Despite some bellyaching to the contrary, their trade for Adam Eaton is just fine.

And yet Washington’s offseason is just as easily defined by its misses as by that one hit.

At one point, Heyman reported it had a “clear lead” in the sweepstakes for Chris Sale before he went to the Boston Red Sox. Per Heyman, it also made a run at Andrew McCutchen that didn’t pan out.

By that point, the Nationals had already missed out on re-signing Mark Melancon to fill their closer hole. According to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, that prompted a run at Wade Davis. They then turned to Jansen after the Chicago Cubs traded for Davis. According to Sherman, he turned down more money to return to the Dodgers.

The good news despite all this is that a closer is all the Nationals need.

Getting Eaton instead of McCutchen filled their center field vacancy. Getting Sale would have been nice, but a rotation that posted a 3.60 ERA in 2016 didn’t need him. Also not to be forgotten is their decision to trade for a healthy Derek Norris rather than re-sign an injured Wilson Ramos to play catcher. As is, the Nationals are easily projected to win the 2017 NL East race at FanGraphs.

But while another NL East title would be nice, it’s a World Series the Nationals are after. And if recent Octobers have made anything clear, it’s that nothing helps translate regular-season success to postseason success quite like a deep and talented bullpen.

With only Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen possessing reliable arms, the Nationals don’t have one of those. Their best options for fixing that now reside on the trade market, where they figure to encounter a problem referenced above: a lack of leverage relating to their desperation being out in the open.

What’s most likely to happen is the Nationals going into 2017 without a true closer and winging it. Risky, but at least that sounds better than the situation in Pittsburgh…


Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates fell hard from grace in 2016, winning 20 fewer games than they did in 2015. Starting pitching that was normally good went bad, and McCutchen went from an MVP-caliber player to a replacement-level player.

It sure seemed like the Pirates were committed to solving the latter issue by trading McCutchen before his value can sink any further. A deal with the Nationals seemed inevitable during the winter meetings.

That fell through, and it’s prompted the club to start singing a different tune.

“Our intent coming in here was to have Andrew McCutchen in our lineup going forward. No one changed that,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, via Adam Berry of MLB.com. “It’s unlikely that someone changes that going forward. We’re not going to close the door, but we’re not going to be making calls.”

If the latest from Heyman is any indication, the Pirates may indeed be taking a hardline stance on not wanting to force a trade:

With proper leverage, the Pirates might find a team willing to grant their wish. But with the Nationals filling their center field need with Eaton and the Texas Rangers filling theirs by re-signing Carlos Gomez, it doesn’t help their cause that the two best fits for McCutchen are now accounted for.

As for how McCutchen is holding up, it seems all the rumors put a chip on the former MVP’s shoulder.

“I didn’t like almost being traded,” he said Dec. 10, via Pirates Breakdown. “I don’t know anything outside of Pittsburgh. It’s very tough. It can be a part of the game.”

There’s a bridge to be repaired here. What could make that harder is that, per Heyman, the Pirates also want to discuss moving McCutchen out of center field and into a corner outfield spot. A sound idea, but awkward timing.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have done nothing to shore up their starting pitching woes.

Their best hope is to re-sign Ivan Nova, but even he could be outside their price range. MLB Trade Rumors projected him to earn $52 million this winter. That’s $13 million more than the Pirates have ever paid a free agent.

The Pirates could dip into their considerable prospect depth to try to make a splash on the trade market. But after it took a huge haul for the Red Sox to get Sale, it would probably take everything the Pirates had to land Jose Quintana or Chris Archer.

As if the Pirates needed another headache, third baseman Jung Ho Kang was recently arrested for DUI and is only a few months removed from a sexual assault allegation. Hint: Go buy stock in aspirin.

From rough seas in the Steel City, there ain’t no mountain high enough to keep us from diving into the weird times in Motown…


Detroit Tigers

Rather than give way to speculation the Tigers would break up after a second straight postseason-less year in 2016, GM Al Avila seemed to promise early in the winter they would.

“We want to get younger. We want to get leaner. We want to run the organization without having to go over our means,” Avila said in November to MLB.com’s Jason Beck. “We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time.”

Like that, it was easy to see all Detroit’s chips on the table. Justin Verlander was an option for starting pitcher-needy teams. Ian Kinsler was an asset on the second base market. Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez and Justin Upton could be marketed to teams in need of power.

Several weeks later, though, they’re all still there. And likely for good.

Due to his age and the size of his contract, Verlander will not yield the assets Sale did for the White Sox. The open market being loaded with sluggers has seemingly crushed the demand for Detroit’s sluggers. Kinsler has an obvious fit with the Dodgers, but his no-trade clause is a big hurdle in the way of a deal.

This puts the Tigers in a position to stay the course for 2017. With a good chunk of their core already past the age of 30, it’ll basically be a last hurrah.

Trouble is, the Tigers don’t project to be very good. FanGraphs has them down for 83 wins, putting them well short of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central power structure.

Beyond merely being another disappointment, 2017 also has the capacity to set the Tigers’ future back by a few years. If all the above players regress from their 2016 performances, their trade value will slide accordingly. Whereas the Tigers might have been able to get talent for them now, they may only be able to dump their salaries later. That would be no help to a farm system that needs it.

Assuming they remain open for business, there’s still time for the Tigers to deal some of their veterans and take their first step toward a new era. But it seems more likely that step will not occur, pushing that new era even further into the realm of abstraction.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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