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Signed RHP Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $22 million contract. [11/28]

The Marlins could not afford to sign just any starting pitcher this winter. They needed to replace Jose Fernandez, from a logistical perspective, but they had no hope of replacing his talent, and less than no hope of replacing all that he meant to the organization and the community. Still, they had to do their best, because Fernandez’s presence had led the club to function in such a way as to remain pointed toward competing for a playoff spot within the next two seasons. (Fernandez would have been a free agent after the 2018 campaign.)

This team needs to win, perhaps now more than ever, and it needs someone not only capable of providing reliable, quality innings that nudge them toward the playoffs, but able to bear the emotional weight of the role into which they’re knowingly stepping. In those regards, Volquez is a solid choice. He’s delivered at least 30 starts in five straight seasons. He’s a guy with a big personality and a big heart. He pitched one World Series game just before finding out about the death of his father, and one just after returning from his father’s funeral.

Volquez is, dispositionally, better prepared for the impossible thing he has to do now than almost any other pitcher in baseball, and certainly better than any other pitcher available this winter. Unfortunately, there are ample signs in which Volquez isn’t going to deliver the sheer value the Marlins need to get from him, if they hope to take the next step toward really winning something in 2017.

In 2015, he threw 200 regular-season innings for the Royals (already a career-high) and then emptied his tank in a memorable five-start postseason. He wasn’t dominant, even during that month, but he ratcheted up his sinker into the high 90s with some consistency, boldly worked up in the zone, and led the Royals to wins in three of those games—including both World Series starts. That workload appeared to catch up to him in 2016, though.

His sinker lost nearly two full miles per hour, on average, over the final two-and-a-half months of last season. At the same time, both that sinker and his changeup notably lost some of their fade to the arm side. That all led to an untenably low number of swings and misses for a pitcher who has always relied on missing bats and on generating weak contact to protect him against the full potential effect of his shaky command (and high walk rates).

After the All-Star break last season, Volquez’s ERA was 6.12. His strikeout rate fell and his walk rate rose, but the truly telling thing—the thing that signals that he wasn’t himself at all—was that he began giving up a lot of power. Batters had a .119 ISO against Volquez during the first half of 2016, right in line with his previous two seasons (.124 and .121 in 2014 and 2015, respectively). After the All-Star break, they had a .199 ISO against him.

When he’s right–when he tells you he’s feeling “sexy”–Volquez is a power arm in the old mold: a lot of walks, but plenty of strikeouts, and very, very little hard contact. His power sinker misses barrels even when it doesn’t miss the bat altogether. His changeup gets bad swings even from right-handed hitters. Alas, Volquez was plainly not right for the home stretch of 2016. The Marlins may believe, for some unknowable medical reason or simply because they have better information than we do, that Volquez is likely to bounce back from that rapid and scary decline over the next two seasons.

He was spared any postseason work this year, after all, and couldn’t even stick around long enough to rack up any substantial pitch counts for most of the second half. If his flattened stuff is leavened by a full winter of rest and the passage of time (pushing that taxing 2015 further and further into the rearview), Volquez could rediscover his sexy side and more than earn this deal. Actuarially, the odds of that (for a pitcher who turned 33 in July) aren’t good. Still, it’s a risk the Marlins had to take on someone, and Volquez is the kind of person on whom I would want to take it.

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