Figuring out ‘pen tough challenge

JUPITER, Fla. — Nothing is set, and nothing is off the table.

One of the toughest tasks for the Marlins’ front office is figuring out who stays and goes in the bullpen.

The way I see it is Brad Hand holds the key. Out of options, the left-hander is attracting interest on a possible trade front. The Rangers already have been mentioned. Yet, the club may wind up keeping him.

As things appear now, the rotation is set with Tom Koehler getting the fifth spot. Hand was in contention. The Marlins appear willing to carry Hand and David Phelps in the bullpen.

With unpredictable and cold weather on the road in April, you never know what you’re going to get from your starters. If there are rain delays or rain outs, it could shake things up in the rotation. So having two long relievers makes sense for at least the first month, where Miami makes trips to Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia.

The Marlins also have reason to want to retain Hand because he would be a left-handed spot starter. Currently there are all right-handers in the rotation.

But if Hand stays, it creates a situation with lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan, a Rule 5 pick formerly with the Cubs.

McKirahan, 25, has shown terrific “stuff,” including a biting slider and a low-90s fastball.

A number of teams, including the Rangers, would be eager to acquire McKirahan in a trade. But the same reasons they like McKirahan also is why Miami would like to keep the lefty. He has upside and is affordable.

But McKirahan hasn’t pitched above Double-A. Is he ready to help the big league club on what Miami anticipates being a contender?

That’s a burning question, because it places the Marlins in a situation of where they can add a nice organizational piece, but he may not be the best piece for the Opening Day roster.

Joe Frisaro

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