The Miami Marlins heralded in the 2021 trade season, sending reliever Adam Cimber and injured outfielder Corey Dickerson to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Joe Panik and minor league pitcher Andrew McInvale. This past Saturday, they flipped prospect Justin Sterner and cash considerations to the Tampa Bay Rays for David Hess, a swap of right-handed arms. Could the Yankees be the third American League East team to make a deal with the NL East’s basement dwellers?
The Marlins’ obvious strength is clearly the pitching staff — they have permitted only 3.69 runs/game (fourth-least in the NL), and they have three starters with an ERA of 3.12 or below. Their staff, however, is very young, as their top three starters — Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, and Pablo López — are all under 26 and will not be free agents for at least another four seasons. In fact, with the exception of 30-year-old closer Yimi García (2.70 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 3.88 K/BB), who will hit the market after 2021, the most important pieces of their pitching staff are under team control for quite awhile. As they’re a team that could easily see extensive improvement next season (they have a +20 run differential, good for an expected record of 42-38), it’s unlikely that they will move any of their pitching unless they get blown out of the water by an offer.
Despite having one of the worst offenses in the league — they have a team OPS+ of only 85, second-worst in baseball and better than only the Pittsburgh Pirates — the Marlins do nonetheless have a few pieces that will draw trade interest as the deadline approaches.
32-year-old center fielder Starling Marte is easily the most attractive trade piece for Miami, who has been slashing a career-best .296/.401/.463 (good for a 140 OPS+) while playing elite defense (4 Outs Above Average, 5 Defensive Runs Saved). Complicating any trade discussions, however, is Marte’s desire to sign an extension with Miami that would take him through the end of his career. As early as the beginning of last week, the team appeared uninterested in negotiating an extension with their star outfielder, but general manager Kim Ng told reporters this past Thursday that the two parties had begun to discuss a deal.
The Marlins’ outfield, however, has other trade options besides Marte with outfielders/first basemen Adam Duvall and old friend Garrett Cooper. In a lot of ways, Duvall looks like an archetypal Yankees target, leading the Marlins with 18 homers and ranking in the 92nd percentile in barrel percentage, while his speed (28.3 ft/s, 84th percentile) and defensive capabilities (+1 OAA, +12 DRS) provide something that is sorely lacking on the Yankees roster.
Cooper profiles somewhat similarly to Duvall, except that he plays worse defense (-1 OAA, -2DRS), but makes up for it with a better walk rate that has him outperform Duvall in wRC+ by more than 20 points (10.7 percent and 126 for Cooper vs. 6.2 percent and 105 for Duvall). Duvall would probably come slightly cheaper, as he has a mutual contract option for next season, while Cooper will not be a free agent until 2024, but at the end of the day, both could probably be had at a not-unreasonable price.
If the Yankees are looking to upgrade their infield depth — and provide an in-house alternative to Gleyber Torres — they could look to acquire Miguel Rojas, who has a $5.5 million vesting option for the 2021 season if he makes 500 plate appearances (he’s currently at 238). Rojas had a breakout campaign in 2020, in which he posted a 142 wRC+ in large part due to an increase in BB% to 11.2 percent, almost twice his career average of 6.6%. Although his stats have regressed to closer to his career norms — he’s slashing .256/.328/.400 — he’s still been decidedly above-average, with a 107 wRC+ on the season. He plays a strong shortstop (2 OAA, 4 DRS), and has in the past displayed an above-average glove at all four infield positions.
However, it’s not likely that Rojas would be an everyday player, and it’s hard to see the Yankees taking on a $5 million salary, even prorated, for a part-time player — let alone risk his 2022 option vesting. Rojas is also considered one of the leaders on the Marlins, as he’s been around long enough to be one of the few holdovers from the Jeffrey Loria Era.
At the end of the day, despite their weak offense as a team, it’s easy to see a series of events that lead the Yankees to knocking on the door to discuss some of Miami’s outfielders. Whether or not they find one to their liking — and, just as importantly, at a price that they’re willing to pay — is a totally different story.