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Miami Marlins: Possible trade partner?

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The Marlins have plenty of starters and plenty of needs.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins
Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22) delivers a pitch in the 2nd inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at loanDepot park.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday it was reported that the Marlins may look to move a controllable starting pitcher in order to address other team needs:

The three starting pitchers mentioned here are all interesting arms who have seen varying levels of success in the MLB. If the Marlins do indeed trade Alcantara or López, it would certainly be one of the biggest splashes of the offseason.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the age/control/money situations that each of them are in. The projected arbitration salaries that are used in this article are provided by MLB Trade Rumors which has an accurate yearly track record.

Marlins Starting Pitchers

Pitcher Age Remaining Years of Control Projected 2022 Arb Salary
Pitcher Age Remaining Years of Control Projected 2022 Arb Salary
Sandy Alcantara 26 3 $4.5M
Pablo López 25 3 $2.3M
Elieser Hernandez 26 3 $1.4M

All 3 pitchers are young, reasonably inexpensive, and under control for multiple years. Those are qualities that the Rays undoubtedly value. This article will break down each pitcher and assess what the Marlins would potentially look for in a trade return. In these breakdowns, ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) will be used to evaluate each starter. For context, the league average ERA and FIP was 4.27 in the 2021 season.

Sandy Alcantara

Alcantara is widely viewed as the best of these three pitchers and rightfully so. The 6’ 5” righty threw 205.2 IP in 2021, the fourth most IP in baseball. Sandy also averaged 6.2 IP per appearance, the fourth highest mark in baseball. He posted an excellent 3.19 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 4.2 fWAR over the season. He mostly lives off of his power sinker, slider combo against right-handed hitters and a four-seam, changeup attack to lefties.

According to Baseball Savant, Alcantara’s four-seamer (98.1 mph), sinker (97.6), changeup (91.8), and slider (90.4) all ranked amongst the top 4 hardest thrown pitches for each of their respective pitch types. You can see how well his pitches play off of each other:

Alcantara’s recent success has vaulted him into ‘ace’ territory. This means that any trade return for him would have to be quite the haul. He likely has the highest trade value of these three Marlins arms.

It was also reported in September that Alcantara and the Marlins were progressing towards a contract extension. It remains to be seen if Sandy will be available at all.

Pablo López

While Alcantara may be the shiny new toy, Pablo López is very good in his own right.

López owns a career 4.04 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and bested both values with a 3.07 ERA and 3.29 FIP this past season. Unlike Alcanatara, López does have a bit of injury history and dealt with a right rotator cuff strain this season. He missed the majority of the 2nd half but did come back for a final appearance in October where he threw 42 pitches.

The changeup is López’s bread and butter, he threw it nearly a third of the time in 2021 which was one of the highest rates in baseball. Here’s a look at it:

Outside of his great changeup, López mixes in two different fastballs (four-seam and sinker) as well as a cutter and curveball. He’s a very advanced pitcher with strong command of a wide arsenal. Check out the location heat maps of his 4 most used pitches this season, he lives on the corners:

Lopez heat maps via Baseball Savant

Pablo is the youngest of the three starters and figures to make less than Alcantara next year in arbitration. He does have an added injury risk which likely lowers the acquisition price, but it is still expected to be a hefty haul to acquire the young righty.

Elieser Hernandez

Hernandez just completed his 4th big league season in 2021 and posted a 4.18 ERA and 5.38 FIP. His career 4.67 ERA and 5.26 FIP are both similar marks

He is 6’0” righty who does not possess the pure stuff that his other 2 teammates do, but has still been effective at times. Hernandez only sits about 90-91 with his FB and uses his unique slider as his main secondary.

The slider’s movement is extremely unique, he only throws it at about 79mph and it gets good horizontal sweep but very little vertical drop:

2021 MLB Slider movement, min. 30 sliders thrown

The only other sliders even near his are thrown by submarine-style pitchers, yet he throws from over the top. It’s a super interesting pitch that has been very effective for him over his career. Over the last three seasons, batters have hit .185, .114, and .152 against his slider. Here it is in action:

The biggest question mark with Hernandez is his staggering home run problem. Over the span of 2018 - 2021, his 1.96 HR/9 ranks as the 5th worst in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 200 IP. Hernandez also has missed significant time with injury lately. Lat, bicep, and quad injuries have sidelined him over the past 2 seasons. The decision that the Rays will need to make is whether or not Hernandez is better than the back-of-rotation options that are already in house.

What might the Marlins look for in return?

CEO Derek Jeter has publicly stated that the Marlins are looking to upgrade their offense this winter, with key areas of focus being at the catcher and outfield positions. Given the Marlins desire to address the MLB team, it seems that a return package would likely need to consist of both major and minor leaguers.

The Rays are deep in both areas which makes the two clubs intriguing possible trade partners. Lets take a look at which Rays players may be of interest to Miami:

Vidal Brujan - MLB Pipeline Rays #2 Prospect

The super speedy switch-hitter had a career year at the AAA level hitting .262/.345/.440 with 12 HR and 44 SB over 103 games. Brujan always posts very strong strikeout-to-walk ratios and has great versatility. He has played more outfield recently which may catch Miami’s eye, and appeared at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, and RF in just this season alone.

Josh Lowe - MLB Pipeline Rays #4 Prospect

Josh is a lean, athletic, left-handed hitting CF and is coming off of his best minor league season yet. He hit .291/.381/.535 with 22 HR in 111 AAA games this season. Lowe got a taste of big league action at the end of the season and figures to get an extended MLB look in 2022. At this years trade deadline, it was reported that Miami had interest in Brandon Marsh who is a very similar prospect to Lowe.

Curtis Mead - MLB Pipeline Rays #14 Prospect

Mead has done nothing but hit since joining the Rays and hasn’t stopped in the Arizona Fall League this year either. He is coming off of a .321/.378/.533 line in his first full season. Mead has spent time at both 1B and 3B this season and is bit further from the majors than the other prospects listed here as he hasn’t spent significant time above High-A. For these reasons he may not be as great of a fit for the Marlins, but their main priority is adding offense and Mead has certainly shown off his ability in that aspect.

Blake Hunt - MLB Pipeline Rays #15 Prospect

Hunt is regarded as an athletic catcher with a strong arm who reached the AA level this past season. His bat is still a work in progress, he hit for a total .205/.288/.375 line in 2021 before his season ended with injury. His power is his best tool and he has shown solid contact abilities in the past. If the Marlins view him as a future everyday catcher, he could be an enticing target.

Austin Meadows - 3 years of control remaining

The Marlins are looking for offense anywhere they can get it and Meadows would certainly help them. He owns a career 122 wRC+ and a particularly strong 135 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. His defensive ability has diminished with age, but with the high probability of an NL DH coming into play, he could make some sense here. Meadows is projected to make $4.3M next year and it is fair to wonder if the Rays will soon discuss him in trade proposals as they often do once players reach arbitration.

Francisco Mejia - 3 years of control remaining

The 26 year-old catcher was an important piece to the 2021 Rays. Over 277 plate appearances, he hit .260/.322/.416 including 6 homeruns. His 108 wRC+ ranked in the top 10 among catchers this season as well. His defense is generally regarded as below average, but his strong hit tool gives him the potential to be an everyday MLB catcher which is a need for Miami. Like Meadows, Mejia is also entering his first year of arbitration and is projected to make $1.5M next year.

There are other candidates who could round out a deal for the Rays, such as one of the three center fielders on the roster (Manuel Margot?), or a Rule 5 eligible prospect like Ford Proctor, a disciplined hitter who spent time in the infield and at catcher this season. However, the 6 players mentioned above could be the conversation starters if the Rays want to pursue one of Miami’s arms.

Final Thoughts

If the Rays truly have interest in either Alcantara or López, they may have to part with multiple players from the list above. Other lesser pieces would probably need to be involved as well. It’s a steep price to pay, but the teams do matchup well as trade partners. If the Rays aren’t interested in parting with players of such high value, Elieser Hernandez could be an interesting target, as he will demand less of a return.

The Marlins aren’t just deep in starting pitchers either, they have bullpen depth and a number of intriguing pitching prospects. According to MLB Pipeline, 8 of the Marlins top 12 prospects are pitchers. Both the Rays and the Marlins have a lot of decisions to make this winter and a trade between the two may be a way to address needs on both sides.