Reportedly deterred by MLB free agent rates, the Marlins might prefer to use their farm system depth to trade for outfielders with lower salaries and multiple years of club control.
Earlier this week, our own Juan Páez dared to ask whether the Marlins should even be trying to acquire another outfielder for the 2021 season. Starling Marte is poised to be their everyday center fielder with Corey Dickerson getting the lion’s share of starts in left and a handful of younger internal options competing for the remaining reps. While we at Fish Stripes continue to operate under the assumption of a universal designated hitter rule, that is far from a certainty—the MLB Players’ Association just rejected the league’s latest offer and (as of early Tuesday morning) haven’t submitted a counterproposal. If Marlins pitchers are going to be taking their usual 300 or so total plate appearances out of the already-crowded position player pool, there’d be very little to gain from splurging on offensive additions.
With all that being said, the national and local rumors have been fairly consistent: the Marlins want a bat. One way to approach this would be signing a free agent (such as Adam Duvall, but apparently not Yasiel Puig) to a short-term deal; as an alternative, the Fish might sacrifice talent from their deep farm system via trade to bring in a slightly younger player at a cheaper guaranteed salary whose club control extends through 2022 or beyond. This article explores the latter.
The following six players are ordered in terms of ascending trade value as estimated by Baseball Trade Values. Mike Tauchman, Andrew Benintendi and Adam Frazier are in their own tier according to BTV coming off forgettable 2020 performances. Meanwhile, the Orioles, Blue Jays and Cubs have much more leverage right now when negotiating potential deals involving Anthony Santander, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Ian Happ, respectively.
Mike Tauchman (New York Yankees)
Availability (scale of 1-10): 7. The Yankees are in win-now mode and should be reluctant to get rid of anybody who can contribute at the major league level as Tauchman did so capably in 2019. But with the club progressing towards re-signing fellow lefty-swinger Brett Gardner and their All-Star-caliber outfielders fully healthy (for now), he’d be underutilized. Perhaps there is a deal to be made that sends a Miami pitching prospect or two to New York in exchange.
Fit: Tauchman works very deep counts and can handle the defensive duties at any outfield spot. Not even eligible for arbitration yet, he will only earn slightly above the MLB minimum salary this coming season with club control extending through 2024. You can nitpick Tauchman’s age (30) and sporadic power hitting, but the Marlins would appreciate his services.
Andrew Benintendi (Boston Red Sox)
Availability: 9. The Red Sox have reportedly been discussing Benintendi with various teams this offseason, including the Marlins! For the right price, they would be willing to part with the former top prospect, though I remain suspect of anything materializing before Opening Day. There seems to be a chasm between what the Sox seek in return and how the rest of the league values him.
Fit: Meh…At $6.6 million for 2021, Benintendi is the priciest of these featured players, and he can test free agency after the following year. He has zero professional experience in right field where the Marlins presumably intend to use him often during the upcoming season. On the other hand, the upside is tantalizing—he was a borderline top 10 MLB outfielder as recently as 2018.
Adam Frazier (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Availability: 10. General manager Ben Cherington claims he’s no longer focused on selling off veterans, but it’s painfully clear that the Buccos will not be contending for anything in 2021. Players like Frazier who are within shouting distance of free agency are incongruous with the direction of the franchise and therefore expendable.
Fit: Frazier’s versatility is attractive—the Athens, Georgia native has started at six different positions so far in his major league career (2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF and RF). However, he shares some of Benintendi’s concerns with only one year of arbitration eligibility remaining after ‘21, steadily declining value as a baserunner and a higher starting salary than the Marlins prefer ($4.3M). Overall, he’s been a league-average hitter in parts of five seasons in The Show (100 wRC+).
Anthony Santander (Baltimore Orioles)
Availability: 9. Roch Kubatko of MASN has reported that the Marlins checked in regarding Santander. The American League’s version of the Pirates, the Orioles are going nowhere fast and should be amenable to moving just about anybody on their major league roster. Perhaps hinting at ownership’s desire to slash payroll, the O’s offered Santander salary deferrals on his 2021 contract, a highly unusual tactic when negotiating with an arbitration-eligible player according to Dan Connolly of The Athletic. (Santander declined that pay structure and will be going to an arbitration hearing next month.)
Fit: The Marlins would appreciate Santander’s switch-hitting presence in their lineup, while he ought to feel right at home sharing a clubhouse with Venezuelan countrymen Jesús Aguilar, Pablo López and Miguel Rojas. Even if the 26-year-old were to win his arb case, $2.5M is a bargain. Santander has 20 homers in his last 65 games dating back to the 2019 season. As mentioned in the introduction, BTV considers him substantially more valuable than any of the previously discussed trade targets. Any hypothetical package for Santander definitely involves more than one of Miami’s top 30 prospects.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays)
Availability: 4. Having already landed superstar George Springer, the Blue Jays came close to a deal with the esteemed Michael Brantley, too. That would’ve created a logjam in their outfield and an urgency to shop somebody like Gurriel for extra pitching. The willingness to pursue Brantley—the sides reportedly reached a three-year agreement before things unraveled and he re-upped with the Astros—suggests they may pivot to one of the other remaining free agent position players as a consolation. But in the meantime, Gurriel’s availability is difficult to gauge.
Fit: Toronto’s main left fielder throughout 2020, Gurriel actually has roots as a middle infielder. Perfectly fine for the Fish who have intriguing in-house options at second base but none that are fully trustworthy. His career 120 wRC+ is better than any current Marlin. The son of a Cuban baseball legend of the same name, Lourdes Jr. is under club control for four more seasons (due $3.9M in 2021).
Ian Happ (Chicago Cubs)
Availability: 8. The NL Central is so pathetic, the Cubs can continue to dismantle the core of their team while still stumbling into the postseason again. To be fair, their strategy appears to be more nuanced than that. Although finances are clearly a motive here, Chicago won’t be trading Kris Bryant, Javier Báez or Anthony Rizzo before Opening Day because they would barely bring back any young talent in return. Happ, on the other hand, is just entering his prime while being severely undercompensated. The Northsiders can get a haul for him.
Fit: There’s some swing-and-miss in Happ’s plate approach, but that is really the only reservation the Marlins might have. You can play him anywhere (even on the mound in emergencies) in 2020 and trust him as the everyday center fielder beginning next year if Starling Marte signs elsewhere. The 26-year-old switch-hitter provides elite production from the left side, constantly barreling the ball. Like Santander, he is awaiting an arbitration hearing after submitting a $4.1M figure (the Cubs want him at $3.25M) and will be eligible for the arb process again in 2022 and 2023.