The Marlins are generally expected to move some players off the big league roster in advance of the July 30 trade deadline. They’re in last place in the National League East at 39-50, and FanGraphs gives the Fish just a 0.2% chance of reaching the postseason. Indeed, the Marlins already began selling last month, when they sent corner outfielder Corey Dickerson and reliever Adam Cimber to the Blue Jays.
Miami’s biggest decision over the coming weeks will be whether to trade star center fielder Starling Marte. The two sides are reportedly discussing an extension, with the expectation that Marte will be moved if they don’t agree on a long-term deal. But there’s another Miami hitter who should intrigue contenders, one whose production has flown a little more under the radar: Garrett Cooper.
Cooper wasn’t a top prospect coming up in the Brewers or Yankees farm systems, and he’s never been a name familiar to most casual fans. Since breaking into the majors, he’s always performed when given the opportunity though. Miami acquired Cooper from the Yankees before the 2018 season, but he spent most of that year on the injured list. He returned to play fairly well in 2019 but again missed time with injury, and he lost a month of the 2020 season amidst the Marlins’ team-wide COVID-19 outbreak last summer.
Upon being reinstated from the COVID IL last August, Cooper mashed down the stretch to help lead the Marlins to a postseason berth. He’s improved upon that production this season, putting up a .291/.387/.481 line over 238 plate appearances. He’s sporting a .288/.375/.488 mark since the start of 2020, and he owns a .284/.355/.457 line (122 wRC+) over 875 trips to the dish at the major league level.
Cooper’s had his share of health troubles, but there’s little question he’s a quality offensive player when healthy. His bottom line results are strong, and his underlying batted ball metrics are plus. Cooper’s in the 75th percentile or better this in average exit velocity, barrel rate and hard contact rate. His peak exit velocity (114 MPH) is in the 92nd percentile, a reflection of his high-end raw power.
Unsurprisingly, the right-handed hitting Cooper has been a bit better against left-handed pitching than right-handers over the course of his career. He’s far from a platoon player, though, owning a productive .280/.362/.434 mark against same-handed hurlers. Cooper does strike out a fair amount and shouldn’t be expected to sustain this season’s .383 batting average on balls in play. But he makes consistent hard contact and uses the entire field, so it’s fair to expect he’ll continue to have his fair share of hits fall in. Even if Cooper’s BABIP dips toward his .337 figure from last year, he should remain a well above-average hitter based on his quality of contact and decent plate discipline.
The bat is the calling card for Cooper, who’s best suited at first base. With Jesús Aguilar at first in South Florida, he’s seen more time in the corner outfield than at his natural position in recent seasons. He’s not a disaster in the grass, but defensive metrics all agree he’s below-average, which isn’t surprising for a player listed at 6’5″, 235 pounds.
It’s worth noting that the Marlins needn’t move Cooper this summer if they’re so disinclined. He’s controllable via arbitration for two seasons beyond this one, and the Marlins could keep him around in hopes of making a run in 2022. There was some speculation about Miami moving Cooper last offseason after they signed Adam Duvall. There was no indication the Marlins came all that close to pulling the trigger on a deal, but it stands to reason clubs will again be in contact with general manager Kim Ng to gauge his potential availability over the coming weeks.
If Miami is willing to move Cooper, there are a handful of teams who look like strong fits on paper. The Dodgers and Padres were among the clubs interested in Cooper over the winter, and they’re amidst a tight race with one another and the division-leading Giants in the NL West. (Padres general manager A.J. Preller expressed interest over the weekend in upgrading his lineup). The Red Sox and Mariners have gotten very little from their first basemen, and Seattle’s Evan White might not return from a hip injury this year. The Braves could use corner outfield help.
Even perennially low-payroll teams could inquire on Cooper, who’s making just $1.9MM (with less than half of that sum still owed). The A’s and Rays could use more production out of the designated hitter spot. Indians first basemen have been among the worst in the league; while Cleveland might be falling out of position to buy for this season, they could acquire him with an eye towards 2022.
Cooper might not have the name recognition or long track record of some of this summer’s other trade candidates. He’s a quality hitter, though, the kind of player who would upgrade most teams’ lineups. Between his production and affordability, Cooper should pique the interest of a handful of contenders over the coming weeks.