With the trade deadline two weeks away, a good portion of the league has a general idea of how they plan to approach things. 16 teams either occupy or are within two games of a playoff spot. Barring a massive losing streak coming out of the All-Star Break, those clubs figure to explore ways to improve the 2022 roster. 11 more teams are six or more games out of the playoff race, and with the exception of the Rangers, they’ve all been outscored by 30+ runs on the year. How aggressively they’ll sell will vary, but there’s little reason for those teams to not at least explore the possibility of dealing some impending free agents.
That leaves three teams in a somewhat nebulous middle ground. The Orioles and White Sox each sit 3 1/2 back in the AL Wild Card standings, while Chicago is three out in the division race. MLBTR examined the Orioles’ deadline dilemma last week, while the White Sox seem likely to stay the course and hope for better second halves from some key players. The final team between two and six games out is the Marlins, whose deadline approach figures to be tied quite heavily to how they perform in the first week out of the break.
Miami was within 2 1/2 games of a playoff spot as recently as last Friday. A weekend sweep at the hands of the Phillies, who moved into a tie for the NL’s third Wild Card spot in the process, dropped the Fish to 43-48 and 5 1/2 out. It was a brutal three games that dealt a real hit in the standings — the club’s playoff probability fell from 7.6% to 2.7% over the weekend, according to FanGraphs’ estimates — but the Marlins will have an opportunity to salvage their postseason hopes before the August 2 trade deadline. Miami kicks off the unofficial second half with a standalone game against Texas before hosting Pittsburgh (three games) and going to Cincinnati (four games). If the Marlins can take six of those eight contests, they’d be back around .500 heading into their pre-deadline series against the NL East-leading Mets. Going 4-4 or even 5-3 over those relatively soft first two series probably wouldn’t be enough to deter general manager Kim Ng and her group from dealing some near-term talent.
Another full teardown seems unlikely. Earlier this month, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic wrote that Miami owner Bruce Sherman didn’t want to orchestrate a deadline sell-off “barring a collapse” from the team. Exactly what constitutes a “collapse” in Sherman’s and Ng’s eyes obviously isn’t clear, but it seems unlikely one sweep would cause Miami to totally reevaluate whether they want to move a controllable star like Pablo López. Yet even if Miami isn’t willing to part with their most valuable trade pieces this summer, they could make a few decent role playing types available.
Who might be attainable if the Marlins do decide to sell?
Garrett Cooper, 1B/DH
Cooper has been frequently mentioned as a trade candidate on MLBTR’s pages over the past couple years. The 31-year-old is a consistently good hitter when healthy, but he’d missed notable time each season from 2018-21. Cooper has avoided the injured list this season (aside from a very brief stint for virus symptoms) and played his way to an All-Star Game for the first time. He owns a .283/.349/.434 line with seven home runs and 21 doubles through 327 plate appearances. Throughout his career, he’s shown a knack for running strong batting averages on balls in play. He makes a lot of hard contact, hits plenty of line drives and generally uses the whole field to hit for gap power, even as he’s never hit more than 15 homers in a season.
Miami has resisted trading Cooper to this point, but he’s down to his final season and a half of club control. He’s only making $2.5MM this year, but that’s likely to jump to the $5MM range for his final season of arbitration eligibility. That’s certainly not onerous but the Marlins annually run a bottom ten payroll and this could be the best chance to recoup decent prospect value while Cooper’s healthy. Jon Heyman of the New York Post wrote this month that the Dodgers could have interest.
Jon Berti, INF/OF
Berti’s a versatile speedster who’s having a career-best season. He’s hitting .271/.365/.375 with a pair of home runs and an excellent 12.2% walk rate across 222 plate appearances. That plate discipline has allowed Berti to reach base quite frequently, and he’s wrecked havoc once there. He has swiped 28 bases on the year, six more than anyone else in MLB despite only playing in around 64% of the team’s games. Berti’s slash-and-dash approach is rare, but he’s making it work and had earned a role at the top of the Miami lineup before going on the 10-day injured list late last week with a mild left groin strain.
The team hasn’t provided a timetable on his return, and perhaps the injury will rule him out as a trade candidate. If it’s minor enough he returns before the deadline and looks no worse for wear as a runner, though, it stands to reason he’ll draw interest from contenders. In addition to his baserunning acumen, he’s started multiple games at each of third base, second base, shortstop, and in left field this year. Miami can control him through 2025, so they don’t have to make a deal even if they move some other players, but he’s already 32 years old and having perhaps a career season. This’ll probably be the apex of his trade value, particularly since this year’s infield market is very thin.
Brian Anderson, 3B/COF
It’s unlikely the Marlins deal both Berti and Anderson, but they may have enough infield depth to feel comfortable parting with one of the two. Miami acquired Joey Wendle from the Rays over the winter, intending to supplant Anderson at third base after he underperformed in 2021. Wendle has been solid when healthy but missed a notable stretch between May and June with hamstring troubles. That afforded Anderson more playing time at the hot corner than anticipated, and he’s bounced back with a solid .262/.358/.393 showing across 193 plate appearances.
Anderson, 29, is controllable through the end of next season via arbitration. He’s already making $4.475MM this year and will earn a bit of a bump during his final season of arb-eligibility. As with Cooper, it’s possible Miami sees this as an opportunity to bring in some young talent while reallocating the projected 2023 salary elsewhere. Anderson is a good player, a well-rounded everyday third baseman. Yet Miami already has Wendle and Berti as options at the position, and they signed Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler to multi-year deals over the winter to plug the corner outfield. It’s a deep collection of corner players that might squeeze Anderson out of the mix.
Elieser Hernández, RHP
Hernández would be more of a change-of-scenery candidate than a solution for a contender. Throughout his big league tenure, he’s shown a strong combination of strikeouts and walks but given up far too many home runs. He’s taken that to a particular extreme in 2022, serving up a staggering 18 longballs in 53 innings (3.06 HR/9). That’s far and away a career-worst mark for a pitcher who was already one of the league’s most homer-prone arms. Unsurprisingly, Hernández has an ERA above 6.00 and lost his spot in the rotation in May.
Perhaps the home run troubles are so pronounced there won’t be much interest. Hernández hasn’t been able to keep the ball in the yard even in one of the game’s more spacious home parks. Still, we’ve seen teams place bets on pitchers like Andrew Heaney and Yusei Kikuchi over the years, valuing strikeout stuff and betting that tweaks to a pitcher’s repertoire and/or simple home run rate regression will even things out. Perhaps some team feels the same way about Hernández and will look to buy-low on a pitcher making just $1.325MM and arb-eligible through 2024.
Miami has a handful of capable if unexciting middle relief arms who should draw some attention from contenders. Bass, 34, is a prototypical journeyman but has posted an ERA below 4.00 in each of the past five seasons. He throws in the mid-90s, pounds the strike zone and misses bats at a slightly above-average rate. He’s making $3MM this year and has a matching club option for 2023.
Okert isn’t yet arbitration-eligible, while Floro is making $3MM and arb-eligible for one more season. A former minor league signee, Okert is a 31-year-old southpaw who has posted swinging strike rates north of 13% in each of the last two years. He’s fanned nearly 30% of batters faced as a result, and he’s handled hitters from both sides of the plate. Okert struggles with walks and home runs, but a southpaw who misses bats is always likely to attract some amount of interest. Floro is essentially the polar opposite. The 31-year-old righty doesn’t throw hard or generate many whiffs, but he’s a volume strike-thrower who consistently induces grounders at a strong clip.
Longer shot possibilities
Ng and her staff could also try to find a taker for first baseman Jesús Aguilar, who is set to hit free agency at the end of the year (assuming the team declines its end of a 2023 mutual option). Interest figures to be modest for a defensively-limited player who’s hitting just .252/.299/.401 while making $7.5MM, however. It’s possible they could flip Wendle or catcher Jacob Stallings, but Miami acquired both over the winter to upgrade the lineup. With each controllable for at least another season (and Stallings having a down year), that seems unlikely.
Coming out of the All-Star Break, the team will try to play its way out of any sort of sell-off. They’ll have a stretch of below .500 teams to start off, giving them an opportunity to get back into the playoff periphery. Getting swept heading into the break digs them a significant hole, though, and the Miami front office figures to field a number of calls on their veteran complementary players with dwindling windows of control.