The Marlins made their long-awaited swap of a starting pitcher for a hitter this afternoon, sending Pablo López to Minnesota as part of a deal for Luis Arraez. Shortly after the trade was finalized, Miami general manager Kim Ng told reporters (including Craig Mish of SportsGrid) the newly-acquired infielder would take over as the primary second baseman. All-Star Jazz Chisholm Jr. will move from the keystone to center field.
It’s an interesting gambit for Miami, who’ll indirectly address their uncertain center field mix with today’s trade. Arraez has plenty of experience as a second baseman. He came up through the minors at the position and has logged more MLB innings there than at any other position. Over parts of four seasons, Arraez has spent a bit more than 1200 innings at the keystone.
Public defensive metrics have been mixed on his effectiveness. Defense Runs Saved rated him as nine runs below average in just 390 innings there as a rookie in 2019. Over the three seasons since then, DRS has pegged him as a slightly better than average second baseman. Statcast hasn’t been quite so optimistic. While it also feels he’s improved since a poor rookie showing — an estimated -7 runs in 2019 — it has rated him a little below par in two of the last three years.
Statcast has graded Arraez’s arm strength as slightly above-average for the position. Scouts have raised questions about his lateral quickness and athleticism since his time as a prospect, though. Minnesota pushed him primarily to first base work last season, starting him 31 times at the keystone compared to 60 times at first base (with a handful of games at third also mixed in). Of course, Minnesota’s signing of Carlos Correa solidified shortstop and ensured Jorge Polanco would play almost exclusively at second base. The Twins felt more comfortable with Polanco’s glove than Arraez’s up the middle, but it’s possible they’d have given the latter more second base time if they hadn’t landed one of the sport’s best shortstops.
It does come as a surprise to see Miami move Chisholm out of the middle infield. The 24-year-old (25 next month) established himself as the organization’s top position player with a .254/.325/.535 first half before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his back. He also later underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee.
Signed as a shortstop prospect out of the Bahamas, Chisholm has only ever played the middle infield as a professional. He’ll take on the outfield on the fly during the upcoming season, with a month-plus of Spring Training action to acclimate to the new position.
With zero outfield experience, it’s impossible to know how Chisholm will take to the different reads and angles he’ll need to learn as an outfielder. Miami is clearly confident he’ll polish those aspects of his game quickly while relying on his elite athleticism in the interim. Chisholm was long credited by scouts with plus speed, and Statcast placed him in the league’s 94th percentile in that regard last season. He would’ve tied for 19th among 74 center fielders in sprint speed, so he certainly shouldn’t have issue covering the spacious outfield at Marlins Park from that perspective.
Prospect evaluators also praised Chisholm for an above-average throwing arm. He hasn’t shown that at the MLB level, though it’s not fair to compare his throwing speeds as a second baseman to those of center fielders. Chisholm obviously had quicker releases and much shorter distances to throw on the right side of the infield than he will from center field.
It’s a gamble for the Fish nonetheless, given the challenge of projecting how quickly he’ll develop the kind of reads needed to be a solid defensive center fielder. Yet it’s one Miami will take after missing out on their chances to directly upgrade the position from outside the organization. The free agent market at the position was mostly limited to depth players beyond Brandon Nimmo, Cody Bellinger and Kevin Kiermaier. Trades only offered a few more obvious candidates, with the Pirates sticking to a massive asking price on Bryan Reynolds and even reports of a somewhat significant ask from the Royals on a glove-first option like Michael A. Taylor.
Rather than run things back with players like Jesús Sánchez, Bryan De La Cruz and JJ Bleday — all of whom are better suited in the corner outfield — they’ll turn things over to Chisholm. Their younger outfielders will vie for a spot in the corner opposite Avisaíl García, while Arraez looks like to be joined by Joey Wendle, Jean Segura and Garrett Cooper in the primary infield.