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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Will stunning Arráez trade make sense in the end for the Marlins?

The Florida Marlins sent Luis Arráez, a two-time batting champion from Venezuela, to the San Diego Padres for a relief pitcher and three prospects. (X/

By Ken Rosenthal / The Athletic

Any trade in which a team lands a two-time batting champion while lowering its payroll is worthy of further examination. A.J. Preller, the general manager of the San Diego Padres, pulled off that trick with his stunning acquisition of Luis Arráez.

Perhaps no general manager is as adept at collecting talent as Preller, even if that talent does not always fit together. But the Miami Marlins’ end of the deal might be even more intriguing than the Padres’, and not simply because of how quickly the Marlins quit on 2024.

Peter Bendix, the Marlins’ general manager, was correct when he said his team is unlikely to reach the postseason. But talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Marlins ran off Kim Ng, who orchestrated their first playoff appearance over a full season in 20 years. They signed only one free agent, shortstop Tim Anderson, who owns the game’s fourth-lowest on-base plus slugging percentage. They essentially agreed to part with the reigning National League manager of the year, Skip Schumaker, who after getting the team to remove the club option on his contract surely is counting down the days to his liberation.

Players’ careers are short. Every season is precious. Marlins owner Bruce Sherman hired Bendix from the Tampa Bay Rays, wanting to duplicate the success of Stuart Sternberg’s thrifty operation across the state. Someone tell Sherman the Rays never go into full retreat like this: Only twice since 2008 have they won fewer than 80 games in a full season.

Which brings us to Arráez for reliever Woo-suk Go and three prospects — outfielder Dillon Head, the 25th overall pick in the 2023 draft; outfielder Jakob Marsee, the most recent MVP of the Arizona Fall League; and first baseman and outfielder Nathan Martorella. Only that was not the entirety of the deal: The Marlins also included nearly $8 million, paying down Arráez’s 2024 salary to all but the prorated minimum, and took on the remainder of Go’s two-year, $4.5 million contract. The approach was rather odd for a team that always cries poor. But Bendix’s goal was to boost the quality of the return.

The trade deadline is almost three months away. Bendix, in his first year as a head of baseball operations, said he feared the same deal might not have been available if he waited. According to a team source, he explored deals for Arráez in the offseason and into the season and believed he had a good understanding of the market. But if he had stayed patient and broadcast to the other 29 teams his willingness to cover virtually all of Arráez’s salary, might he have extracted more?

It is always risky to judge prospect-driven trades in real time. The Kansas City Royals were almost universally ripped in December 2012 for parting with a top prospect, Wil Myers, while acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis. That deal helped lay the foundation for Kansas City’s back-to-back World Series appearances. The New York Mets were widely mocked in December 2018 for including a top prospect, Jarred Kelenic, in a trade for Edwin Díaz and Robinson Canó. The perception of that deal changed markedly over time, and if Kelenic ever figures it out, could shift again.

Keith Law of The Athletic called the Marlins’ return “an impressive haul.” Baseball Trade Values considered the deal a “major overpay” by the Padres, based upon its calculations of each player’s surplus value, or the excess of value beyond what the players will be paid.

Many, if not most, in the industry disagreed with those opinions. The view of those dissenters was that the deal lacked — pick your favorite scouting term — a “dude,” a “needle mover,” a “carrying piece.” The Marlins, they say, opted for quantity over quality, 24 years of club control over less than two with Arráez. The Rays and other teams often follow similar models. And it’s a fine model, as long as the prospects you acquire can play.

Preller routinely bundles lower-impact players to entice teams eager to collect future value. He did it to the Rays in December 2020 when he acquired Blake Snell for four prospects who have yet to amount to much — Luis Patiño, Francisco Mejía, Blake Hunt and Cole Wilcox. The strategy, however, does not always work. The Mike Clevinger and Greg Allen trade with the Cleveland Guardians in August 2020 cost the Padres a future star (Josh Naylor) and several other major league parts (Gabriel Arias, Austin Hedges, Owen Miller and Cal Quantrill).

And the three prospects Preller dealt for Arráez? Head, while immensely talented, is considered high risk, high reward. Marsee is a good defender who controls the strike zone and, with an uptick of power, could become a bona fide regular, or, as one executive put it, a “diet Jung Hoo Lee.” Martorella shows offensive potential but would play first base or designated hitter. As with all prospects, the exact career paths each will take is anyone’s guess.

Another problem in assessing the Arráez deal is the difficulty of assessing Arráez. He offers little power, making it almost essential he maintains his .325 career average. He is below average at second base, the wrong type of offensive profile for first. Whatever versatility he offers — he has also played third and left — is negated by his overall lack of fielding ability.

The negative view of Arráez is the one spit out by the models — which, in the case of the Rays, and presumably now the Marlins, place a high value on defense, perhaps overly high. The valuation also factors in his $10.6 million salary and the raise he will receive in his final year of arbitration next season. But the assessment of Arráez in a vacuum does not necessarily account for how he might benefit specific teams: the 2023 Marlins, for example, and perhaps the 2024 Padres.

The Padres were seeking a left-handed hitter who would lengthen their lineup, get on base for their power bats and help increase the pressure they put on opponents. Deep in quality defensive infielders, they did not seem concerned with Arráez’s fielding deficiencies. They can use Arráez as a DH or can play him in the field and give one of their other infielders a DH day.

The trade, though, is not a sure thing for the Padres, either. Right-hander Joe Musgrove went on the injured list Sunday with right elbow inflammation. Preller, who might need to reach the postseason to save his job, could regret giving up prospect depth if his rotation keeps taking hits. But just when you think he has depleted his supply of young talent, he always seems to come up with more players to trade.

Preller’s Padres this season will pay a two-time batting champion less than $600,000. The Marlins will try to salvage Go, a Korean free agent who has yet to appear in the majors, while hyping their newest prospects. They hedged their bets by acquiring bulk. They think they satisfied their desire for surplus value. If you are going to punt on a season the way they are punting, that value had better materialize. Otherwise, it’s all just a shell game. A waste.

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