The Miami Marlins have contemplated going after a big name in terms of a starting pitcher who can help bolster an ailing rotation, especially now in the wake of Wei-Yin Chen’s disabled list stint for an elbow sprain. Currently, the organization is going to run Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart, and Jose Urena out there past Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley, and none of those three names inspire any confidence.
Miami has been linked to several starting pitchers, including bigger names like Chris Sale, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Andrew Cashner. But the question for Miami has always been cost: what can the Marlins provide in order to bolster their group? Will they sell out for a big name by sending a top-rated prospect? What top-rated prospect do the Marlins even have given the team’s near-barren farm system? The club has already dealt one interesting piece in right-hander Chris Paddack to get Fernando Rodney for this year and potentially next season. Who else is there to trade?
Realistically, the Marlins only have well-regarded trade chip left. Baseball America released their midseason top 100 prospect list, and only one Marlins name remains on that list. That would be first base prospect and 2015 first-round draft pick Josh Naylor.
In a full-season debut interrupted by a prank gone wrong, Naylor has shown the expected power while struggling with southpaws
Naylor is by no means impressing greatly in the minors, but for a kid who just turned 19 years old last month, he is holding up well in a league where guys are 21 or 22 years old on average. Naylor is hitting .265/.316/.432 (.336 wOBA) so far, which is a batting line 16 percent better than league average. For a player who had questionable pedigree before the draft, he is hitting well enough right now to warrant acclaim. He is pairing up with Stone Garrett, whose thumb he accidentally cut in a stupid prank accident, to form a decent tandem in the middle of that Greensboro lineup. However, while Garrett is still ranking outside a top-100 status, Naylor’s performance at a year younger than Garrett has caught folks’ eyes.
If Miami wants a real upgrade in their rotation, they may unfortunately have to part ways with Naylor. The team’s other prospects are either old for their level or are high-level, low-ceiling players in whom teams would be less interested. Naylor would probably be the player who would highlight a package for a team-controlled name, especially someone like Archer or Michael Pineda who have ace-like potential and/or significant team-controlled years.
It would not be the first time the Marlins sent a more prominent prospect name for a mid-year rental in a playoff race. Adrian Gonzalez was Miami’s first pick in the 2000 draft, going first overall to the Fish. Before the 2003 season, he ranked 31st in baseball by Baseball America in terms of prospects, but he was having an unspectacular age-21 season at the plate. The team gambled and sent him away for closer Ugueth Urbina, who was not exactly lighting it up that season. Prior to coming to Miami, Urbina had thrown 38 2/3 innings with 26 saves but an ugly 4.19 ERA and 4.32 FIP. It was only after he arrived in Miami when he started looking really good, shutting down teams with a 1.41 ERA and 2.80 FIP in his remaining 38 1/3 innings pitched.
The Marlins previously gave up a 31st ranked prospect having a decent but unremarkable year to inch themselves closer with a rental. This Marlins crew is also fairly close, with the team half a game ahead of the New York Mets for the Wild Card and two and a half games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first Wild Card spot. They are a not-unreasonable 4.5 games back of the Washington Nationals. This is the time for the Marlins to make a move for a decent upgrade, even if it requires a top-100 prospect name like Naylor. It helps that the Fish at least have a reasonable short-term placeholder in Justin Bour, who still has another season of pre-arbitration controlled time before arbitration starts. Naylor has limited potential as a guy who can only play first base in the majors, so his game is entirely dependent on how his bat develops. So far, he has shown positive signs, but if he is the cost to get a team-controlled young starting pitcher on the rotation as an upgrade, it is probably worth the investment.
Beyond him and maybe Garrett, the Marlins have guys who can add to a package but not be the centerpiece around one. The team would be hard-pressed to make any sort of move on someone like Sale who has tremendous trade value, but if a team is willing to bite on a package headlined by Naylor for someone like Archer, Miami would be wise to listen. This potential postseason run would be an invigorating experience for a very downtrodden fan base, and an additional starting pitcher could tip the scales the right direction.