In this here blogging business, the news of the day often reshapes the narrative you originally set out with when you take to the task of writing an article.
I knew that I wanted to write about Justin Bour as early as last week, when I became suspicious of the conspicuous absence of his name in any trade rumors. Sure, it’s easy to drown in the Stanton Sea if you’re another Marlins player these days, but we’ve heard all sorts of things about a number of other players already: Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, the list goes on.
Not a peep about Justin Bour. America has a short memory, I know, but surely the knowledgeable baseball minds populating front offices across the country would recall Bour’s stirring performance against ultimate derby winner Aaron Judge (in retrospect, the highlight of the season for me). More importantly, they would remember that Bour was given an opportunity to hit against both lefties and righties this past season and performed well. He’s always smashed right-handed pitchers (to the tune of a career 166 wRC+), but in 2017 he was also able to demonstrate he can hold his own against lefties, reaching base 32 times in 98 plate appearances, smacking six home runs and garnering 21 RBI. Not everything went swimmingly for Bour, as he went down with a strained right oblique for a lengthy stretch in late summer, but more on that in a bit.
Given his partial breakout performance and the team’s desire to reshape the roster, I was anticipating seeing Bour’s name out there amongst the swirling Marlins trade rumors. That they had completely failed to materialize up to this point had baffled me.
So, I set out to write an ardent case extolling the virtues of Miami’s favorite donut-eating, jersey-swapping first baseman. Not that I want him to be moved. Far from it. But I do think he deserves recognition and I feel he’s fallen into the national sports media’s blind spot, who only have so much time and space and enthusiasm for the series of below average Marlins teams Bour has been a member of.
That was what I was going to do. Then, a trade was struck with the most obvious of partners:
The “other piece” ended up being left-handed pitcher Caleb Smith, who put up pretty good numbers in 98 innings pitched in AAA last season, going 9-1 with a 2.39 ERA/3.27 FIP. He had a relatively ugly stint as a member of the Yankees bullpen, but with the Marlins lack of pitching rotation depth he may get a chance to start out of the gate next season.
In return, the Marlins parted ways with single A pitcher Michael King and $250,000 dollars in international bonus pool money, undoubtedly to help aid the Yankees in their pursuit of the market’s prized free agent, Shohei Ohtani.
Garrett Cooper, if you were unaware, is a 26 year old right-handed hitting first baseman, originally drafted in the sixth round (pick 16) in the 2013 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. The Yankees acquired him last season from the Brewers as depth/Greg Bird insurance, and he performed well in limited action, hitting .323/.333/.488 over 13 games. Blocked by a presumably healthy Bird in New York and loaded with talent as it is, the Yankees felt comfortable letting the promising Cooper go in exchange for the aforementioned money and the flexibility gained on their 40-man roster.
Still, this feels like a good deal from the Marlins perspective, as they are not in the market for Ohtani (or any other major acquisitions, for that matter) and Cooper has raked at every level since 2013 (not to mention any contribution the Marlins might get out of Smith). One would think that the Marlins didn’t acquire Cooper simply to stash him. The man is ready to play in the major leagues and he needs at bats to bear that out.
The trade begs the question, then: Is this the beginning of the end for Justin Bour in a Marlins uniform?
Gary Denbo, the Marlins newly annointed Director of Player Development and Scouting, undoubtedly had his hand in this acquisition, and, being theoretically very familiar with Cooper’s strengths and/or weaknesses, there might be a few things at play here that don’t automatically point to a Justin Bour trade.
- Cooper could easily take the Tyler Moore role from last season and looks like a good bet to be better at it.
- Cooper makes for great injury insurance. I suspect if Bour had never gotten hurt, he’d be getting more love as a potential middle of the order bat for a needy team. But if we’re being honest, Bour has gotten hurt every year he’s been a regular in Miami, and that, combined with him turning 30 during next year’s campaign and his traditionally robust frame, might be making teams a little wary about acquiring him. Cooper is a nice guy to have on hand to immediately slot in should both Bour and Cooper enter the season on the roster.
- Cooper himself might be an attractive piece to flip in a deal.
In any case, this gives the team flexibility to move either player in a deal that strengthens the minor leagues or helps them enter the season with more short-term roster depth.
In my ideal Marlins world, Bour becomes the lovable face of the franchise in 2018. He puts in a full, healthy season, he continues to hit against both righties and lefties with aplomb, and he finally gets the national attention he rightfully deserves, not only for being a good baseball player, but for being one of the more charismatic people in the game.
That may not be in the cards anymore with Garrett Cooper officially on board. It’s what I get for asking where the Justin Bour trade rumors are at, I guess. If there weren’t any before, there will be now.