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Marlins trade RHP Ryan Lillie to Reds, add to international signing bonus pool

The organization is sacrificing a decent prospect with the intent of locking up top Cuban free agents.

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There were hints on Friday that the Marlins had the inside track at signing free agents Víctor Víctor Mesa, Víctor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gastón. A trade with the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday shows that they’re going all out to meet the Cuban players’ asking prices:

Right-hander Ryan Lillie had a strong 2018 season, especially at Low-A Greensboro where he earned South Atlantic League All-Star honors. Overall, he posted a 3.44 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 23.0 K% in 117 23 innings pitching across three different levels at age 22. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball offered the following summary after evaluating Lillie in May:

Polished strikethrower, beating up on less experienced competition, could handle a tougher assignment. Low ceiling/high floor type that could fill a variety of low-leverage roles. Profiles as longman/mopup type or a middle reliever.

Lillie took to Twitter to express his gratitude to the organization that drafted him:

The former fifth-round pick might reach the majors eventually, but the Marlins are prioritizing talent with much higher upside. The older Mesa and Gastón are the two best amateurs still available during the 2018-19 signing period. They demonstrated that ability during the Marlins Park showcase, as detailed by MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Mesa’s 60-yard run was timed between 6.45-6.56 seconds; Gastón—still just 16 years old—already possesses a high-90s fastball.

The Baltimore Orioles entered the day with a much larger international signing bonus pool than the Marlins (approx. $6.7 million compared to $4.3 million). This move helps close the gap.

Neither team involved in the trade has specified how much will be added to Miami’s pool. Major League Baseball allows pool space to change hands in $250,000 increments ($250k, $500k, $750k, etc.). For perspective, when the Marlins traded pending free agent Cameron Maybin on July 31 to the Mariners, they received infield prospect Bryson Brigman along with $250,000 in pool space.

It would be irresponsible of the Marlins to part with a young arm like Lillie unless they felt certain about being able to sign the Mesas and Gastón. Early indications are that they’re doubling down on that strategy, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com tweets, and “exploring” additional trades. Hopefully, the club focuses on acquiring the money with major league veterans rather than further weakening the farm system.

Stay tuned for updates.