The Marlins agreed to trade one of their few remaining major league veterans on Monday, though it’s probably not who you had in mind. The club announced Monday afternoon that right-hander Nick Wittgren has been swapped for Indians right-hander Jordan Milbrath. Additionally, right-hander Austin Brice was claimed off waivers from the Orioles. Outfielder Isaac Galloway was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic was first to report the agreement with Cleveland.
When healthy, Wittgren was arguably the top reliever on the 2018 Marlins. His 2.94 ERA and 3.13 FIP both led the entire staff. Turning 28 in May, he was poised to handle high-leverage innings this season.
Wittgren was designated for assignment last Tuesday to make room for veteran infielder Neil Walker. They had a seven-day window to resolve his status.
He seems to be at peace with this outcome, acknowledging the trade on Instagram:
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These last 7 years have seemed to fly by. Thank you to the Marlins for everything they have done for me and my family. They took a chance on me in 2012 and I am extremely grateful for that. I’ve had plenty of amazing memories with the fish, from arriving in the middle of the game for my debut to Ichiro hitting his 3000th at Coors to Volquez throwing a no hitter and many more. I’d like to thank all of the fans that supported me through the last 3 years. You truly are amazing and make Miami great. Thank you to all of the management, coaching staff, and my teammates from the past 7 years for the knowledge and advice that I have received. Miami will always hold a special place in my heart.
The timing is suspicious considering Wittgren’s minuscule salary—not arbitration eligible until next year—and how much his stock could’ve risen in 2019. What was the urgency? Fellow right-handers Nick Anderson, Tyler Kinley and Elieser Hernandez could have been DFA’d instead and likely passed through waivers unclaimed, thus remaining in the organization.
As for Milbrath, he is only two months younger than Wittgren. He posted a shaky 10.2 percent walk rate last season between Double-A and Triple-A, and has never reached the highest level. At first glance, looks like the Marlins got fleeced.
However, let’s not write off Milbrath completely. He has major league-caliber velocity (h/t Adam McInturff, 2080 Baseball):
Video of RHP Jordan Mlibrath, the player heading back to #Marlins from Cleveland in exchange for Nick Wttgren.— Adam McInturff (@2080adam) February 4, 2019
6'6'' reliever who racks up tons of ground balls with a turbo mid-90s sinker. Could be a middle reliever/RH specialist if he can cut down the walks. pic.twitter.com/5iEyrSBsgr
He’s a ground-ball specialist, inducing soft contact on a turbo mid-90s sinker that touches 97 mph. A mid-80s slider is a fringy pitch, causing him to miss less bats than his velocity suggests. Milbrath isn’t quite prospect-aged at 27-years-old, but he’s a near-ready piece that has a chance to pitch low-leverage innings for the rebuilding Marlins. His ceiling is a matchup righty who can get a ground ball in the middle innings, though he’ll need to cut down the walks in order to get there.
From Cleveland’s perspective, the trade is “very much in line with the low-key offseason we’ve seen thus far,” Blake Ruane of Let’s Go Tribe says. Star left-hander Andrew Miller left them in free agency for the St. Louis Cardinals, while longtime closer Cody Allen has a new gig with the Angels. So the opportunity is there for Wittgren to help fill the void and contend for a postseason berth in a lousy AL Central division.
A feel-good story from 2018, Galloway should pass through waivers unclaimed and stick around the only organization he has ever known. Here is Brice’s claim to fame:
More updates to come...