Without a doubt, the 2020 MLB season has been the strangest ever: COVID-19 pandemic looming, no fans in the stands, designated hitter in the National League, 60 games, and expanded playoffs. And despite all that, the Marlins approached the trade deadline as buyers for the first time since 2016. On top of that, they made a splash.
Finally dark enough to see all the Starlings over Miami pic.twitter.com/TmGJSxLgue— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) September 1, 2020
The Marlins acquired Starling Marte from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Humberto Mejía, and a PTBNL (reportedly LHP prospect Julio Frias). The 31-year-old center fielder is a former All-Star and gold glover. This season he is slashing .311/.384/.443 with 2 HR, 8 2B, 1 3B, and 5 SB. Marte is now arguably the Marlins best hitter and should provide a much-needed spark at the top of the lineup.
On the other side of the spectrum was the Marlins deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. In that deal, they sent their starting second baseman, Jonathan Villar, for an intriguing PTBNL: OF prospect Griffin Conine. Yes, Conine, as in the son of Marlins legend, THE Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine.
Concurrent with dealing Villar to the Blue Jays is an acknowledgement from president of baseball operations Michael Hill that Marlins 2B Isan Díaz, who opted out of the 2020 season a month ago, is training in Jupiter and applying for reinstatement from the league. Reporting from Craig Mish suggests his return to action could come very soon, allowing Díaz to more or less fill Villar’s shoes (albeit with a different skill set).
The Marlins are just now getting back many of the players who were out due to the Coronavirus breakout. RHP Sandy Alcantara, 1B/OF Garrett Cooper, C Jorge Alfaro, C Chad Wallach, SS Miguel Rojas, RHP Yimi Garcia, RHP Robert Dugger and LHP Alex Vesia have all recently provided some much-needed reinforcement. OF Harold Ramirez, RHP Jose Ureña, RHP Nick Neidert, RHP Jeff Brigham, RHP Jordan Holloway and RHP Ryne Stanek are all in Jupiter working their way back as well.
While they were gone, the Marlins pitching staff was able to hold down the fort mainly with the contributions of RHP Pablo López, RHP Elieser Hernandez, LHP Daniel Castano, the recently traded RHP Humberto Mejía, and a bullpen composed of pitchers from wherever the Marlins could find usable talent. Along with that, the they called up RHP Sixto Sánchez who looks every bit as advertised, and LHP Trevor Rogers has shown positive starter traits and was able to secure the win against Jacob deGrom and the Mets on Monday. Thanks to quality depth like that, the Fish had the luxury of trading Caleb Smith, who had a solid three-year stint in Miami with a 4.39 ERA and 259 strikeouts in 233 2⁄3 innings.
To get a coveted playoff berth, the Marlins only need to hold onto second place in the NL East, or finish with one of the top two records among Wild Card teams. They are undoubtedly in contention entering the final month of the regular season.
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But none of this happens in a vacuum—how has the trade deadline affected the teams around them?
Atlanta Braves—Though sitting in 1st place,their starting pitching depth is a weakness, especially after RHP Mike Soroka went down with a season ending achilles injury. Despite rumors of their interest in RHP Mike Clevinger, they essentially stood pat at the deadline only having acquired LHP Tommy Milone from the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. Milone, a career 4.51 ERA starter, made his Braves debut on that same day, giving up 7 runs in 2 1⁄3 innings versus the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves have some interesting young starting pitching prospects who could make an impact and they have 36-year-old lefty Cole Hamels working towards returning from left triceps tendinitis and left shoulder inflammation.
Philadelphia Phillies—They have won 6 of their last 7 games and are now tied with the Marlins for second place in the NL East. In the last week and a half, the Phillies have dealt for four relievers: RHP Heath Hembree, RHP Brandon Workman, RHP David Hale, and RHP David Phelps. The big-market club has been a disappointment since signing Bryce Harper and trading for former Marlins All-Star J.T. Realmuto prior to the 2019 season, but failing to build a functional supporting cast around them. This has been mostly due to a very unreliable bullpen, which they have now attempted to address. The Phillies, now hot and with new arms, are a threat to the Marlins playoff hopes.
New York Mets—The Mets entered another season with plenty playoff ambitions but have yet again, reached the trade deadline looking deflated. They lost RHP Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery, RHP Marcus Stroman and OF/DH Yoenis Céspedes opted out, and they have now lost 4 games in a row. Despite this they quickly rushed to add 3B Todd Frazier, C Robinson Chirinos, and right-handed relief pitcher Miguel Castro. While technically buyers, Frazier and Chirinos have been underwhelming at the plate this season, hitting .241 with 2 HR and .119 with 0 HR respectively. Castro has a huge arm, averaging 98 mph on his fastball, and should be a solid back-end of the bullpen addition. However, Castro owns a 4.02 ERA in 16 appearances and ranks amongst the league’s worst in average exit velocity (92.4mph). While the Mets made these deals hoping to ignite a spark, these guys are unlikely to move the needle.
By acquiring Todd Frazier, Robinson Chirinos, and Miguel Castro the Mets have added a combined 2020 WAR of -0.3— ChriSEXotic (@Schlongforto) August 31, 2020
If I’m a playoff team, i do NOT want to face the Mets
Washington Nationals—MLB’s defending champions are 12-20 and 4 games back from second place in the NL East. While posturing as buyers for this deadline, they did not execute a single trade. After losing World Series MVP, RHP Stephen Strasburg (carpal tunnel syndrome), 1B Ryan Zimmerman (opt-out), 2B Starlin Castro (fractured right wrist), and RHP Joe Ross (opt-out) for the rest of the 2020 season, the Nationals are looking very weak.
The Rest of the National League
The San Diego Padres made the biggest push at the deadline acquiring RHP Mike Clevinger, C Jason Castro, C Austin Nola, 1B/DH Mitch Moreland, RHP Austin Adams, RHP Dan Altavilla, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, and RHP Taylor Williams. An already exciting young team led by Manny Machado and Fernando Tatís Jr., the Padres have cemented themselves as contenders after overhauling their bullpen and adding Clevinger to their starting rotation.
The Cincinnati Reds have built one of the leagues most talented rotations over the last few years led with Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, and Sonny Gray. However, the Reds own a 15-20 record and their hitting ranks 28th in MLB, with a .216 team batting average even after adding 3B/OF Nick Castellanos and 3B/2B Mike Moustakas in the last winter. Despite this, the Reds went shopping at the deadline acquiring RHP Archie Bradley and OF Brian Goodwin. The Reds have the potential to heat up and play themselves, at least, into one of the two NL Wild Card spots—find a way in and they’ll be a frightening matchup for anybody thanks to those talented co-aces.
No other NL team went after it in a significant fashion.
Threats in the AL East
While the Marlins don’t have to compete with the American League teams for playoff spots, they still have series remaining with the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees.
The Toronto Blue Jays are 18-15 and they went to work at the deadline. They acquired INF Jonathan Villar, RHP Ross Stripling, LHP Robbie Ray on the heels of welcoming RHP Taijuan Walker last week; only Walker is excelling during this shortened season. It’s a gamble from the Blue Jays that these veterans will turn their seasons around and help bring Toronto—and I guess Buffalo—a playoff berth. Ray could potentially make his debut for the club in Miami this week.
The New York Yankees have a 19-14 record (4.5 games back) but they are seriously ailing right now. OF Giancarlo Stanton, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Zack Britton, RHP Tommy Kahnle, LHP James Paxton, and SS Gleyber Torres are all on the IL. The Yankees are managing while being led by 2019 Cy Young runnner-up Gerrit Cole, 2B DJ LeMahieu, OF Clint Frazier hoping their stars can come back in time to hold onto their second place spot in the division and make the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Rays made no significant additions at the deadline and, in fact, traded away 1B/DH José Martínez and LHP Anthony Banda. However, they have the best record in the American League, are 4.5 games ahead of the Yankees for 1st place and just recently swept the Marlins in Miami over the weekend.
The Red Sox and Baltimore both sold over the last few weeks and should not present as much of a threat to any team in the NL East.
WHY NOT US?
While they certainly have their work cut out for them, it is reasonable to think, with the addition of Starling Marte and the return of half the Opening Day roster, that the Marlins have a legitimate shot to shock the league and enter the playoffs. Why not us?