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Marlins finally “lose” a trade for first time in Kim Ng era

The Rays finessed the Fish, extracting some value out of David Hess, only to re-sign him for themselves the very next month.

Photo by Danis Sosa/Fish Stripes

Most MLB trades are ultimately inconsequential, shifting a team’s trajectory by one win or less and not affecting how you bet on their future. I’ll preface this piece by saying that the Marlins swapping minor league right-hander Justin Sterner and cash considerations for the Rays’ David Hess likely falls in that category.

The Rays have the sixth-best World Series odds among MLB teams (+900), per; the Marlins are tied for second-worst (+400,000). Every season each team has 162 games to play and at you can find the latest game previews and odds, including amongst other stuff; future bets and money lines.

Nonetheless, I believe it’s worth covering. Rarely does a trade prove to be an irrefutable failure in such a short timespan. By my count, it is the only trade since Kim Ng took over as general manager last November that has already proved to be wholly regrettable from Miami’s perspective.

On July 3, after shipping the versatile Adam Cimber (and an injured Corey Dickerson) to Toronto the previous week, the Marlins acquired Hess. Tampa Bay had been hoarding him with their Triple-A affiliate, but the Fish saw value in him filling the newly opened void in their bullpen and perhaps performing his way into their 2022 plans.

Fast-forward to his past Friday, Hess returned to the Rays organization, as Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors first reported (he’s back in DFA limbo as of Monday morning).

What happened in between wasn’t all bad. Hess earned wins in each of his first two appearances for Miami, limiting the damage in a bases-loaded situation on July 5 and working a scoreless inning the following night. He demonstrated his Cimber-like versatility by pitching in every inning from the first through the 10th.

For the most part, unfortunately, Hess had an affinity for walks and home runs. He ranks tied for fifth among all 2021 Marlins pitchers with seven long balls allowed despite only 18 innings of work. The bearded right-hander joined Justin Speier (1998) as the only players to have both an earned run average and fielder independent pitching above 8.00 in their Marlins careers (min. 10 IP).

On the other side of the transaction, Justin Sterner was one of the countless collegiate players who were inconvenienced by the shortened 2020 MLB Draft. No team called his name during the event’s five rounds, so he inked a deal with the Marlins as an undrafted free agent.

The BYU product was as far below the radar as anybody could be—Sterner did not appear on preseason or early-season editions of Fish On The Farm’s Marlins Top 100 prospects rankings. He thrived in May with the Low-A Jupiter Hammerheads, but totally lost control in June (9.1 IP, 7 ER, 9 BB, 12 K, 3 HR, 2 HBP). The thick-bodied reliever did, however, show intriguing strikeout ability with a 35.3 K% for Jupiter and High-A Beloit combined.

Since being traded, Sterner’s been able to maintain that (32.4 K%) even while adjusting to a more challenging assignment. The Rays bumped the 24-year-old up to Double-A Montgomery four weeks ago.

Sterner leans heavily on his slider, utilizing it against both lefties and righties, getting ahead in the count with called strikes and then tempting them to chase out of the zone.

Sterner striking out Mississippi’s Drew Lugbauer with three breaking balls
Sterner striking out Mississippi’s Drew Lugbauer with three breaking balls

Through 24 23 innings pitched with Rays affiliates, Sterner has posted an unremarkable 5.11 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. He won’t be impacting their 2021 playoff push and there’s still plenty of doubt about him having a substantial major league career. But combined with the facts that Hess performed below replacement level as a Marlin and re-signed with his original organization soon after, this move was an unambiguous L for Miami.

For those curious, here is the full chronological summary of trades made by the Marlins during Kim Ng’s nine-month tenure.