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Marlins upgrade bullpen with Orioles’ Cole Sulser, Tanner Scott

Days away from their 2022 season opener, the Marlins sacrificed some farm system depth to plug an obvious roster hole.

Pedro Severino #28 and Cole Sulser #54 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrate a win after a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Cole Sulser could get some save opportunities for the Marlins this season
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Kim Ng told the world earlier this week that the Marlins were in active talks for relief help. On Sunday, her front office pulled the trigger on a trade that adds much-needed new blood to their bullpen. As first reported by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Marlins have acquired relievers Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott from the Orioles in exchange for prospects Antonio Velez and Kevin Guerrero, a 2022 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick and a player to be named later.

Just like in 2019 (Easton Lucas for Jonathan Villar) and 2020 (Isaac De León for Richard Bleier), the Marlins are flipping developing talent to Baltimore for major league upgrades.

The corresponding roster moves that made the trade official? Designating Nick Neidert for assignment and placing Sean Guenther on the 60-day injured list (unspecified arm issue).

Sulser and Scott both have minor league options remaining, but they’ll surely crack the Marlins’ Opening Day roster. The club expects to begin with a 10-man bullpen.

Cole Sulser (age 32, club control through 2025)

Cole Sulser’s 2021 Statcast percentile rankings
Cole Sulser’s 2021 Statcast percentile rankings
Baseball Savant

Sulser was one of the lone bright spots in the 2021 Orioles ‘pen. His command dramatically improved in what was his second full major league season. He gradually earned a high-leverage role and tied for the team lead with eight saves.

The right-hander’s pitch arsenal last year:

  • Four-seam fastball with 51.1% usage and 93.2 mph average velocity
  • Changeup with 33.2% usage and 84.0 mph average velocity
  • Slider with 13.5% usage and 86.3 mph average velocity
  • Curveball with 2.2% usage and 77.3 mph average velocity

Sulser has the distinction of being MLB’s active leader in career innings pitched without issuing any hit by pitches (93.1 IP).

Cole Sulser’s MLB career pitching stats
Cole Sulser’s MLB career pitching stats
Baseball-Reference

Scott (age 27, club control through 2024)

Tanner Scott’s 2021 Statcast percentile rankings
Tanner Scott’s 2021 Statcast percentile rankings
Baseball Savant

On the flip side, Scott’s command took a turn in the wrong direction. He threw 10 wild pitches in 2021 while facing only 251 total batters, the worst such ratio among qualified MLB relievers. He held up pretty well from a run prevention standpoint through the first quarter of the season before the wheels fell off.

Scott’s season was cut short by two trips to the injured list for a left knee sprain.

The left-hander’s pitch arsenal last year:

  • Slider with 51.6% usage and 88.5 mph average velocity
  • Four-seam fastball with 45.4% usage and 96.8 mph average velocity
  • Sinker with 3.0% usage and 96.1 mph average velocity

Back in 2020, Scott was great for the O’s, most notably limiting his opponents to one home run despite the notoriously hitter-friendly conditions of Camden Yards. In each of his other seasons, however, right-handed batters have tormented him. All six of the dingers that Scott allowed last year were to righties.

Tanner Scott’s MLB career pitching stats
Tanner Scott’s MLB career pitching stats
Baseball-Reference

Velez, a 25-year-old left-handed pitcher, joined the Marlins in 2020 as a nondrafted free agent. He had been projected to start off 2022 with Double-A Pensacola.

Guerrero, an outfielder who turns 18 later this month, was inked out of the Dominican Republic via international amateur free agency. The Marlins brought him stateside this spring following a promising 2021 debut in the DSL.

The MLB Draft pick changing hands in this trade is projected to be in the late 60s overall (immediately following the second round).

There is no clear-cut “centerpiece” of this prospect package. Baseball Trade Values thinks it’s the draft pick. Personally, I assign the highest value to Velez, but context is important. The Marlins are extremely deep with pitching talent in the majors and high minors, so they can stomach his departure better than most organizations.

Incumbent Marlins closer Dylan Floro is going to open the regular season on the IL. I would expect Anthony Bender to get the first crack at the ninth-inning duties, with Sulser possibly next in line for the job if he struggles.

As of Sunday night, FanGraphs gives the Marlins 23.5% odds of making it to the postseason.

The Marlins 40-man roster remains full, which is relevant as spring training draws to a close. They need to make additional space for several spring training NRIs (particularly Roman Quinn and Shawn Armstrong, but potentially Willians Astudillo and/or Grant Dayton as well).