Hours after acknowledging that the Miami Marlins bullpen needed work, general manager Kim Ng got to work by trading JJ Bleday to the Oakland Athletics for left-handed reliever A.J. Puk. The one-for-one swap of former first-round MLB Draft picks is now official.
The #Marlins have reportedly acquired LHP A.J. Puk ($4.1M median trade value) from the #Athletics in exchange for OF JJ Bleday ($4.2M).— Baseball Trade Values (@BaseballValues) February 12, 2023
The deal is accepted by our model.
Listen back to State of the Fish beginning at the 29:45 mark to hear how Grant Kiefer and I analyzed the trade in real time.
Bleday’s potential fit with the 2023 Fish was hazy at best. After an uninspiring progression through their farm system, he performed poorly as a rookie with the big league club during the second half of last season (.167/.277/.309, 72 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR in 238 PA). The Marlins didn’t exactly set him up for a smooth transition to the highest level, burdening him with the defensive responsibility of being their everyday center fielder despite lacking the agility typically associated with the position.
Bleday would have been on the outside looking in at the Opening Day roster without a path toward regular playing time. As much as Bleday’s stock has plummeted since he was picked fourth overall in the 2019 draft, it may have continued to drop if he spent his age-25 campaign languishing in the minors.
Meanwhile, the A’s are as far away from playoff contention as any MLB team. Without pressure to win games in the short term, they can provide a longer leash for players like Bleday to attempt to learn from their mistakes. Also worth noting in Bleday’s case, being a pull-happy lefty, he should be a beneficiary of the league’s new restriction on infield shifting. The former Vanderbilt star will be under Oakland’s club control for at least the next six seasons and he still has all three of his minor league options intact.
In exchange for Bleday, the Marlins get a player who addresses one of their vulnerabilities. Turning 28 in April, Puk has a nasty fastball-slider combination that’s particularly effective against left-handed batters. He got substantial experience pitching in high-leverage situations for the 2022 A’s and collected four saves. Not yet eligible for arbitration, he’ll be under club control through the 2026 season.
Puk has struggled to stay healthy in the past. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and has since missed time with a left shoulder strain and a left biceps strain. Last year, he avoided the IL entirely, only being removed from the Athletics roster for a few days in April during a road trip to Toronto (Puk was ineligible to go due to Canada’s requirement that visitors have the COVID vaccine).
The Marlins were running out of alternatives to augment their bullpen. Over the last two days, free agents Michael Fulmer, Andrew Chafin and Alex Reyes signed with the Cubs, Diamondbacks and Dodgers, respectively. Perhaps not coincidentally, this trade was completed shortly after the news of Reyes’ deal—according to the Miami Herald, the Marlins had been in pursuit of him this offseason.
Replacing Bleday with Puk only bumps up Miami’s 2023 payroll by a marginal amount, so this should not disqualify them from continuing to shop for complementary veteran role players.