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Exploring Trade Options: Adam Ottavino

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The Yankees reliever may become available via trade. Should the Marlins make a call?

Miami Marlins v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As the offseason drags on, the Marlins continue to look for options to improve a roster that made their first playoff appearance in 17 years last season. As other teams fill out their own rosters, options begin to present themselves as players fall down the totem pole within their organization.

One such player is Adam Ottavino, a 10-year veteran reliever on the New York Yankees. ESPN’s Buster Olney speculated this weekend that as the Yankees look for more starting pitching while trying underneath MLB’s luxury tax threshold, Ottavino could become expendable. He’s coming off a year that looks pretty rough on paper (he had a 5.89 ERA) and is on the books for $9M next season. Sounds pretty undesirable, right?

However when you dig a little deeper, Ottavino’s year was actually pretty solid except for one really bad outing. Against the Blue Jays on September 7, Ottavino gave up 6 earned runs without getting an out, by far his worst outing of the year. If you remove that outing from his record, his ERA would’ve been 2.95 for the year. If you look at some other numbers, it shows he had a pretty good year. Ottavino had a 12.27 K/9, higher than his career K/9 of 10.43, and a 3.52 Fielding Independent Pitching, slightly lower than his career mark in FIP.

Ottavino has been a very solid reliever in his career, and even dominant at times. Since 2015 he has not had a K/9 lower than 10.63 and has a very respectable career 3.53 ERA and 10.43 K/9 despite spend the majority of that time pitching home games in the high altitude of Coors Field.

Put this all together and it comes out to a proven reliever with filthy stuff that would probably come pretty cheap in a trade. Ottavino’s struggles last year and salary make him a prime trade candidate, and it seems clear the Yankees are gonna try and move him. It’s also highly likely that a team that trades for Ottavino could get the Yankees to eat some of his salary and wouldn’t have to give up one of their top prospects.

So would this be a good move for the Marlins? To me it should be a no-brainer.

Marlins GM Kim Ng has said often that the number one thing the team will be addressing this offseason is the bullpen. In a new Fish Stripes podcast interview, MLB.com beat writer Christina De Nicola called the ‘pen the one area where we’ll most likely to see an addition prior to Opening Day. The Marlins seem to feel that could be the difference between just a playoff team and a contender.

While his age—turned 35 in November—and 2020 numbers would make trading for Ottavino seem likely to fail, I actually see this as a low-risk, high-reward move for the Marlins. Ottavino would bring a veteran presence that has a proven track record of success in this league. Last year was such a small sample size (18.1 IP) that it’s really hard to give up on his resume because his numbers don’t look great. However with the way he’s pitched at times, a player like Ottavino is absolutely worth a flier when looking to improve a bullpen.

Not only that, it’s time for the Marlins to make some moves. The offseason has been far too quiet to this point for a team that is trying to take the next step after sneaking into an expanded playoff in a 60-game season. If Ottavino is available, it would be negligent to not at least give the Yankees a call. This would be a quick and cheap way to improve a pen that will be a crucial part of the team going forward, and the front office has said is an area that needs to be addressed.

When the Marlins opted not to pick up the $4 million option on Brandon Kintzler, it’s likely their plan was to invest that money in a reliever with more upside. If the Marlins could get the Yankees to eat half of Ottavino’s contract, $4.5 million, they would be doing just that and help bolster the ‘pen. I think it would be a sharp move from the Marlins.

What would a deal look like? In his report Olney said the Yankees are looking to add starting pitching depth, and the Marlins have an expandable starting pitcher on their roster right now in Elieser Hernandez. The Marlins are looking to hand their rotation over to their young prospects and Hernandez has value, which makes him a good trade piece for the Fish. He’s coming off a really nice season where he posted a 3.16 ERA and 11.92 K/9, although it was just a six-start sample size, and he has four years of control left.

Moving Elieser for Ottavino could be interesting because the Marlins would almost certainly ask for one of the Yankees top prospects in return. This is because of Elieser’s importance to the team and his already discussed value. One name I think the Marlins could be interested in would be catcher Austin Wells, ranked number 6 in the Yankees Top 30 by MLB Pipeline. I’ve previously written about the Marlins lack of catching depth which would make Wells a significant addition to the Marlins system.

This part of Pipeline’s scouting reporting on Wells shows what type of potential they think he has at the plate:

Wells has all of the ingredients to make an offensive impact, starting with a quality approach. He possesses a controlled yet quick left-handed swing, uses the entire field and recognizes pitches and manages the strike zone well. He lets his plus raw power come naturally and had no problems driving the ball with wood bats [in] the Cape [Cod League].

Wells would quickly become the brightest prospect at the catcher’s spot in the organization and bring much needed depth to that position. Considering the Marlins best catching prospect hit under .200 last year, the Marlins really need to acquire a catcher that can hit. Wells was a standout at the University of Arizona, winning PAC-12 freshman of the year in 2019 and hitting .357/.476/.560/1.036 in two seasons there. Giving up Hernandez would hurt short term, but Ottavino could help make up for that and Wells would certainly help in the long term.

For what it’s worth, Baseball Trade Values estimates that the Yankees would also need include another substantial piece like outfielder Mike Tauchman to even up the transaction.

It remains to be seen whether the Marlins have any interest in Ottavino, and this deal is very speculative, but as fans grow more impatient it’s good to see what kind of options are out there for the Marlins to explore. If Ottavino were to become available, I believe it would be a great option for the Marlins and I think they could make a very strong offer to the Yankees to get it done.