- Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald takes a look at the latest on Christian Yelich’s trade market, reporting that the Marlins have informed Yelich’s camp that they’ll entertain offers on him but are not making any promises of a trade. Miami has made its asking price on Yelich a bit more realistic in recent weeks, other teams tell Jackson, but they’re still seeking top-tier talent and looking for multiple prospects from the top 10 of potential trading partners (as one would expect). Both Jackson and Heyman (in a separate article on Yelich) suggest that the Marlins are eyeing talent that is in Double-A and Triple-A, as opposed to high-upside talent that is further down the minor league pipeline. Both reports confirm that the Marlins did indeed ask the Braves about Ronald Acuna (as MLB Network’s Peter Gammons previously reported), only to be rebuffed.
The market for top Cuban free agent Julio Pablo Martinez has begun to take shape, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. Martinez has yet to receive signing clearance, but Badler notes it’s anticipated he will be officially named a free agent before the conclusion of the current July 2nd period.
If Martinez does indeed become eligible to sign before June 15th, he’ll have the open of signing either in the current or the ensuing period. That will help open up his options a bit.
Of the three teams that Badler tabs the leaders, one — the Rangers — might utilize its 2017-18 pool money to make a deal with Martinez. (As Badler explains, Texas will need to use or lose its remaining spending availability, which at last glance sat at about $3.53MM.) The others — the Yankees and Marlins — would almost certainly view Martinez as a major part of the 2018-19 signing class.
Martinez, 21, is considered one of the best young talents from his baseball-loving home nation. Badler provides all the necessary details about his profile in the above link. In brief, Martinez is a fleet-footed center fielder with some pop. Notwithstanding an eye-popping 30:52 K/BB ratio in his last 264 plate appearances in Cuba’s top league, Martinez is said to possess more palatable than great plate discipline abilities.
All said, Martinez seems to be a legitimately interesting prospect asset. Unlike many of the more youthful Latin American players that sign as bonus-limited international amateurs, he may actually not be that far off from the majors. Of course, he’ll still need to refine his skills and prove he’s worthy of a crack at the game’s highest level. Regardless, Martinez ought to represent an intriguing new addition for whatever organization signs him.
Here are the day’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Padres announced a slew of non-roster invitees, including right-hander Michael Mariot and catcher Raffy Lopez, each of whom has prior Major League experience. Mariot, 29, last saw time in the Majors back in 2016 when he tossed 21 2/3 innings for the Phillies. He’s struggled to a 5.98 ERA with 8.2 K/9 against 5.1 BB/9 in 49 2/3 MLB innings to date, though he has a vastly superior 3.34 ERA with 9.5 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 240 innings of Triple-A work. Lopez, meanwhile, picked up a career-high 63 plate appearances with the Blue Jays last season, hitting .222/.306/.463 in that brief time. The 30-year-old is a career .267/.342/.380 hitter in 877 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.
- First baseman Jonathan Rodriguez has a minor league deal with the Marlins, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links). The 28-year-old spent the 2017 season in the Twins organization, hitting .309/.414/.525 with 21 homers, albeit in Double-A against much younger and less experienced competition. Rodriguez has yet to reach the Majors and only has 165 career plate appearances in Triple-A.
Despite Christian Yelich’s unhappiness with the Marlins’ direction and the recent comments from his agent to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick indicating that the relationship between team and player is “irretrievably broken,” the Marlins maintain an understandably high asking price on the 26-year-old. MLB Network’s Peter Gammons uses the Braves as an example of that lofty asking price (video link), reporting that the Marlins at one point informed Atlanta that they’d be willing to talk about a multi-player package that would send Yelich to the Braves if and only if top prospect Ronald Acuna was the headliner of the deal. (Braves fans will undoubtedly scoff at the very notion, though it’s hardly a surprise to see the Marlins pushing for any team’s top-ranked prospect when peddling five years of Yelich at a maximum total of $58.25MM.)
Unsurprisingly, Gammons quickly adds, “That’s one guy the Braves are not going to trade,” in reference to Acuna. Despite the drama surrounding Yelich and teammate J.T. Realmuto, Gammons notes that the Marlins aren’t locks to deal the pair, with Yelich being especially difficult to pry away given the affordable half-decade of control he has on his contract.
In the latest dose of Marlins-related drama, agent Joe Longo of Paragon Sports International, who represents Christian Yelich, tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that a trade of his client in the next month would be in the best interest of both team and player.
Longo states that he respects the Marlins’ long-term plan for a return to contention, but states that the “…plan shouldn’t include Christian at this point in his career.” Yelich’s relationship with the Marlins has been “irretrievably broken” and has “soured,” according to Longo, who goes on to speak about the disappointment that Yelich has felt in watching the Marlins’ new ownership group gut the roster in trades that have sent Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna elsewhere.
“The new ownership regime needs to get new parts into this plan and move forward, and [Yelich] needs to get on with his career where he’s got a chance to win,” Longo tells Crasnick. The agent goes on to explain that Yelich signed his seven-year, $49.57MM contract extension with the Marlins in a “completely different climate” — that is, one where the organization looked to be making a clear push to win in the short term. Yelich’s deal (which Longo and Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill discussed at length with MLBTR’s Zach Links back in 2015) was agreed upon in the same offseason that saw the Fish sign Stanton to a record-setting $325MM contract. New ownership, however, clearly has no intent of pushing for a division title in 2017 as payroll has been slashed by roughly $50MM.
Longo’s comments, of course, don’t ensure that a trade of Yelich will transpire before or during Spring Training. Such decisions are up to president of baseball operations Michael Hill and his staff, who needn’t feel pressure to move Yelich in the same manner as they did with regard to Stanton, Gordon and Ozuna. The Marlins’ payroll projection is inching closer to its reported target of roughly $90MM, and Yelich’s $7MM salary for the coming season isn’t especially burdensome. Moreover, the fact that Yelich can be controlled for another five years at a total of $58.25MM is a clear indicator that he’ll be an asset with considerable surplus value at virtually any point the Marlins decide to make him available.
Yelich is hardly the only player that is less than enthused about the notion of suiting up for a Miami club that looks destined for the NL East cellar. Catcher J.T. Realmuto’s agents have reportedly informed the Marlins that their client would prefer to be traded, and infielder Starlin Castro (acquired as a financial component in the trade that sent Stanton to the Yankees) is reportedly hoping to be dealt elsewhere before so much as playing a single game for the Marlins.
Per Crasnick, the Blue Jays, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, Padres, D-backs and Phillies are “among” the teams that have reached out to the Marlins to gauge the asking price for Yelich in a trade, though there are assuredly more team that have expressed interest. Toronto GM Ross Atkins recently suggested that virtually every team in the league would have interest in a Yelich trade, and reports have suggested that more than 15 teams have at least kicked the tires on the former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner.
Yelich, just 26 years of age, is a career .290/.369/.432 hitter. He’s averaged 20 homers and a dozen steals over the past two seasons and has proven to be a capable center fielder or an elite defender in left field. Crasnick notes that Yelich himself may speak publicly in the coming days, and the column is stuffed with additional quotes from Longo. It’s well worth a full read-through, both for those that have been diligently tracking the Marlins’ offseason roller coaster and those who haven’t been monitoring the situation as closely.
Middle infielder Starlin Castro has collected four All-Star appearances, 1,280 hits and a rich contract since he made his major league debut in 2010. It’s fair to say Castro has lived pretty well during his big league tenure, then, though team success has been difficult to come by for the 27-year-old.
Castro spent the first six years of his career with the Cubs, who only went to the playoffs once during that span. That season, 2015, proved to be Castro’s last in Chicago, which traded him to the Yankees during the ensuing winter. Less than a year later, Wrigleyville celebrated its first World Series title in 108 years.
The Yankees didn’t qualify for the playoffs in Castro’s first year in the Bronx, but they bounced back to play deep into October last season and take the eventual champion Astros to seven games in the ALCS. That looked like the beginning of what could be a long run of success for the talent-packed Yankees, but it was also the end of Castro’s run with them.
Not only did the Yankees trade Castro after the season, dealing him and two prospects to the Marlins for 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, but they sent him to a team that hasn’t won in years and won’t in the near future. The Stanton trade was primarily a payroll-cutting move by Miami, which later shipped fellow star outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals. Now in the early stages of an extensive rebuild, the Marlins’ already lengthy playoff drought (14 years) is likely to drag on for at least a few more seasons.
Castro, having had his fill of losing, would reportedly like to leave the Marlins before ever taking the field as a member of the franchise. With a guaranteed $22MM left on his contract through 2019, his only hope of escaping the Marlins in the near term is via trade. It’s unclear whether the Marlins are interested in dealing him, but it stands to reason they’re open to it, given that slashing costs seems to be the main motivation of neophyte owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter right now.
The trouble is that obvious fits for Castro, a longtime shortstop who lined up exclusively at second base as a Yankee, are hard to find. His All-Star nods notwithstanding, Castro has been more of an average player than a high-impact one in the majors, having slashed .282/.320/.413 (97 wRC+, 98 OPS+) and totaled 14.2 fWAR/13.5 rWAR across 4,847 plate appearances. His contract offers little to no surplus value, then, and there simply isn’t much league-wide demand right now at either short or second (where similarly valuable players in Eduardo Nunez and Neil Walker are still free agents).
Signs seem to point to Castro opening 2018 with the Marlins, but we’ll run it down team by team and try to find an ideal club for him, beginning with last year’s playoff qualifiers:
The name of Marlins’ outfielder Christian Yelich is one that has popped up frequently in both trade rumors and trade speculation so far this offseason. The topic has certainly been covered at length (four links) here at MLBTR, and the frequency of Yelich mentions has continued to rise with each major trade Miami has made this winter. Save for maybe the Yankees, there isn’t a team in MLB who wouldn’t benefit from adding Yelich to their lineup and outfield. Therefore, the search for an ideal trade partner for the Marlins seems quite simple: any team with a farm system strong enough to pry him out of their grasp.
And yet, things are not nearly that simple in reality. Yelich is one of the top performers in baseball. Across the past four seasons combined, he ranks within MLB’s top 30 in batting average, on-base percentage and fWAR, and is within the top 50 in wOBA and wRC+. He’s a serviceable option in center field, as well, though DRS (-6 for 2017) and UZR/150 (-0.7 for 2017) don’t quite agree on his defensive value there. Regardless, Yelich ought to be considered a fantastic offensive talent at a premium defensive position. That makes his trade candidacy incredibly complicated when we factor in the team-friendly nature of his contract, which has four years and just $43.25MM remaining along with a $15MM option for 2023 ($1.25MM buyout).
Needless to say, Yelich would provide immense value to any club with the means to acquire him. After producing 15.9 fWAR over the past four seasons combined, he’s likely to be viewed as one of the most reliable outfielders in existence. The problem (which I’m sure you’ve inferred by now) is that the cost to trade for him would be absolutely enormous.
The best comp in my eyes for a potential Yelich deal is last offseason’s Adam Eaton trade. Eaton had produced 13.1 fWAR over the course of three full seasons with the White Sox while posting very similar batting averages and on-base percentages to those of Yelich. At the time, his contract had three years and just under $20MM remaining, plus two club options that could bring the total value of the deal to $38.4MM across five seasons. In order to swing a deal, the Nationals sent a deluge of minor-league talent to the White Sox. The headliner of the package was righty Lucas Giolito, who at the time was a consensus top-five prospect in baseball. Supplementing the return were fellow right-handed pitchers Reynaldo Lopez (then MLB.com’s #38 overall prospect) and Dane Dunning, whom the Nats had selected in the first round of the draft earlier that year.
On the surface, the return for Chicago appears to be one of the best prospect packages exchanged for a single player in recent memory. Were we to assume Yelich must warrant a similar return, at least half of the teams in MLB would be immediately eliminated from the Marlins’ pool of suitors simply because they don’t own that caliber of minor-league talent. Most of the others are rebuilding clubs who don’t have the kind of urgency that would motivate them to relinquish such a plethora of prospects.
The caveat of all this is that Yelich may be an even more valuable trade asset than Eaton. At the time of his trade, Eaton was 28 years old, meaning he’ll be playing with the Nationals through his age-32 season. While that’s certainly not a prohibitive age, a large portion of Eaton’s value is tied up in his stolen base ability and his outfield defense. It’s not uncommon for those skills to begin a gradual decline at the age of 30. Yelich. on the other hand, will enter the 2018 season at the age of just 26, and he won’t even turn 31 until after the end of the 2022 season. Yelich’s on-base and power capabilities are far less likely to decline by that time. And the fact that he’s just now entering his prime implies that there could even be room for improvement on his career outputs. While I should caution that this is all just conjecture, it’s based on trends we’ve observed in baseball for some time. The overall point I’m trying to make is that there seems to be more upside in Yelich’s contract than there was in Eaton’s at the time he was traded.
Obviously, it’s difficult to imagine any team forking over a package better than the one the White Sox received for Eaton, but that’s likely the kind of return the Fish will be looking for, particularly in light of reports that they’d need to be blown away by an offer. Now, it’s not like legitimate trade partners don’t exist. Teams like the Indians, Astros, Blue Jays and Braves, for instance, have both the prospects to get a deal done and a role for Yelich available in their outfield. But the prospects those teams would probably need to part with (Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley and J.B. Bukauskas, as a purely hypothetical reference point) have plenty of upside themselves, and trading them for Yelich would prove the equivalent of putting an awful lot of eggs in one basket.
In the end, Yelich may simply be a player for whom no team would be willing to pay a fair price. And even if a team decides to step up and offer to obliterate their farm system, there’s still a chance the Marlins would hold onto Yelich for other reasons. For example, Atlanta and Miami were reportedly gaining some traction in trade talks during the winter meetings, but the Marlins pulled back following some PR backlash about the sale of other valuable assets. Additionally, with five years left on his contract, there’s a chance that Yelich could still be under team control during the next season in which the Marlins have a reasonable shot to contend.
A deal involving Yelich this offseason is surely not out of the question. But the complexities of his trade candidacy will, at the very least, mean that trade talks will require immense commitments of time and energy from front office personnel. Even if the barriers of the trade aren’t insurmountable, reaching an agreement to ship Yelich to another club will be a very difficult task for the Marlins to accomplish.
Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
- The Marlins have re-signed southpaw Mike Kickham to a minors deal with an invitation to spring training, according to the Associated Press. Last season was the first in the Miami organization for Kickham, who divided the year between the minors’ two highest levels and posted a 3.65 ERA over 145 2/3 innings (27 appearances, 25 starts). Kickham also logged 7.4 K/9 against just 1.5 BB/9. The 29-year-old brings minimal big league experience, with his most recent stint being a two-inning showing with San Francisco in 2014.
- The Marlins have inked outfielder Scott Van Slyke to a minor league deal which includes an invitation to spring training, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com tweets. Van Slyke had spent his entire pro baseball career with the Dodgers’ organization, with the small exception of 57 games he played for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate. The 6’4″ outfielder owns a career slash line of just .230/.308/.390, but his most useful role is as a platoon hitter versus left-handed pitching against. When facing southpaws, he’s posted a .252/.358/.462 line with a 130 wRC+. Van Slyke has seen a performance decline in recent seasons, however; he was roughly average against lefties in 2016 and wasn’t able to muster much offense at all in 29 major league plate appearances last season. He’ll now join a rebuilding Marlins club with whom he has a better chance of earning playing time at the MLB level.
- Also joining the Marlins is right-hander Javy Guerra, per Tim Healey of the Sun-Sentinel. The 32-year-old gave Miami 21 innings of 3.00 ERA ball in 2017 and has managed to crack the big leagues in each of the pat seven seasons. It has been a while, though, since Guerra held down a regular relief role. Despite his bottom-line success last year, Guerra managed only 5.1 K/9 (on a marginal 5.3% swinging-strike rate) against 3.0 BB/9. That said, he did produce quality groundball (54.4%) and infield fly (21.1%) rates.
The Braves released Adonis Garcia recently to allow him to move to the KBO, and the full set of transactions is now in the books. The 32-year-old third baseman has inked a $800K deal with the LG Twins, as Dan Kurtz of MyKBO.net notes on Twitter. He played in the majors in each of the past three seasons but clearly was not a part of Atlanta’s plans for 2018.
Let’s catch up on a few minor moves from around the game, all courtesy of SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (links to Twitter) …
- Righty Tyler Cloyd will join the Marlins on a minors pact. Now thirty years off age, Cloyd has made just a single MLB appearance since wrapping up his time with the Phillies in 2013. He spent most of 2017 pitching at Triple-A in the Mariners organization, where he worked to a 5.67 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 60 1/3 innings. While the output hasn’t been very encouraging of late, Cloyd could have a chance to push for an important place on the Miami depth chart. The rebuilding club is sure to have some pitching opportunities in the season to come.
- The Nationals added right-hander Justin Miller as well as slugger Balbino Fuenmayor on minor-league deals. Miller, 30 has seen 88 1/3 total MLB innings, spread over the 2014-16 campaigns, with a composite 4.99 ERA. He has shown some swing and miss ability at times, though. Last year, he pitched to a 5.48 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 46 frames in the PCL. The 28-year-old Fuenmayor, meanwhile, played in Mexico last year after his once-prodigious upper-minors power output fizzled in 2016. He hit well in Mexico and has continued to rake in Venezuelan winter action.
- Southpaw James Russell is headed to the Tigers organization on a non-roster arrangement. Whether he’ll receive a camp invite isn’t known in this case (or the others). The 32-year-old is long removed from his days as a solid bullpen presence. He last appeared in the majors, rather briefly, in 2016. Though he only threw 31 professional innings last year, all in the Mexican League, they were in a starting role. He worked to a 2.03 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9.
Diaz, whose nickname aptly conveys his notable presence on the mound, has thrown 168 total MLB innings over the past four seasons. After three years with the Reds, he pitched last year for the Rays. In the aggregate, he owns a 4.02 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9.
While Diaz cracked the active roster out of camp, and delivered his fastball with its typical zip, he was touched for 19 earned runs in thirty frames before being designated for assignment. At his best, Diaz generates a healthy volume of harmless infield pop-ups along with a decent number of swings and misses, though he sat at a below-average 10.4% swinging-strike rate (as against other relievers) in 2017.
For the rebuilding Marlins, players such as Diaz offer the possibility of useful output at a bargain price. It would appear that the 33-year-old has a solid shot at earning a roster spot in Spring Training.