Red Sox should stock up on pitching by trading with Miami Marlins

The Red Sox could make a splash by trading with the Marlins

Coming into 2021, the Boston Red Sox made it known that the season would be the first of a multi-year plan to rebuild. Of course, playing deep into October can alter the plan. However, even with the success of the 2021 team, and expectations now in place to contend once again in 2022, two major parts of the rebuild have been accomplished. The first step was paring down the payroll to stay comfortably enough under the luxury tax threshold and still be players in the free agent market. The other major part was improving the farm system. Boston finished 2020 with a farm system ranked in the bottom third, and ended the 2021 season with a system that’s now a consensus top-10 minor league organization.

When Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom came to the Red Sox he brought an entirely new organizational philosophy with him. Gone were the days of big spending on established players whose large contracts would take them past their prime years and cripple the payroll in the future to accomplish short term success in the present. While many speculated that Bloom would turn the Red Sox into the Rays of the Northeast, it’s simply not possible. Boston and Tampa are completely opposite markets, and the Sox will always carry a payroll consistent with the top spending teams in the sport.

Instead, it looks like he’ll model a version close to what the Los Angeles Dodgers are doing where his mentor in Tampa Bay, Andrew Freidman, has taken an advanced analytical approach to scouting and finding value, while also using the advantages of a large market payroll to form a perennially competitive roster.

Having a top ranked farm system allows for the development of cost controlled premium talent to graduate to the big league club, while also providing valuable assets on the trade market. Bloom and company have hit big in the last few drafts, with 2020 picks Nick Yorke and Blaze Jordan shooting up prospect rankings on the heels of impressive minor league seasons, and 2021 first-round pick, Marcelo Mayer, considered the consensus top pick headed into the draft, falling to them at No. 4 overall. 2018 first-round pick Triston Casas has emerged as the top corner infield prospect in the game after an excellent performance with Team USA in the Summer Olympics, and an outstanding minor league campaign overall in 2021.

Beyond those players, outfielder Jarren Duran showed an advanced blend of power and speed in AAA, before making his MLB debut and struggling with consistency and injury over 33 games at the big league level. Still, his future looks bright. The key prospect coming back in the Mookie Betts trade, Jeter Downs, has found his stroke in the Arizona Fall League, and sits near the top of the league leaderboards in batting average, home runs, RBI, and OPS. International signee, Gilberto Jimenez, continued to show advanced contact skills and elite speed in 2021, and owns a career slash line of .324/.370/.427 over three minor seasons. All project to be better than average major league players, and all of them could find their way to Fenway together as early as 2024.

However, what this prospect list lacks is pitching. Top prospects Bryan Mata and Thad Ward haven’t thrown a meaningful pitch since 2019, as the pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, and injuries shelved them in 2021. Former top prospect, Jay Groome, had his best season in 2021, striking out 134 batters while only walking 36 in 96 innings across two levels, but the 2016 first-round pick has only pitched 15 innings at the AA level. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, and the Sox will need to decide on adding him to the 40-man roster. 2019 fourth round pick, Noah Song, possesses arguably the best arsenal of raw stuff in the system, but a post graduation commitment to the US Navy has delayed his development, and there’s still no target date for when he’ll be able to resume activities with the organization.

The Red Sox need to find some of the most valuable assets in the game – young, high upside, cost and team controlled pitching. While the lure of a short-term, high AAV contract for Max Scherzer, or the appeal of getting a fairly young, established starting pitcher like Jon Gray away from Colorado on a longer term deal could present a missing piece of the puzzle to get the Sox beyond the ALCS and back to the World Series, they also come with a fair amount of risk and go against the organizational philosophy under Bloom.

While the Red Sox have a greatly improved farm system that’s top heavy with bats, the Miami Marlins also possess a top-tier minor league system. The difference is that the Marlins have a seemingly never ending supply of premium pitching talent with very few outstanding hitters.

While the Red Sox find themselves ahead of schedule in a short-term rebuild, the Marlins seem to be in a constant state of rebuilding. Team president Derek Jeter, who won five World Series as a player and never played on a losing team, has found that running the Marlins is a completely different world from what baseball is in The Bronx. While the Marlins did capture a Wild Card berth in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, regression to the mean hit them hard in 2021.

Though their starting pitching – headlined by Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and Trevor Rogers – is enviable, the glaring lack of offensive production likely has them doomed to the bottom of the standings for years to come.

The new ownership group headed up by Bruce Sherman, and Jeter himself, overpaid to acquire the franchise ($1.2B), and with their attendance annually at the bottom of the league, and possibly the worst television deal in the sport, spending big in free agency to augment the roster simply isn’t going to happen. Their organizational philosophy is to develop young talent, get the most out of it, and trade it away before it becomes too expensive in the arbitration years or ahead of free agency.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Marlins are open to trading one of their arbitration-eligible starters to open a path for younger, cheaper arms to join their rotation.

With no blue chip bats in the system, the Red Sox seem like an ideal fit to fill a glaring weakness throughout their organization.  In addition to the young starters currently residing in the Miami rotation, they feature a half dozen pitching prospects that rank among the game’s most highly touted. Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Eury Perez, Max Meyer, Jake Eider, and Dax Fulton all possess the tools and make-up of front rotation starters or high leverage relievers.

The Marlins need bats. The Red Sox need arms. Both organizations have what the other needs. And from the Marlins financial standpoint, while they could probably move one or more of these pitchers for a young, established MLB hitter, their monetary constraints make the focus of the acquiring player more about total years of team control (at prorated minimum salaries), than it does about present production of the player. While it’s highly unlikely that Boston would move a player like Rafael Devers or Alex Verdugo, their established service time in the majors makes them less appealing than someone like Casas or Duran to an organization like the Marlins.

With the farm system suddenly strong and abundant with offensive talent, the task ahead for Bloom is to identify who’s untouchable from the group of Casas, Duran, Mayer, Downs, Yorke, Jordan, Jimenez, and Dalbec. Once they’ve identified the two or three players from that group that are off-limits in trade discussions, everyone else should be on the table in the quest to obtain young, high upside pitching talent.

Every fan base overvalues their prospects. We all become attached to these players before they ever really make their mark on the franchise. Seeing one or more of these exciting prospects move to another organization for a prospect of similar pedigree that we’re unfamiliar with might sting at fist, but if everything works out, we end up with affordable, productive, young pitching for a half decade or more. You have to give something to get something. After thoroughly researching both the Red Sox and Marlins farm systems, I’ve come up with a trade proposal that would get Boston the pitching they so desperately need, without depleting the farm system.

Red Sox could deal young bats to load up on pitching

Boston acquires: Pablo Lopez (RHP), Braxton Garrett (LHP), Dax Fulton (LHP)
Miami acquires: Jarren Duran (OF), Bobby Dalbec (1B/3B), Gilberto Jimenez (OF)

On the surface, this trade probably doesn’t sit well with Red Sox fans. Giving up Dalbec, who had a .955 OPS in the second half of the 2021 season, and still has the ceiling of a productive middle of the order run producer seems unnecessary. However, getting a player with Dalbec’s power potential, MLB experience, and five years of team control is a must for the Marlins and their anemic offense.

The centerpiece of the deal is Duran, who who shot up prospect rankings in 2021 with a unique blend of speed and power that translated to game action ahead of his call up to the big leagues. Duran and Dalbec would certainly be in the 2022 Opening Day lineup in Miami. Jimenez is still several years away from his major league debut, and would give the Marlins a dynamic offensive prospect to go with their wealth of pitching in the minors.

The return for Boston is headlined by Lopez, who finally harnessed his raw ability and pitched like a front rotation starter in 2021. He pitched to a 3.07 ERA, striking out 115 batters while walking just 26 over 102 innings. He tied an MLB record by striking out nine consecutive batters to start a game in a July start against the Washington Nationals. The 6’4″, 225-pound righty will enter his first year of arbitration in 2022, and doesn’t become a free agent until 2025.

Garrett, the 7th overall pick in the 2016 draft, has dealt with injuries, including Tommy John surgery, but is healthy now and made his MLB debut in the pandemic shortened 2020 season. He made several appearances in 2021 with the Marlins, but his 41 career innings pitched over the last two seasons have his rookie eligibility intact for 2022. The 6’2″, 200-pound lefty has a fastball that sits in the high 90’s, and a curveball and changeup that both grade out as plus pitches. He can be a piece in the starting rotation, or could be used for high leverage innings out of the bullpen. With six years of team control left, he’ll have some time to establish his role in Boston.

Fulton was considered by many to be the top left-handed prep pitcher available in the 2020 draft. The Marlins selected him in the second round, and he reached the High-A level in his first season of professional baseball. If his development arc stay on course, he could find his way to Fenway by 2023. He’d likely become the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system.

Of course, that trade is just a suggestion. Whether the Red Sox and Marlins have any conversation this offseason is yet to be known. However, it does give us some insight into what can be accomplished with a top tier farm system at your disposal. Things are trending upward in Red Sox Nation, and with a few moves they should be contenders for many seasons to come.