One of the never-ending storylines since last trade deadline has been the Marlins desire to offload a piece of their starting pitching surplus for offensive help. After months of rumors and reports, the Marlins and Twins finally struck a deal that sent right-hander Pablo Lopez and two prospects to Minnesota in exchange for infielder Luis Arraez.
The acquisition of the 26-year-old Lopez marks the third major starting pitching trade the Twins have made since the start of last season as Lopez joins both Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle–both acquired in 2022–in a much more fortified rotation. In addition to the aforementioned three right-handers, the Twins have 26-year-old Joe Ryan, who is coming off of a strong rookie campaign while also returning Kenta Maeda and Bailey Ober from Tommy John surgery this season.
The Twins have a lot of infield options which likely made Arraez–the reigning American League batting champ–begrudgingly expendable in their eyes. The Twins have continued to voice their confidence in talented, but oft-injured former first round selection Alex Kirilloff who seems slated to fill in as the left-handed hitting first baseman for them.
Arraez could theoretically play second, but the re-signing of Carlos Correa as well as the presence of Jorge Polanco, emergence of Nick Gordon and potential return of Royce Lewis further crowds the middle infield outlook for next season and beyond. Beyond the MLB-level, the Twins have middle infield prospects Brooks Lee and Edouard Julien seemingly on a fast track to the show as well.
I say begrudgingly when it comes to the Twins trading Arraez, because the 25-year-old has three years of control and reports had come out leading up to the deal that the Twins were not interested in a one-for-one swap of Arraez and Lopez. The Twins ultimately won the standoff there as the Marlins added infield prospect Jose Salas and outfield prospect Byron Chourio. More on the prospects to come, but let’s start with the headliner in Pablo Lopez.
Lopez instantly slots in as one of the Twins best arms. Still just 26 years old, Lopez has put up consistently strong numbers since the start of the 2020 season, pitching to a 3.52 ERA and 3.48 FIP with a 25% strikeout rate over 340 innings (63 starts). There’s not much question about whether Lopez can continue to put up numbers similar to that or potentially even better, the only red flag with the right-hander is his shoulder, which has caused him to miss some time on multiple occasions over the last couple seasons.
Our top prospect list for the Miami Marlins is set to release in a couple weeks, but Salas would have been just outside of the top five in a relatively weak Marlins system. That said, Salas is an intriguing switch hitter who the Marlins were hoping could add some strength and impact.
While he did not quite do that last year in the lower levels (.383 slugging percentage), Salas is still just 19 years old and impressed with his feel to hit. The 17-year-old Chourio is more of a lottery ticket outfield prospect, but he did show well in the Dominican Summer League, slashing .344/.429/.410 in 51 games.
In a perfect world, the Marlins do not have to add prospects on top of their starting pitcher with two years of control, but here we are. The Marlins desperately needed a hitter like Luis Arraez and had been canvassing the trade market for some time as they searched for upgrades to their barren lineup.
The problem for the Marlins was the fact that most teams looking to acquire a pitcher, with “only” two years of control, likely do not want to subtract from their big league roster unless it’s from an area of surplus. Most other contenders would prefer to package prospects for MLB talent, which is why we don’t see big leaguer for big leaguer trades often.
For that reason, the Twins were maybe the only realistic trade partner for Kim Ng and the Marlins, given the teams ridiculous infield depth from Target Field to Double-A.
The Marlins found themselves a bit stuck when it came to immediately upgrading their lineup for next season and while attaching a pair of prospects definitely skews the deal in favor of the Twins a bit, Arraez has an extra year of control and if the Marlins let Jose Salas stop this deal from happening, they’d probably be overvaluing him as a prospect.
Nice get for the Twins? Sure. Deal breaker for the Marlins given their swings and misses on free agents and previous trades? No way. I really do not believe the Marlins could have added a more impactful bat at this stage of the offseason without parting with several major pieces beyond Lopez.
The Marlins general manager wasted no time after the trade, telling reporters via Zoom that the team’s plan is to play Arraez at second base. Arraez registered the majority of his starts at first base last year (65), but also made 41 appearances at second base where he graded out as a slightly above average defender in the eyes of DRS (3) and OAA (1).
While he’s not a great defender anywhere, he’s capable at second, first, third and even corner outfield which is an added bonus to the Marlins who are likely to mix and match quite a bit with their lineup. The calling card for Arraez however is his bat.
He’s coming off of an age-25 season where he paced the American League in batting average while seeing his OPS jump by 62 points. In 1,589 career plate appearances, Arraez has slashed .314/.374/.410 with a 120 wRC+ and more walks than strikeouts.
Say what you want about his lack of power–8 of his 14 career homers came last season–but Arraez instantly becomes the Marlins best hitter until Jazz Chisholm has a full season to prove otherwise. Among Marlin position players who registered at least 300 plate appearances, Arraez posted the best batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, strikeout rate, runs scored, hits, fWAR and wRC+.
Was last season the best we’ll see of Arraez?
Probably not. It’s possible that his uptick in power last season could be impacted by LoanDepot Park, but for what it is worth, all eight of Arraez’s homers last season would’ve been gone at the Marlins home park as well.
With Arraez playing second base now, initial thought was that Chisholm would move back to his natural position of shortstop, but Kim Ng also announced that the team plans to deploy Chisholm in center field next season in the same presser.
Chisholm’s defense at shortstop left plenty to be desired his rookie season and the team cited injury concerns as part of the reason why they preferred him at second base. It seems as though his struggles with the glove were more so the concern because center field is arguably more of an injury liability than shortstop. In fact, leaping for a fly ball in center field last season was how Twins shortstop prospect Royce Lewis tore his ACL.
Ultimately, the Marlins have to take the chance and let Jazz be Jazz, which means using his dynamic athleticism to his advantage. Sheltering players from injury liability at the age of 24 seems relatively futile and after all, Chisholm only played 60 games last season exclusively playing second base. It seems to be as simple as this: the Marlins think Chisholm can help them more in center field than shortstop.
Fans may not be thrilled with the idea of staying in house to address center field, but the position is relatively thin across the game with most teams clutching onto their guys. Joey Wendle looks like the Marlins current answer at shortstop, a position that he has proven more than capable at in spurts, but he has never started more than 22 games there in a season.
A platoon of Joey Wendle and Jon Berti may not be sexy, but could be far more productive and dynamic than Miguel Rojas was last season coming at the expense of elite defense.
The Marlins were never going to make a trade that would drastically change their outlook no matter how many times fans fired up the trade machine. With Lopez now gone, it would be extremely risky to trade any more arms for another bat. Pitchers go down and depth becomes quickly scarce.
By trading their least controllable arm, the Marlins improved their team a bit for 2023, but improve their overall outlook with their core of arms locked up for a long time and few hitting reinforcements on the way in their system. Hitters like Arraez with three years of control are not easy to come by and if recent history is any indication, the Marlins weren’t bringing up their own Luis Arraez any time soon. They probably weren’t signing anyone like him in free agency either.