Welcome back to the 29 trades in 29 days series. Every day, I will be taking a look at a new MLB team in an effort to find a trade package that makes sense for the Kansas City Royals to hypothetically pursue. For some ground rules and an example, check out the first installment of the series. Today, let's continue our run with the National League East as I examine a possible trade involving the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins have quietly put together one of the premier pitching staffs in baseball led by Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Trevor Rogers and their soon-to-be returning top prospect Sixto Sanchez, who missed this season due to undergoing shoulder surgery. The bullpen is filled with guys who might lack the "jump off the page" name value, but they get results nonetheless. The problem with the Marlins lies with their lack of an offense.
Jazz Chisolm is the most recognizable name of the Marlins in terms of positional play and in terms of media appearances, but he hasn’t proven yet that he can be a star in this league. Major League Baseball might be trying to sell Chisolm as the new hot commodity at shortstop, but defensive metrics list him as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league and his couldn’t produce an OPS+ over 100. While the Marlins do possess one of the best farm systems in baseball with a bunch of pitching talent on the horizon, it’s also full of position players that aren’t close to being ready for the big leagues.
Free agency is always an option for the Marlins and if the team were to spend this offseason, it might draw people back into their park, but it’ll be on them to make sure those signings stay put. They also could swing a trade with the Royals that can help both teams get better at an area of weakness.
Miami Marlins Receive: UTIL Whit Merrifield, OF Erick Pena
Kansas City Royals Receive: SP Trevor Rogers, RHP Anthony Bender, DH Jesus Aguilar
Yes, it’s another Merrifield trade, and no I don’t care that about sentimentalism. I care about winning ball games, and with this trade, the Royals could win more games without Merrifield than with him. In the spirit of that, there are some myths that need to get busted.
First: Merrifield should not be the Royals' leadoff hitter anymore. Nicky Lopez had a higher batting average and OBP than Merrifield in 2021 and has also emerged as a legitimate base-stealing threat.
Second: Next season is the last season in which Merrifield's salary will match his ability. He's set to make a reasonable $2.75 million in 2022, however, that quickly turns into $10.5M in 2023 with a $750K buyout clause. The Royals very well could use that money saved to sign Andrew Benintendi to a new deal.
Finally: If the Royals are going to give Adalberto Mondesi any chance to reach his potential, he and Merrifield can’t coexist at second base, nor as utility players. One’s got to go and since Miami needs to add more consistency to their lineup, here’s the opportunity to get Mondesi the playing time he needs.
Pena is the prospect also going to the Marlins in this deal and while he is a top-10 prospect in the system, that’s what it takes to get good young pitching. The Marlins have a better farm system than the Royals so to pique the interest on Miami's side, the Royals would have to dangle a prospect worth their time. Pena could be that:
Pena’s bat and power are his best tools right now, but the other parts of his game are developing quickly. He has a sound approach with a slight uppercut swing and yields hard contact to all fields. He has some pop and has shown strength and quickness through the strike zone. Pena is an average runner with a solid-to-average arm and good defensive skills, so the Royals are going to let him play in center field for now. But he’s already added to his frame since he was signed and could outgrow the up-the-middle position and move to right field, where he has the offensive tools and arm to profile well.
All prospects, no matter their age or how highly they are rated, are magic beans that may turn into a pillar of the franchise or merely be a placebo to stimulate a desperate fanbase’s optimism. Against rookie ball competition this year, Pena's slash line was .161/.256/.314. At this point, his future is anything but clear. In return for this veteran and prospect package, the Royals receive two young players that should bolster both their starting rotation and their bullpen.
Bender was once a member of the Royals' minor league system before being cut at the end of 2018. Despite putting up great numbers for the Brewers' minor league system in 2019, he was also cut by them and finally got a chance to make an impact with the Marlins this year and did not disappoint.
Bender offers a three-pitch mix with a four-seam fastball and sinker that can both reach the upper-90s and a wipeout slider to boot as his primary off-speed pitch. Bender used that to put together a 1.2 WAR season out of the bullpen and compiled a fantastic 2.79 ERA in 60 games this year for the Marlins. Clearly, the Royals missed something in Bender the first go-around but here, they have an opportunity to add him to an already solid backend staff.
Rogers is the main piece in this deal, as the lefty broke out in his rookie season and posted an ERA just above 2.50 in 25 starts as the Marlins' lone All-Star representative. Rogers also offers a three-pitch mix with a fastball that hangs in the mid-90s, a changeup that sits about 10 mph softer and a slider even slower than that, which helped him generate plenty of soft contact. The spin rate on his pitches was also consistent throughout the year and didn’t fall off during MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances. These types of upper-level pitchers are players the Royals need to pressure with increased aggression because the team is going nowhere with its current staff.
Aguilar gives the Royals a legit and probable 20-home run, 80-plus RBI option to call on in the middle of their batting order. His power should translate to Kauffman Stadium as well because Miami is a notorious pitcher-friendly park. The Royals, no matter how you slice it, need a quality everyday player at the designated hitter position.
This trade follows the same concept as the James Shields trade, in which the Royals trade a major league player and a top prospect to get that possible top-of-the-line starter and a player that can help the bullpen or back of the rotation as well. Throw in an experienced DH, and the Royals will get more than enough back to justify this trade.
For the Marlins, their offensive future lies a little further down the road but with the amount of pitching they have coming up, they should be able to replace a pitcher the caliber of Rogers and have proven they are willing to wheel and deal their top players before. Getting Merrifield and Pena back is a terrific boost.