Why the Marlins and Padres could dominate the trade market with a Brewers-like plan
Expect plenty of contenders to check in on the bullpens of the Marlins and Padres over the next month
Calendars will flip to July in a few days, leaving us weeks away from the 2018 trade deadline. Most of the attention will be on teams like the Texas Rangers (will they move Adrian Beltre and Cole Hamels?) and the Baltimore Orioles (is Manny Machado heading out of town earlier than expected?), but there's an argument to be made that the two teams fielding the most calls in the next couple weeks should be the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres.
To be clear, this argument isn't centered around who has the best or most attractive players (though J.T. Realmuto should appeal to all teams and Justin Bour to many). Rather, this argument is about the evergreen need contenders have for relief pitchers, and the special set of circumstances that could make the Marlins and Padres' set of arms more intriguing than usual.
Think back to the winter. Remember how most every contender did their best to avoid crossing the luxury tax threshold? The goal was to stay under so they could pursue Machado, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, or whomever this winter without paying the repeater rate. Presuming teams intend to stay true to that plan, many of them will have limited financial flexibility at the deadline -- further enhancing the attractiveness of landing a cost-controlled player.
That's where the Fish and the Friars come into play. Contenders always want and/or need bullpen help. Even the teams unlikely to play in the Harper and Machado waters (see: the Cleveland Indians), could use a new seventh-inning type. Miami and San Diego just so happen to have a number of low-cost options that may make them a more attractive trade partner than, say, Baltimore, whose top arms (Zach Britton and Brad Brach) are more expensive.
The Marlins don't have much pitching, but they do have a number of interesting bullpen arms. Kyle Barraclough could well make the All-Star Game behind his 1.05 ERA; Drew Steckenreider has struck out more than 10 batters per nine; and former left-handed starter Adam Conley has shown promise as a reliever. None of the three can qualify for free agency until after the 2021 season. Why should the Fish shop them around in that case? Because relievers are volatile, each of them is at least 27 years old, and this is the perfect time to capitalize on the market.
The Padres are in a similar situation with a few of their non-Brad Hand relievers. Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates have authored fantastic comeback stories. Stammen, 34, has a 2.65 ERA and nearly six strikeouts per walk. Yates, meanwhile, is a 31-year-old with an 0.82 ERA. Given their variability in health and performance, the Padres should absolutely look to unload both.
For a recent example of a team pulling off this strategy to perfection, consider that a few years back the rebuilding Milwaukee Brewers unloaded Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Tyler Thornburg either at the deadline or over the winter. In return the Brewers netted (among others) Travis Shaw, Luis Ortiz, and Lewis Brinson, the latter of whom was later used to acquire Christian Yelich. Jeffress has since found his way back to Milwaukee after failing with the Texas Rangers, while both Smith and Thornburg have missed significant time due to injury.
By the way, do you know what team has the second-best bullpen ERA in the National League this season? Yup, the Brewers.
Things probably won't work out as perfectly for the Marlins or Padres, and they shouldn't just give their cheaper arms away. But they should be aggressive and opportunistic.
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