April 15, 2024

Why the winless Marlins could be on the path to becoming sellers sooner than expected

They are 0-7, with four starting pitchers on the injured list. No, it is not too early to envision the Miami Marlins as a trade-deadline seller, not when they already have moved one veteran player and entertained offers for some of their biggest names.

The veteran the Marlins traded, infielder Jon Berti, 34, was only a part-time contributor. Second baseman Luis Arraez, 27, and left-hander Jesús Luzardo, 26, are more valuable commodities. The Marlins resisted trading both before Opening Day. But if their play does not improve, first-year general manager Peter Bendix almost certainly will be more inclined to dismantle his roster.

The San Diego Padres showed interest in Arraez throughout the offseason and made a strong offer for him during spring training, according to sources briefed on the Marlins’ discussions. A Padres source, however, said the team was more focused on Luzardo, who represented an alternative in trade conversations to right-hander Dylan Cease, the pitcher San Diego acquired from the Chicago White Sox on March 13.

Arraez is a two-time batting champion, but how he might have fit with the Padres, a team that cut its Opening Day payroll by more than $80 million from 2023 to ‘24, is an open question.

The Padres announced early in camp the move of Xander Bogaerts to second base to clear shortstop for Ha-Seong Kim. The only way to create a spot for Arraez — and accommodate his $10.6 million salary — might have been to trade Kim and return Bogaerts to short, or trade Jake Cronenworth and play Arraez at first base. The Padres, according to FanGraphs, are $14 million away from the luxury-tax threshold, and they want to retain flexibility in case they need to address multiple needs before the trade deadline.

Arraez’s contact skills certainly would have been welcome in a San Diego lineup that lacks established left-handed hitters. Padres general manager A.J. Preller sometimes collects players with little regard for their natural positions. But the Marlins, with the start of the season approaching, feared they could not adequately replace Arraez, whom previous GM Kim Ng acquired from the Minnesota Twins in a four-player exchange that included right-hander Pablo López in January 2023.

Jesús Luzardo could be on the market sooner than expected if the Marlins’ struggles continue. (Jim Rassol / USA Today)

Luzardo, obtained from the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Starling Marte in July 2021, was another Ng acquisition. He is earning $5.5 million this season and is under club control for two more. Arraez, on the other hand, is under control only through next season. The way Miami is operating, neither he nor Luzardo appears likely to receive a contract extension.

The Marlins are coming off their first playoff appearance in a full season since winning the 2003 World Series. Their manager, Skip Schumaker, is the reigning National League Manager of the Year. Yet, the team signed only one major-league free agent during the offseason — shortstop Tim Anderson, for one year, $5 million.

Bendix, according to Marlins officials briefed on the team’s strategy, spent most of his time and resources trying to improve the team’s infrastructure. Miami added three executives — assistant GM Gabe Kapler, farm director Rachel Balkovec and director of baseball operations Vinesh Kanthan — to positions that either were left vacant last season or did not exist. But its Opening Day player payroll of $92 million was slightly below what it was last season, ranking 27th in the majors.

Berti, earning $3.625 million, was sent to the New York Yankees in a three-team trade in which the Marlins received one prospect from the Yankees and another from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Marlins had other utility types — Vidal Bruján, Jonah Bride and Xavier Edwards, who currently is on the injured list — to fill Berti’s role. Their rotation, decimated by injuries, is another matter. Through seven games, Luzardo’s ERA is 4.35 and the other starters combined are at 6.75.

The Marlins, playing at home against two modestly talented clubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Angels, have been outscored, 51-24. Their schedule will now turn more difficult. Starting Thursday, they will face the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees on the road, the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants at home and Chicago Cubs and Braves on the road.

Sandy Alcantara, the 2022 NL Cy Young Award winner, will miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Eury Pérez, last year’s phenom, is out with right elbow inflammation. Two other starters, lefty Braxton Garrett and righty Edward Cabrera, are dealing with shoulder impingements.

Bendix previously was employed by the Rays, who generally carry one of the game’s lowest payrolls, and are considered the model franchise for doing more with less. Marlins owner Bruce Sherman hired Bendix to follow a similar blueprint. If Miami remains non-competitive, the unloading of veterans for prospects will be inevitable.

Arraez and Luzardo would carry the most value, but the Marlins also could look to move anyone earning significant dollars — first baseman Josh Bell ($16.5 million this season), outfielder Avisaíl García ($24 million in 2024 and ‘25), perhaps even Alcantara ($43.9 million from ‘24 to ‘26) and center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr., who is earning $2.625 million this season but has two years of salary arbitration remaining.

If the Marlins under Bendix are going to operate like the Rays, they will be open to trading all players at all times. And if they continue to spiral, it might only accelerate the process.

(Photo of Luis Arraez: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)