By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Rustin Dodd and Marc Carig
Getting Marlins: David Robertson, RHP
Getting Mets: Marco Vargas, ALS; and Ronald Hernandez, C
Stephen J. Nesbitt: Six failed saves this month served as compelling evidence for Marlins GM Kim Ng to shake up the bullpen — even if it’s not the club’s greatest need. Step 1 was trading Dylan Floro for Jorge López in a change of scenery with the Twins. Now, Robertson steps straight into the closer role, moving left-handers AJ Puk and Tanner Scott to set-up or more strategic spots in the late innings. Robertson is the top rental closer in the non-Josh Hader category. Waiting for the Padres’ plans doesn’t seem particularly wise for the Marlins, and neither does Jordan Hicks when the Cardinals discuss their options with him. Robertson has a long track record of success, posting a 2.26 ERA over the past two seasons. He is proven, reliable and able to close the door in the ninth inning. The Fish just got better and it didn’t cost them their best prospects – who they could theoretically use to upgrade their lineup.
At the same time, nothing is cheap in this market, not even pitching. Opting for Robertson over, say, Keynan Middleton or Brad Hand means a bit of positing. The return, for the Mets, is intriguing: the Marlins’ top two rookie-ball hitters. Marco Vargas, an 18-year-old shortstop with a .457 OBP, has the potential to climb into the top-100 in the coming years. Ronald Hernáandez, a 19-year-old switch-hitting catcher just ahead with a .464 OBP, is more known for his glove, but can add value on both fronts. The Mets need young, controllable pitching, so bringing back a strong Double-A-arm may be preferable. But they also need to deepen their farming system, and this trade does just that. These are the ones looking at the long term. I imagine they need to take more steps that can help the 2024 and 2025 clubs.
Rustin Dodd: The Marlins have poached one of the best assist options on the market from the Mets. The cost: two up and coming rookieball prospects who have yet to turn 20.
Could the Marlins regret the trade if one of the players goes above their projected ceiling? Sure, but it’s a fair bet for a club that’s trying to make the playoffs for the first time in a full 162-game season since their World Series championship in 2003.
The Marlins’ bullpen ranks 16th in the majors in ERA. The weakness has recently surfaced in a spate of failed rescues. Robertson, 38, has a 2.05 ERA and 14 saves in 44 innings.
Meanwhile, the Mets announced themselves as sellers by moving the timeless Robertson, who posted an ERA in the 2.00s for the second year in a row and then was flipped at the deadline. Of course, the Mets didn’t think they were signing a lease when they signed Robertson to a one-year, $10 million deal, but they turned around and turned the right-hander into two would-be teenagers with an advantage.
For now, that’s all they are: intriguing.
There is an inherent boom-or-bust risk in this return for the Mets. Vargas just turned 18 in May, while Hernandez will turn 20 in October. But it’s the kind of bigger hit that more teams should take if they want to maximize returns from a rental. Vargas has shown some strong baselines so far, while Hernandez has a strong offensive profile in rookie ball, with a .916 OPS. Hernandez was ranked the Marlins’ 18th best prospect for the season The athleticKeith’s law. He is a switch-hitting catcher from Venezuela who, according to Law, is “a lock” for staying behind the plate. His bat was thought to be behind his defense, and Law projected him as a solid major league backup. Vargas is so young that he may appear on more prospect lists after this season.
Marc Carig: So in a way this is a pretty simple deadline trade. Team that should be good but was actually bad gives away a solid reliever to a team that could use it more. Sure, David Robertson doesn’t hit, so he doesn’t help the Marlins in that way. But despite his advancing age, Robertson remains a legitimate back-end bullpen option, and that’s a nice addition for a team chasing its first all-season playoff spot since baseball first witnessed the exploits of a feisty young whippersnapper named Miguel Cabrera.
What I wonder is why the Mets targeted this particular return. If you’re the Mets, with both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander presumably next season, shouldn’t you be trying to improve the team for 2024? Robertson was one of the best relief pitchers on the market. It’s hard to imagine there weren’t other options with one or two prospects that could be labeled fast risers – players who could potentially contribute as early as 2024 and then serve as optional and controllable talent for a few years. Even if the ideal package wasn’t immediately available, waiting for it probably would have changed that.
To be clear, this is none bad trade. The Mets have talked a lot about getting the farm system in order and there are worse things than infusing it with intriguing talent, even if that talent doesn’t arrive until years later, if at all. This trade fulfills that important initiative. And there is still time for the deadline and other steps to be taken. But it’s fair to wonder if the Mets could have turned a strong asset in this market into something that could fulfill what should be a more immediate goal: to right the ship quickly.
(Photo: Vincent Carchietta/USA Today)