2023 Marlins Fans and 2027 Mets Fans, Rejoice: Your Teams Made a Great Trade

John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets and Marlins making a trade for much-needed bullpen help? If you told April me that was happening, I’d completely believe you. That New York bullpen looks shaky without Edwin Díaz at the top. Past me is in for a surprise, of course. It turns out that the Mets are out of the race this year and the Marlins are making a run at the Wild Card. Yesterday, the Mets sent David Robertson to Miami in exchange for Marco Vargas and Ronald Hernandez, two teenage hitting prospects.

Miami’s greatest need is not in the bullpen. They have one of the worst offenses in baseball – not just among playoff teams, but across the league as a whole. But their bullpen, which started the season on a tear, has been remarkably un-clutch in recent weeks. From the beginning of the season through a month ago, that ‘pen added around 3.5 wins worth of win probability, one of the best units in the game. In the last month, they’ve cost the Marlins around 1.5 wins, one of the worst results. For a team that’s scoring so little, holding on to every last lead is of utmost importance.

The Dylan Floro/Jorge López swap from earlier this week was, to be frank, not much help. It seems to me that the Marlins got the worse of the two players, at least for this year. But adding Robertson is a huge step in the right direction. He’ll slot into the closer role in Miami immediately, with Tanner Scott serving as his high-leverage deputy. A ton of power arms follow, none of whom are without risk, but that’s just how bullpens go these days.

Robertson ties that unit together like a nice rug. He was the top non-Josh Hader rental on the market, and given that San Diego might still be going for it, that made him a prized commodity. He strikes out a lot of hitters and doesn’t walk many. Batters struggle to square up his cutter and to even get a bat on his curveball. His 2.05 ERA speaks as much to luck as skill this year, but he’s been this guy for quite a while now: a reliever with a three-ish ERA who will answer the bell for 60-70 innings if healthy. He can be the second-best guy in a dominant bullpen or the best guy in a solid one.

Quite frankly, that’s all I have to say about Robertson. You know what you’re getting, and the Marlins wanted just that. The Mets had to trade him; they’re going nowhere and he’ll hit free agency after the season. The only question was the return, so let’s get to that part.

In his Marlins prospect list, Eric Longenhagen described Marco Vargas as “in the FanGraphs wheelhouse as a compact, lefty-hitting infielder who might have special bat-to-ball ability.” Eric’s not wrong: I find myself gravitating to this skill set over and over again when perusing the minors for players to follow. Vargas is tearing the Florida Complex League to shreds this year, walking a quarter of the time while rarely striking out and showing doubles power too. He’s no lock to turn into even an average power hitter, but the early returns there are solid. At just 18 years old, there’s a lot of projecting left to do, and his hit tool will have to do a lot of the work, but it’s a skill set that can work in the majors and has an extremely high ceiling at times – think José Ramírez as the best possible version.

That’s a far-fetched outcome, but this amount of bat-to-ball ability is often a marker for elite hand-eye coordination, which lets hitters get the most out of their raw power. Vargas doesn’t have an obvious defensive home, but as a 2B/3B type with a high offensive ceiling, he has room to disappoint on roughly one skill and still profile as a big league regular. I’m exactly the kind of analyst who will overvalue this skill set, and I know it, but I look at Vargas and see a potential future stud. The combination of this amount of contact and strike zone understanding in the low minors has historically boded extremely well for a prospect’s chances of making the majors, and at the end of the day, that’s a lot of what I’m looking for.

Of course, Vargas is hardly a slam dunk, even seeing his numbers through my special pair of rose-colored prospect glasses. He’s 18! He hasn’t played a game above the complex yet. If he were putting up these numbers in Double-A as a 20-year-old, or something like that, he’d be a lot higher up prospect lists. There’s still plenty of time for him to fail. I really like the ceiling here, but when you’re trading for teenagers, the error bars are massive. In terms of prospect grades, Eric is up to a 45+ FV on Vargas after his incendiary season, which puts him in the top five of a thin farm system.

Ronald Hernandez is the lesser of the two prospects, at least in my (and Eric’s) eyes, but he’s also interesting. He’s nearly two years older than Vargas, but he too has more walks than strikeouts this year in the Florida Complex League, and he’s hitting a gaudy .298/.464/.562 in limited playing time. It’s a similar skill set to Vargas’, to be honest: bat-to-ball first, power second if you’re lucky. Will he stick at catcher as he rises through the minor league ranks? We think so, but he’s a long way off. Will he develop more power? We don’t think so, but again, there’s time for plenty to change. His statistical profile is less interesting chiefly because of his age – imagine what Vargas might do in the same league with another two years of physical maturity.

I’ve heard a lot of Mets fans and analysts questioning the return here. Not so much for the players – c’mon, even being generous about how knowledgeable the average fan is, no one has heard of these guys. I’ve only heard of Vargas because I love looking at minor league leaderboards, and I write about baseball full-time. No, the reason people are questioning the return is because neither player is nearly major league-ready, and the Mets have a team made up of men of a certain age.

I don’t buy that assessment. If I were the Mets, I’d be trying to build a team for the whole future, not just the immediate future. Trading for need – asking the Marlins for a Double-A swingman who could spell Justin Verlander next year instead of focusing on getting the most raw value – is how you end up tripping from failure to failure. Trying to patch the last problem is never as good of a strategy as going out and finding the next big thing.

There’s another factor here: money can buy the kinds of players that Double-A swingmen turn into in the majors. The Mets went out and signed José Quintana, Adam Ottavino, and Robertson this offseason, not to mention some bigger-ticket pitchers too. Meanwhile, their farm system needs replenishing, and trading Robertson is one of their better chances to do that this year.

There’s been a lot of talk about Steve Cohen turning the Mets into Dodgers East. To be clear, this specific trade doesn’t mean that job is done, or even close to it. But if that’s the team’s goal, they should be making these kinds of trades as often as they can. One big advantage that perma-contenders have is that they don’t have to think in terms of windows. It’s not about getting the best minor leaguer who will be ready to contribute by June 2024; it’s about getting the best minor leaguer. That’s a huge luxury that only accrues to clubs that have constructed a strong major league pipeline, either by spending gobs of money to lock up current contributors or by building a phenomenal farm system. The Mets are using the first to hopefully end up as a team with the second.

I’m not usually a trade grades guy, but for whatever reason, this one speaks to me. I give the Mets an A-. I don’t know what they left on the table, and given the Lucas Giolito trade return, there’s some chance they could have gotten more of a sure thing as the anchor of this deal. That keeps me off of a straight A grade, but with that small caveat, I love what they’re thinking. The Mets have become synonymous with trying to patch the most recent hole in their sinking ship in the past decade. Now they’re trying to build a new and better boat instead, and I admire the thinking.

The Marlins? I’m going to give them a B, though you could talk me into raising it as high as a B+. Here’s the thing: The Marlins are most certainly not building a perma-contender. That’s just not how they operate down in Miami. The clock is ticking. They’re getting a career year out of Luis Arraez and still can’t score runs. There aren’t exactly a lot of hitting prospects knocking on the door to the majors. Teams built around pitching should prioritize the now because as we all know, pitching breaks.

Now, is this a particularly great team to bet the farm on? It is not. The Marlins have been outscored by 19 runs on the season; that’s more than the Mets have been outscored by. But you make the playoffs based on wins, not run differential, and the Marlins have made it to July 28 in playoff position. We give them a 50% chance of making the postseason. Do you honestly think their odds will be better in any of the next four years? They play in a tough division and operate with payroll constraints. Any opening is a good one given that context.

If I were them, I wouldn’t be done. Jeimer Candelario fits their needs. So would Tommy Pham. So would Paul DeJong. So would anyone you can think of who can hold a bat. I’m not saying they need to sell out completely – none of those guys would require a huge return – but this is the time to add. Go make the playoffs, an exceedingly achievable goal, and worry about the future team later. Vargas and Hernandez are so far from debuting that it’s hard to project what the Marlins will look like then, but my guess is they’ll be kind of dysfunctional and payroll constrained. That’s been a generally good guess. Why not expend a little future capital to try to break out of that cycle now?





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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slz
8 months ago

Yeah, I like this trade for the Mets. I don’t understand the fans upset about it. Have they not watched the team this year? You cant give up on something that already has no pulse

You mentioned Jose Ramirez as the upside so I’ll just note I recall Ruben Tejada torching the Summer Leagues and Rookie Leagues like this so there’s no guarantee Vargas turns into a stud, much less makes the majors at all but it’s a good punt on a guy. He seems somewhat similar to Jett Williams, who they drafted last year in the early first round.

Also think the catcher is being undersold. Think he ranks similarly to where Endy Rodriguez did when the Mets traded him to the Pirates for…ick, Joey Lucchesi. Now, not every guy with that profile develops as Rodriguez did but even a decent backup C would be a good return as the second prospect in a RP rental

Bubbamember
8 months ago
Reply to  slz

Ruben Tejada is an interesting comparison. He’s not necessarily a bad outcome either, having essentially 4 averagish seasons with the Mets in his first 6 years.

Trotter76member
8 months ago
Reply to  slz

As a Mets fan I’m used to the fans being all doom-and-gloom about everything. Rose colored glasses is not the default setting for most of us. I try to be optimistic though almost 40 years into my Mets fandom, I tend to settle for realistic.

Dooduh
8 months ago
Reply to  Trotter76

that’s by and large bc they have rarely done these kinds of future-looking deals.