Astros Add to Bullpen Again, Acquire Yimi García From Marlins

One day after adding Kendall Graveman, one of this season’s best relievers, in a somewhat strange trade, the Astros picked up another bullpen arm on Wednesday, acquiring Yimi García from the Marlins. In exchange for García, the Marlins received a right-handed reliever of their own, Austin Pruitt, who was designated for assignment following Houston’s trade with Seattle, as well as minor league outfielder Bryan De La Cruz.

From a logistical standpoint, the deal is rather straightforward: The Marlins are not in contention and have a solidly performing reliever who is a free agent at the end of the season. The Astros, meanwhile, have dealt with a middling bullpen so far, one that certainly warrants additions to gear up for a playoff run. Through games on Tuesday, the Astros’ relief group ranked 19th in WAR, at 1.3, and 20th in WPA, at -1.24. There’s nothing wrong with adding a couple of extra arms for the home stretch, and that’s exactly what they did in acquiring Graveman and García.

Miami picked up García on a one-year, $1.1 million contract after was non-tendered by the Dodgers at the end of 2019. After a strong 2020 campaign — he only pitched 15 innings, but allowed just a single run, striking out 19 of the 60 batters he faced (31.7% strikeout rate), while walking just five (8.3% walk rate) — the Marlins decided to tender him a contract for this year. He is earning $1.9 million in 2021, and though the results have not been as sterling as they were during the COVID-shortened season — he’s pitched to a 3.47 ERA, a 23.2% strikeout rate and an 8.6% walk rate in 36.1 innings — García has been a dependable reliever, often pitching the ninth. He’ll be bumped to setup duty with the Astros, who now have a pretty strong group of arms to handle the late innings:

The New End of the Astros’ Bullpen
Ryan Pressly 43.0 1.88 32.9% 4.9% 2.10 2.45 1.5
Kendall Graveman 33.0 0.82 28.1% 6.6% 2.88 3.12 0.8
Yimi García 36.1 3.47 23.2% 8.6% 4.17 4.20 0.1

Clearly García hasn’t been in the same class as Pressly or Graveman this season, but he’s a solid option to handle lower leverage situations. There is also reason to think that the Astros may be able to get more out of him going forward, perhaps helping him improve on all of those stats by the end of the year. As I wrote in 2019, García is an intriguing arm in part due to a high-velocity, high-spin fastball that seems as if it has untapped potential. His heater still possesses those traits; his fastball velocity is averaging 96.0 mph this season, and his spin rate is in the 94th percentile, though it doesn’t generate the expected rise as a result of low spin efficiency. Perhaps a change of grips could be in order to extract more value from the pitch, because this season — as in years past — he’s getting below-average rise for his velocity, and hitters haven’t had a real hard time squaring it up (.582 xSLG, .375 xwOBA allowed).

With his fastball a roughly average offering this season, it has been García’s slider that has played up the most; per Statcast’s run values, it has already been worth six runs above-average, at a rate of about 2.8 runs per 100 pitches. That rate ranks in the 92nd percentile among pitchers to throw at least 100 sliders this season. The pitch itself doesn’t generate a ton of total movement compared to average, but much of it is late movement, as evidenced by his 75-minute deviation in spin-based versus observed movement on the pitch (in yellow):

Just for good measure, here is García making Elias Díaz look silly with the slider in mid-June:

All in all, García has both solid top-line numbers (though he is over-performing them by a bit) and an intriguing arsenal that may allow for further dominance in important spots. Even at his current level of production, he helps bolster a middling bullpen, and depth is always good. But perhaps the Astros were more interested in García than other roughly-equivalent bullpen arms because of the additional upside he may offer. I certainly think there could be more to be had from him.

In order to make the deal, Houston sent Pruitt and De La Cruz Miami’s way. Pruitt, a 31-year-old reliever, has pitched in parts of four major league seasons, though he hasn’t seen a decent share of innings since 2019 while a member of the Rays. Tampa Bay traded him to the Astros in January 2020, a deal struck just days before the sign-stealing scandal broke; it was Jeff Luhnow’s last transaction as GM of the team. Following Justin Verlander’s injury news in spring training, there was some thought that Pruitt could compete for a rotation spot, with our own Jake Mailhot writing about his potential Colin McHugh-esque upside last March.

But then Pruitt ended up missing all of last season after suffering a hairline fracture to his elbow, one that required the surgical insertion of a screw. Nothing can be concluded from his 2.2 innings this season, but his entire body of work paints a picture of a reliable, if unspectacular, bullpen arm who can also provide a spot start. His career 4.89 ERA, 4.29 FIP and 4.39 xFIP are all a touch below-average (or, in the case of his ERA, a little bit further below than that). He’s not a strikeout guy, but he limits walks. His changeup (3.3 runs above-average per 100 pitches) and slider (3.4) each played up as recently as 2019. We project that he’ll slide into the Marlins’ bullpen, and if he does stick with Miami beyond this year, it seems unlikely they’ll use him as a starter full-time given their young and exciting rotation depth.

As for De La Cruz, the 24-year-old outfielder was an honorable mention on this April’s Astros list. At the time, Eric wrote that “De La Cruz is in that tough spot between the Guillermo Heredia bench outfield types (who can play center) and the Adam Duvall types (who have actual power).”

That raw power has certainly translated a bit more this year than in prior seasons; his .195 ISO in Triple-A is a career-high. He’s already slugged 12 homers, again a career-high, and his .324/.362/.518 slash line (112 wRC+) certainly seems promising as well. He also has a reputation for having outstanding makeup, which could help him exceed his fourth outfielder projection. De La Cruz will need to be added to Miami’s 40-man roster this winter to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft, so it seems possible that he will get a look in the Marlins’ outfield at some point before the end of the year.

Bullpen arms move around frequently in July, often in trades that look much more like this one than the type of deal Houston and Seattle made on Tuesday. Wednesday’s Marlins-Astros trade is the kind of swap we’re all accustomed to: a solid, impending free agent reliever gets traded for a recently-DFA’d arm and a depth minor leaguer with potential big-league bench upside. Yimi García helps the Astros shore up some of their bullpen problems, with the potential for more after some tweaks. For Miami, Austin Pruitt can eat some innings, while Bryan De La Cruz’s power surge in Triple-A may signal a touch more upside than otherwise expected.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

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1 year ago

I didn’t realize Yimi was a FA after season, so that clears up what I thought seemed like a slightly light return (the Chaffin and even Holmes trades seemed to have bigger returns). But this article made me a bit more interested in both pieces the Marlins got, who have done a very good job hitting on both veterans and young gambles recently. Seems like both teams got what they needed.