Athletics, Marlins Swap a Pair of Former First-Rounders

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The Oakland A’s and Miami Marlins pulled off a minor trade over the weekend, with the A’s sending former first-round pick A.J. Puk down to Florida while another former first-rounder, outfielder JJ Bleday, headed to the CurrentCorporateName Coliseum. Puk had arguably his best — and healthiest — season as a pro in 2022, appearing in 66 1/3 innings over 62 games, all in relief, while putting up a 3.12 ERA and 3.69 FIP for the A’s. Bleday’s season was notably less successful, especially after a July call-up that led to a .167/.277/.309 line with the parent club while basically being a full-time starter.

For the Marlins, the draw of bringing Puk in is obvious. As I’ve noted in the past, I’m generally leery of the Marlins trading offense for pitching, considering how little they have of the former. But in this case, it’s hard to really describe Bleday as “offense,” while Puk is coming off an very successful season. While Puk succeeding as a late-inning reliever isn’t the sexiest outcome given his status as a prospect, it’s an important building block considering the time he’s missed as a pro due to Tommy John surgery, a shoulder surgery, and an annoying biceps issue. Just the fact that he came out the other side of those maladies with his upper-90s fastball and command both intact is a pretty big deal in my book and ought to have made Puk interesting to most teams.

Puk’s actual role for Miami is far from set in stone. It would be tempting to just call him a late-inning reliever — he’s arguably the top lefty in the bullpen and is less heartburn-inducing than Tanner Scott and more explosive than Steven Okert. But it’s hard to definitively close the book on him as a starter given his pedigree, build, and desire to start in the majors. The A’s had hinted that they were willing to explore using him as a starter in the spring, though that’s no guarantee that the Marlins will have the same willingness. That said, it should also be noted that the Marlins have been very reluctant to move some of their explosive young pitchers with injury issues to the bullpen full-time. Puk the Reliever is a solid contributor, but not a star, while Puk the Starter could still achieve stardom if he managed to stay healthy.

Here’s how Puk projects through his remaining years of club control:

ZiPS Projection – A.J. Puk
2023 3 4 4.01 51 1 60.7 54 27 8 22 68 102 0.4
2024 3 4 3.94 50 1 59.3 52 26 7 21 66 104 0.4
2025 3 4 3.97 49 1 59.0 52 26 7 21 65 103 0.4
2026 3 4 3.97 48 1 56.7 51 25 7 20 61 103 0.4

The move doesn’t really change Miami’s 2023 outlook, and the team’s flaws remain, but I think I’d rather be in the Puk business than the Bleday one. When the Marlins took Bleday with the fourth pick in the 2019 draft, he was generally thought of as one of the most polished, pro-ready hitters available in the class. The hope was that he’d be a big boost to the team’s future offense, and that along with Jazz Chisholm Jr., Jesús Sánchez, Lewin Díaz, and Monte Harrison, he would form part of the team’s offensive core. In the end, only Chisholm has worked out to any degree. Bleday’s offensive prowess from college — he hit .347/.465/.701 for Vanderbilt in 2019 after returning from a significant oblique injury — has basically disappeared in the pros. His 2019 .257/.311/.379 pro debut at High-A Jupiter is hardly what you want to see from a high-end offensive prospect, and after losing 2020, Bleday’s prospect status took a serious hit in 2021 when he posted a .212/.323/.373 line for Double-A Pensacola.

Bleday had his best minor-league stint in 2022 for Triple-A Jacksonville, but even his .835 OPS there was highly disappointing once you contextualize the numbers. His .228/.365/.470 line was very walk-heavy, which translates relatively poorly, and there was a lot of offense in the minors last year; the International League had a .750 OPS and the average team scored five runs a game. ZiPS only translates Bleday’s 2022 performance for Jacksonville as .203/.310/.390, a tepid line that gets much worse when you add in his stint with the Marlins.

I suspect that the A’s see Bleday as a lottery ticket, and one with more upside remaining than, say, Cristian Pache. When we look back in 10 years, I expect that we’ll see unusual developmental patterns for the players who lost the 2020 season at a crucial point in their career, those who were under 23 and a year or two removed from being drafted. I obviously can’t prove that as I do not possess a time machine — else ZiPS’ projections would be a good deal more accurate — but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind. The fact remains that as dismal as his professional career has been so far, a lot of people really liked Bleday going into the draft and he’s still relatively young, so it makes better sense to give him a chance rather than checking in on, say, Tyler Naquin or Odúbel Herrera. Here’s how Bleday projects:

ZiPS Projection – JJ Bleday
2023 .200 .297 .360 469 56 94 23 2 16 56 61 147 3 86 -8 0.3
2024 .205 .302 .367 463 56 95 23 2 16 57 61 141 3 90 -8 0.5
2025 .209 .306 .374 454 56 95 23 2 16 57 60 135 3 93 -8 0.7
2026 .211 .306 .375 365 45 77 19 1 13 46 48 106 3 93 -7 0.6
2027 .214 .308 .376 290 35 62 15 1 10 37 38 84 2 94 -5 0.5
2028 .213 .308 .371 221 26 47 12 1 7 28 29 64 1 93 -4 0.3

In the end, I’d call this a justifiable “challenge trade” for both teams.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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mike sixelmember
1 year ago

I love the idea for Oakland……sure, lottery tickets cost a few bucks, and they rarely pay off, but when they do!

Jason Bmember
1 year ago
Reply to  mike sixel

This is one of those lottery tickets that when it wins gets turned in for…3 more lottery tickets!! (it is the A’s after all…)