White Sox, Marlins Swap Jakes

Jake Burger
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This past offseason, the Marlins prioritized contact in free agency and trades, acquiring Yuli Gurriel, Jean Segura, and Luis Arraez to fill out an infield that already had Joey Wendle. I think we can all agree that results on those moves has been mixed. Nevertheless, the Marlins currently sit at 57–50 and are eyebrows-deep in the playoff race. The bubble season notwithstanding, Miami hasn’t made the playoffs since 2023; bucking that trend would mean the world for the Marlins.

In pursuit of that goal, Miami shifted its focus and acquired Jake Burger from the White Sox. Picture Segura or Gurriel in their prime, or Arraez now. Burger is the opposite of that: a hitter with unbelievable power who strikes out more in a week than Arraez does in a month. In exchange, Miami sent left-handed pitching prospect Jake Eder to Chicago. This exchange of Jakes will probably go under the radar given the big names who were moved, or at least discussed, this deadline, but it’s a fascinating trade all the same.

Back in April, when Burger was on a home run rampage, I wrote about his hot streak based on a conversation we’d had in spring training. A former first-round pick, he had lost essentially three years of his career to injuries and their aftereffects. But after revamping his training techniques, he hoped to remake his game and stake a claim to a full-time job in the majors in 2023. The latter, certainly; the former, well, kind of.

The thing to like about Burger, apart from his winning personality, is the fact that he can do this:

I linked this video in the above story, but it bears watching again because it’s only one of four batted balls with an exit velocity of 118 mph or higher this season. Shohei Ohtani hasn’t hit a ball that hard this year. Neither has Kyle Schwarber or Aaron Judge or whoever else. Only 11 hitters have hit a ball that hard in a regular-season game in the 2020s.

Apart from injuries (and playing for a White Sox team that has the vibes of a nearly-insolvent insurance firm), two things have kept Burger from translating that power into superstardom. The first is what happens when he doesn’t make contact. He doesn’t walk very much; this was one of the biggest knocks on him as a prospect, and one of the areas he identified to me as a place to improve. And he has, increasing his walk rate from last year… from 5.5% to 6.8%. Burger is a couple plate appearances short of qualifying for the rate stat leaderboards, but among 177 hitters with 300 or more PA this year, he is 133rd in walk rate. He also has the sixth-highest strikeout rate. So this is more Teoscar Hernández than Max Muncy.

The other knock on Burger is his defense. He’s played more than half of his games at third base this year, but he hasn’t been good defensively. Among players with at least 400 innings at the hot corner this season, he is not literally at the bottom of the defensive numbers, but he’s in the bottom quartile. (Believe it or not, he comes with 71st-percentile sprint speed, for what that’s worth.) I suspect that Burger’s athletic limitations get embellished because he’s a husky fellow who’s named after a fast food item, but even I will concede that his long-term defensive home is either at first base or DH.

The Marlins aren’t going to be picky about defense and strikeouts at third base. The incumbent at that position, Segura, was an excellent contact hitter through the end of 2022, at which point he got his talent zapped away by the Monstars. He has been more than a win below replacement level this season and was traded to Cleveland shortly after the Marlins acquired Burger. (More on that on this site shortly.)

In an amusing coincidence, Segura and Burger have posted almost the exact same walk rate, batting average, and OBP so far this season. The difference is about 250 points of ISO, at the cost of double the strikeout rate:

Jake Burger vs. Jean Segura
Name PA HR BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA xwOBA wRC+ Def WAR
Jake Burger 323 25 6.8% 31.6% .313 .214 .279 .527 .338 .359 115 -4.3 1.4
Jean Segura 326 3 6.7% 14.4% .060 .219 .277 .279 .250 .282 55 -1.7 -1.1

Weird!

Normally, I’m not a big stylistic nitpicker when it comes to offense in baseball. They don’t ask how, they ask how many, as the saying goes. But the Marlins, it bears repeating, could use some thump. Burger has 25 home runs in 323 PA; Miami as a team has 96 home runs in 3,998 PA. The Marlins are 29th in the entire league in dingers and 28th in ISO. Only two teams currently in playoff positions have a worse wOBA: the Giants, who play in a pitchers’ park, and the Brewers, who probably wouldn’t be in a playoff spot if they played in a real division.

The other thing to recommend Burger over a rental like Jeimer Candelario, who went to the Cubs on Monday: He’s under team control through 2028. That is of use to a team that doesn’t spend. There’s a non-trivial possibility that Burger, a power hitter with little to no defensive value and significant contact issues who’s already in his late 20s, is no longer a useful big leaguer by then, but the Marlins are taking a risk.

That’s particularly so considering that it’s Eder going the other way. This is a big name: Eder is a former Vanderbilt guy with a plus-plus slider who looked like a future mid-rotation starter before he underwent Tommy John surgery. When our Marlins list came out at the end of May, he was the organization’s no. 2 prospect behind only Eury Pérez and sat in the middle of the top 100 overall.

A week after the list came out, Eder made his first start at Double-A with the new elbow ligament and has not looked like the same player, according to Eric Longenhagen. After TJ, plus a broken foot that delayed his 2023 debut, his fastball has been down a tick, and his arm slot has changed, causing his stuff to back up across the board. A 50 FV prospect a few months ago, Eder is now a 45 and comes in at no. 6 in the White Sox system.

This trade is definitely about the Marlins getting better now and the White Sox clearing the decks to add prospects, but it’s closer to a challenge trade than your normal big leaguer-for-prospects trade. In the medium term, Burger is probably a starter even if he doesn’t walk more or strike out less, though his offensive profile and lack of defensive contribution makes that balance more precarious than it would be for most players of equivalent quality. And the Marlins will have to deal with the consequences not just for three months, but for five more years. Eder might just be a reliever now, or he could return to his pre-surgery mechanics and velocity.

We won’t know who wins this trade for years, which is unusual in a win-now move. Usually, even if it takes half a decade for a team to regret trading a low-minors Yordan Alvarez or Fernando Tatis Jr., we know pretty quickly if the established player helped the team win in the short term. This trade requires a longer view.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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jftimmmember
9 months ago

“The Two Jakes” trade