Playoff-minded Marlins add Marte, trade Villar

August 31st, 2020

The Marlins ramped up their efforts to make the postseason on Monday by swinging two separate trades on the day they pulled off a 5-3 comeback victory over the Mets at Citi Field.

Miami made a big move to upgrade its offense by acquiring outfielder Starling Marte from the D-backs in exchange for left-hander Caleb Smith, righty Humberto Mejía and a player to be named later. Marte has a $12.5 million club option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout, though Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill indicated that the club, with the approval of ownership, is willing to pick up Marte’s option after the season.

Additionally, second baseman Jonathan Villar was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth inning and informed that he had been traded to the Blue Jays as part of a separate deal. Toronto announced that the Marlins will be getting a player to be named later as the return for the 29-year-old infielder. By rule, players not in a team’s 60-player pool could only be traded as players to be named later. According to reports, that player will be outfield prospect Griffin Conine, the son of "Mr. Marlin," Jeff Conine.

Marlins get: OF Starling Marte
D-backs get: LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Humberto Mejía, PTBNL

Marlins get: PTBNL
Blue Jays get: INF Jonathan Villar

“We wanted to fortify our offense and give ourselves every opportunity to score runs and to win games,” Hill said.

Marte was an All-Star with the Pirates in 2016 and he is a two-time Gold Glove winner ('15 and '16). He is a career .288 hitter who has stolen at least 30 bases five times in eight MLB seasons. Though Marte is expected to help in Miami's playoff push this season, the move was made knowing that the club also plans to pick up his '21 option.

“I don't think you give up what we gave up if this is a 30-day rental,” Hill said. “We feel like Starling Marte, knowing that you have control over him this year and next, made a lot of sense to our group. Ownership was on board to allow us to move forward and try to make that happen. We couldn't be happier to have him on board and as a Marlin.”

Villar was one of the established veterans the Marlins acquired in the offseason to add stability to the everyday line, while also being a leader in the clubhouse. The switch-hitting infielder, who is making a prorated $8.2 million in 2020, will be a free agent after the season.

“Jonathan Villar is an established Major League player, incredibly versatile,” Hill said. “In taking an expiring contract to market, our goal was to be opportunistic. We've always looked at ways where we can improve our roster, not only in the short, but in the long term.”

With Villar now gone, the Marlins will weigh their second-base options. Isan Díaz, who elected not to play early in the season, is seeking reinstatement and is going through that process with MLB’s joint committee.

Díaz has returned to the Marlins' alternate training site in Jupiter, Fla., where he is in the process of getting in playing shape.

“He has returned to our complex in Jupiter, so he has applied for reinstatement, having previously [elected not to play this] season,” Hill said. “He's back in Jupiter, working himself back into shape. We will see where things stand with him in the next few days, next few weeks, however long it takes to get him back up to speed.”

Jon Berti is a more immediate option to handle second base.

Villar played 30 games with Miami, split mostly between shortstop and second base. He posted a .259/.315/.345 hitting line while leading the Majors with nine stolen bases.

Marte, meanwhile, provides an established middle-of-the-order bat to mix in with Brian Anderson, Corey Dickerson and Jesús Aguilar.

With Arizona, Marte batted .311/.384/.443 this season, good for a well-above-average 123 OPS+ in 138 plate appearances. He has 11 extra-base hits, including two homers, to go along with 23 runs scored, 14 RBIs and five steals. The nine-year veteran was a 20-20 player in both 2018 and ‘19, while also reaching the 3-WAR threshold in each season, per FanGraphs.

“In Starling Marte, we’ve got a middle-of-the-order bat to support Corey Dickerson, Brian Anderson and the rest of our group,” Hill said. “He’s here to help us to where we want to go -- and that’s into the playoffs.”

The Marlins, now 15-15, have rotation depth, which made trading Smith and Mejía possible. Smith is currently on the injured list after making one start this season, but he made 44 starts over the previous two years. He went 15-17 with a 4.41 ERA. The 29-year-old enters arbitration next season and is not set to reach free agency until after the 2023 season.

Mejía, 23, made the leap from Class A Advanced Jupiter to the big leagues this year, making three starts and posting a 5.40 ERA over 10 innings.

“We always try to be mindful and protective of our inventory,” Hill said. “But also, when we see an opportunity to improve this club, we wanted to take advantage of that.”

While Miami parted with Smith and Mejía, the organization made it clear to other clubs that prospects Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera, Trevor Rogers and Braxton Garrett were not available.

Along with the two trades they completed, the Marlins also explored the reliever market, with Archie Bradley of the D-backs being among the many bullpen pieces that were explored. Bradley ended up being dealt to the Reds.

“It was something we were exploring, among a number of things that you explore at the Deadline,” Hill said. “Our [approach] was always, if we had an opportunity to add to our team [to take it], but we weren't going to mortgage our future in doing so.”