Marlins acquire duo of promising OF prospects in Berti deal

Miami also deals for righty Smith to shore up bullpen ahead of Opening Day

March 27th, 2024

MIAMI -- The Marlins executed a pair of trades on Wednesday to address the impending 2024 season and beyond.

In the first move, the Marlins dealt utility player to the Yankees as part of a three-team deal with the Rays. Miami acquired Rookie ball-level outfielder (New York’s No. 28 prospect) and High-A outfielder Shane Sasaki, an unranked Tampa Bay prospect, in return. Catcher Ben Rortvedt is headed from the Yankees to the Rays.

Marlins receive: OF John Cruz (NYY No. 28 prospect), OF Shane Sasaki
Yankees receive: UT Jon Berti
Rays receive: C Ben Rortvedt

“I think for the team right now, it'll open up an opportunity for some other players, some young guys to fill in and kind of have that next-man-up mentality,” president of baseball operations Peter Bendix said.

“I think that's something that everybody here really embraces, and now it's time to actually live up to that. Longer term, this is something that I've kind of said since I took over here: You want to take one eye on the future and one eye on the present team at the same time. This trade probably helps us a little bit more in the future, but I'm also optimistic about the younger players that we have here that can step in in the short term.”

Earlier in the day, Miami also added right-hander Burch Smith from Tampa Bay for cash. He will be on the Opening Day roster out of the bullpen, meaning non-roster invitee Vladimir Gutierrez and No. 19 prospect Anthony Maldonado likely missed out on the final spot.

Berti, who was the longest-tenured Marlins position player, hit .258/.338/.367 with 62 doubles, eight triples, 23 homers and 91 stolen bases in 432 games from 2019-23 and led the Majors in steals in '22. Berti entered Spring Training expecting to receive the bulk of the shortstop reps, but Miami signed free agent Tim Anderson on Feb. 24, moving Berti back into his super-utility role alongside offseason acquisitions Nick Gordon and Vidal Bruján. That pair has no Minor League options remaining but more club control.

The 34-year-old Berti’s departure opens up an Opening Day bench spot, which could go to third baseman Jonah Bride. The Marlins acquired Bride, who can serve as Jake Burger’s backup, from the A’s for cash in February. Berti became a necessary add for the Yankees with DJ LeMahieu (bruised right foot) starting the season on the injured list. Not only does he come at a relatively cheap price ($3.625 million), but he also has one year of arbitration eligibility left.

“We're really appreciative of everything Jon gave to the organization,” Bendix said. “He was here for a long time, predated me, and really helped with the growth and the evolution of this organization. He'll always be a big part of what we're doing here, so it's a very difficult trade to make.”

The left-handed-hitting Cruz posted a .294 batting average and a .907 OPS in 48 games at the Florida Complex League last summer. According to MLB Pipeline’s scouting report, the 18-year-old Cruz led the FCL with 47 RBIs and ranked second with 10 homers despite being the youngest batting qualifier in the circuit.

Sasaki, 23, slashed .301/.375/.465 in 64 games at the High-A level in 2023. He later competed in the Arizona Fall League, where he compiled a .681 OPS.

“He's got power, he's somebody that we think [has] an interesting combination of power and ability to put the ball in play,” Bendix said of Cruz. “It's hard to know what an [18]-year-old is, but it's a good toolset to add to the organization.

“With Shane Sasaki, somebody I know a little bit better from my time with the Rays. Pretty well-rounded player, outfielder, speed/power combination, does a lot of things well. A little further along in his career, but somebody that we like the upside of both of those players.”

Smith, who turns 34 on April 12, has a 6.03 ERA in 102 career MLB outings but hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2021. He spent the last two years pitching in Japan and Korea, respectively.

Smith played for bench coach Luis Urueta and bullpen coach Wellington Cepeda’s winter ball team in the Dominican Republic, but Miami was unable to sign him to a Minor League free-agent deal. The Marlins’ interest remained throughout Spring Training, and culminated with Wednesday’s trade.

“So much with Burch is health,” Bendix said. “He's had an extensive health history, and he's healthy now, feels really good. The ball's coming out really well. He added, I believe, like a slider/cutter-type thing that is a little new to his repertoire, that looks like a really good pitch. But he's been very effective when healthy, so much of that is just getting him healthy.”