The Miami Marlins and Oakland Athletics pulled off a shocking trade on Wednesday. The Marlins sent Starling Marte, one of the best outfield options on the market, to the A’s in exchange for former phenom Jesús Luzardo. Miami is also sending more than $4 million to Oakland to help pay for the remainder of Marte’s contract.
That the A’s would trade Luzardo for a rental is certainly surprising, but Luzardo is suddenly a reclamation project. Before his 2019 debut, Luzardo was the 18th overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. That season, he threw 12 stellar innings as a September callup. Growing pains followed in 2020 as he turned in a so-so 4.19 FIP in 59 innings. 2021 has been a disaster. Luzardo made six starts at the beginning of the season, giving up 21 runs in 28 innings. The electric lefty moved to the bullpen, where he was even worse. Luzardo allowed 17 runs in 14 innings, earning him a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Luzardo has yet to right the ship in the minors. Since his demotion, Luzardo has a 6.91 ERA in 27 1⁄3 innings.
That all sounds pretty concerning, but it’s important to remember just how effective Luzardo can be when he’s right. His upper 90’s fastball features 5.3 more inches of horizontal movement compared to similar heaters. FanGraphs’ prospect expert Eric Longenhagen considered Luzardo’s slider to be the best in the minors. And he’s only 23 years old and won’t be a free agent until 2026. The Marlins have lots of time and plenty of tools to work with.
For Oakland, Marte’s fit is obvious. Marte is in the middle of a career year, slashing .305/.405/.451 for a 140 wRC+. In just 64 games, Marte has amassed 3.3 fWAR. If he keeps this pace up, he’ll surpass his previous high of 4.5 fWAR which he posted in 2014. There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t be made better with Marte’s presence, but the A’s need for outfield help was especially acute.
Oakland outfielders rank seventh in baseball in fWAR, but they have received little contribution from their fourth and fifth options. A’s outfielders not named Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, or *checks notes* Tony Kemp have combined for a .192/.250/.355 slash line and -0.6 fWAR.
Marte’s addition means the A’s now need to figure out where to play Tony Kemp who is likewise having a career year. Kemp has already put up 1.8 fWAR in 80 games this year. Before 2021, Kemp had never passed the 1.0 threshold. Kemp will likely assume a super-utility role spelling Canha, Laureano, and Marte in the outfield and Jed Lowrie at second.
The A’s still lack production at shortstop. Elvis Andrus has gotten the glut of playing time there, but he has only mustered a 62 wRC+. Kemp has never played shortstop at the major league level, but his defense is better than his reputation suggests. It wouldn’t hurt to try him on the other side of second.
This is Oakland’s second trade of the week. The A’s acquired Andrew Chafin on Monday to help fill out their rotation and make a push for the playoffs. A four-game losing streak has put the A’s six games behind the Astros in the AL West, but they are still hanging on to the second Wild Card. The Yankees, Blue Jays, and possibly Seattle will continue to add before Friday’s deadline, so Marte and Chafin make Oakland better, but they might not be enough to hang on. It will be interesting to see if the A’s add another bullpen arm and how they’ll address the hole at short.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.