Months of rumors of the Marlins’ rotation have finally resulted in some action as the Marlins have been trading right-handed Pablo LopezTop infield prospect Jose Salas and outfield prospect Byron Chouri to the Twins in exchange for the reigning AL batting champion Luis Arraezper announcements from both clubs.
The core of the deal, for immediate purposes, will be the twins swapping three years of Arraez, the reigning American League batting champion, for two seasons of Lopez, who will be an immediate upgrade to their rotation. The 26-year-old Lopez has proven himself as a premier big league starter over the past three seasons and has a 3.52 ERA with a 25% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate and ground ball rate of 47.4% reached 340 innings.
Lopez has dealt with some injury issues in his career and has ended up on the injury list three times due to shoulder strains. The most recent of those three injuries came in the summer of 2021 and wiped out more than two months of Lopez’s season, but he was injury-free in 2022 as he posted a career-high 180 innings in 32 starts. Last year’s performance earned Lopez a still extremely affordable salary of $5.45 million. He will be eligible for another arbitration raise in the 2023/24 off-season before reaching a free hand after the 2024 campaign – barring an extension, of course.
The newly acquired Lopez will enter a Twins rotation, which is also included Sonny Gray, joe ryan and Tyler Mahle. Although it was easy to wonder if Lopez could push Kenta Mada into a bullpen role after missing the entire 2022 season following internal brace surgery on his right elbow in September 2021, The Athletic’s Dan Hayes tweets that Maeda will remain a starter.
The most likely outsider from the conventional five-man rotation is the 27-year-old Bailey Ober, but the towering right-hander has posted a sharp 3.82 ERA in 31 starts early in his big-league career – including a 3.21 mark in 56 innings last season. (Ober missed more than three months due to a severe groin strain.) Alternatively, the twins could try using a six-man rotation, which would help them handle Maeda’s workload and hopefully lead to better health among a starting staff that was general was hampered by injury during the 2022 season.
Meanwhile, with Arraez now being pulled from the Twins’ lineup, they lose their leadoff man, one of their best hitters and one of their primary options at first base and the designated hitter. His departure will likely open the door for the 25-year-old Alex Kirilloff to be inserted as the primary first baseman. Kirilloff, a former first-round pick, was one of the sport’s top 10-15 contenders before his big-league debut, but he’s now had wrist surgery each of the last two seasons, shattering the start of his career. There’s some upside, but there’s also quite a bit of risk. It’s always possible that the Twins will try to add another established hitter to soften the blow of Arraez’s loss, but first base and the DH markets in the open hand have largely been adopted, so if they choose that route they must they probably do come across another trade.
On the other side of the trade, the Marlins are given a left-handed bat to offset a heavily right-handed lineup. Arraez brings perhaps the most impeccable bat-to-ball skills in Major League Baseball to Miami, having fueled just 8.3% of his plate appearances since debuting as a 22-year-old in 2019. He doesn’t go particularly high clip, but Arraez’s 8.7% mark is still higher than both his strikeout rate and last season’s league average walk rate of 8.2%.
Arraez, 26 in April, hit .316/.375/.420 with a career-high eight home runs in 2022 and is a lifetime .314/.374/.410 hitter in the major leagues. His touch skills are second to none and will likely always allow him to score with a high average, but the rest of his game is fairly limited. Arraez lacks power, evidenced by a career ISO 0.096 (slugging minus batting average), and his average sprint speed is below average according to Statcast.
While he debuted as a second baseman, defensive struggles have left Arraez somewhat of a nomad without a position. He’s bounced between second base, first base, third base, and left field, delivering lackluster defense grades at every one of those spots except first base. That could be his new position in Miami given the presence of Jazz Chisholm Jr. at second base and Jean Segura at third base.
Like Lopez, Arraez has some worrying injury issues on his resume. A cruciate ligament tear during his prospect days set his 2017 season on fire, and he’s also been on the injured list three times since opening day 2020 with knee problems. Arraez also spent a week on the 7-Day IL in 2021 with a concussion and missed nearly three weeks of this season with a shoulder strain.
Arraez is eligible for arbitration for the second time this offseason and, as a Super Two player, has two years of arbitration remaining after the current season. He and the twins were unable to reach an agreement to exchange arbitration figures before the end of last week; The twins submitted a $5 million mark, while Arraez’s camp countered with a $6.1 million submission. Now that he’s with a new team, it’s possible Arraez will agree to a one-year deal somewhere in between those points, or maybe even discuss a longer deal. If not, his subsequent arbitration increases will take his salary to over $10 million by his final year of club control in 2025.
For the Marlins, Lopez positions from the rotation to provide a starting position of five Sandy Alcantara, Jesus Lazardo, Trevor Rogers, Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garret, with several intriguing arms just waiting in the wings behind this quintet. Arraez will deepen and strengthen the previously lackluster lineup in Miami, and the organization’s rotational depth is strong enough to withstand the loss of Lopez.
However, there is little doubt that the defense will suffer from both the Arraez acquisition and last week’s trade Miguel Rojas. The Marlins must now play either Chisholm, or Segura Joe Wendel at the shortstop and installing Arraez on the first base push Garret Cooper to a designated batsman or an outfield corner. If Cooper is the first choice at DH, that will give a boost Joerg Soler back to the outfield. All signs point to someone like that Bryan De La Cruz, who is best suited for corner work, again miscast as a midfielder. Overall, the move to ditch Rojas and add Arraez to level and improve the lineup could have the unfortunate side effect of turning Miami from a defensive midfield club into one of the worst in the National League.
The prospects in the deal are both long-term plays for the twins, making them somewhat odd side-pieces for a team clearly eager for immediate confrontation following their stunning re-signing deal Carlo Correa. However, recent trades for Mahle, Gray, and others have thinned the Twins’ system significantly, so padding them with some youthful talent will help bridge the build line in both the short and long term.
Salas is particularly well-regarded as he originally signed a $2.8 million bonus and currently ranks fourth in Miami’s system at Baseball America. He’s a shortstop for now, although BA’s scouting report suggests a move to third base is a possibility depending on how far his still-lean physique grows. The Switch-hitting Salas battled the far older competition at .250/.339/.384 in 2022, splitting the year between Class-A and Class-A Advanced despite only turning 19 last April.
Salas connected with nine home runs and swiped 33 bases in 109 games. Scouting reports on Salas praise his work ethic, keen sense of contact, and potential for at least average power. He’ll immediately become one of the Twins’ top prospects, but he won’t add any value to their 2023 club (other than perhaps giving them more flexibility in negotiating additional trades).
Chourio is even younger, having signed as an amateur from Venezuela just a year and five days ago. Despite starting the season aged just 17, the outfielder with the Switch took the Dominican Summer League by storm, posting a .344/.429/.410 clip ( 25th May) with one homer, nine doubles, 19 steals and nearly as many walks ) as deletions (27) in 217 plate appearances.
Chourio won’t even turn 18 before May, so even wildly optimistic projections would have him three years away from being a legitimate possibility in the big league and it’s quite likely he’s even further away. Still, despite his lack of proximity to the majors, there’s a lot to like about him. In addition to his flashy pro debut, Baseball America’s Ben Badler praised Chourio’s physical projection, strong throwing arm, midfield instinct and balanced swing when reviewing the Marlins’ international signing league last year.
Today’s trading ends months of speculation and rumors about Lopez finally knowing where he will be spending at least the next two seasons of his career. Given Miami’s depth and the needs they have elsewhere on the roster, it remains possible they could continue to use this group to bolster the lineup and reshape an increasingly questionable defense. On the Twins’ side, Lopez isn’t clearly better than any of their in-house options, but they will add another center rotation arm to a starting staff of comparable talent to avoid injury and add some stability beyond the current season if Gray, Mahle and Maeda respectively can become free agents. You’ll also be restocking a farm system that’s been taxed by recent trades, but the swap feels more like a next step than the final piece of an off-season puzzle.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Dan Hayes first reported The two teams approached a deal with Arraez and Lopez. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the deal was made. SportsGrid’s Craig Mish and the Miami Herald reported on the names of the two prospects returning to Minnesota (Twitter connections).