After a largely lackluster showing in the free agent market the last few months, the Boston Red Sox offseason is likely going to revolve around the trade market for the rest of the winter, and that’s not just according to me. Chaim Bloom himself has indicated as such and while getting a long-term deal for Rafael Devers should be a priority as well (if not the priority), the Red Sox are still looking for that needle-moving transaction or two.
Bloom deserves credit for upgrading the bullpen, albeit incrementally, but for this team to really jump back into contention and not just add a few wins to a last-place team, some higher impact moves are necessary. So far, the Red Sox haven’t been able to land any, with big free agent after big free agent signing with other contenders throughout November and December.
Unfortunately, while focusing on trades at this point makes a lot of sense since most of the best free agents are gainfully employed now, the Red Sox aren’t flush with highly sought after players to trade, making the chances to orchestrate a blockbuster much more remote. However, there’s this guy named Triston Casas who is seemingly off limits but who could open up a whole new class of trade target. Apparently, the Miami Marlins are willing to be on the other side of such a deal.
Now, trading Casas isn’t something the Red Sox should be eager to do. Last year, the 22-year-old first baseman finished as the No. 35 prospect in baseball, according to FanGraphs, and even got his first taste of MLB action. With tantalizing power and a plus hit tool overall, Casas is currently on track to be a stalwart in the middle of the Red Sox’s order for years to come. Even though he only hit .197 in 95 plate appearances last season, he slugged .408 and posted a .358 on-base percentage, while finishing 20 percent above league average as a hitter based on wRC+. This is all to say that it would take a lot for the Red Sox to even consider a Casas trade, let alone actually finalize one. But the Marlins are one of the rare teams in MLB with a lot of great young players but little to show for it over the last couple years, meaning prying away some of those great young players might not be as impossible as it would be with another club.
It also helps that any discussions between these two teams doesn’t have to start with a cold call, as the Red Sox and Marlins have reportedly been kicking around the idea of a Joey Wendle trade. The former Tampa Bay Ray was traded to the Marlins before last season, but he struggled in his first year in Miami. While his ability to play all over the infield was still there, he only slashed .259/.297/.360 for an 87 wRC+. That isn’t very exciting and a straight-up swap of Casas for Wendle can’t be what the Marlins have floated, as it would be beyond insulting. However, Wendle (or maybe Miguel Rojas) could help fill the Red Sox’s need for infield depth and, perhaps more importantly, the Wendle talks could be the start of something bigger.
How much bigger is the question here. The Red Sox will justifiably ask for the world and several other planets for Casas. He is young, highly regarded, and under team control (groan, I hate that phrase) for quite a while. The Red Sox don’t seem to be in win-now mode, so sending Casas away, even for an established star, doesn’t exactly fit their modus operandi. However, the right offer could change things.
When discussing this mythical “right offer,” we need to get the pipe dreams out of the way first. Sandy Alcantara and Jazz Chisholm Jr. aren’t going to be on the other end of this deal, and if they were, then it already would have been finalized. Alcantara just won the National League Cy Young Award and Chisholm is one of the most exciting young players in baseball. I highly doubt the Marlins would trade either of them no matter who they would get in the deal. Sure, Casas is great and the Red Sox could (and would likely need to) add some more on their side, but unless Rafael Devers is in the mix (don’t get any ideas, Chaim), the Marlins aren’t going to trade those two guys as long as a pair of peak Mike Trout clones aren’t in the mix.
Now that we’ve crushed those fantasy trade scenarios, let’s talk about the more realistic ones. Luckily for the Red Sox, realistic doesn’t mean unexciting. According to the Miami Herald, the Marlins might consider making one of their other stellar young starting pitchers available in a deal for Casas, such as Pablo López, Edward Cabrera and/or Trevor Rogers. After all, with the Marlins also having Alcantara, Jesús Luzardo and, hopefully, Sixto Sánchez, they can afford to let a starter loose to try to bulk up their long-term lineup. Meanwhile, for a Red Sox team that has rotation depth but not a lot of reliable young star power (sorry, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber), getting one of those three would be a godsend. But which of them would be the best player for the Red Sox to target?
Let’s start with López. The 26-year-old right-hander is the most established of the three and the most consistent as well. Don’t read consistent as mediocre, though. Through 510 career innings, López has a 3.94 ERA, 3.77 FIP and a 16.4 percent strikeout-to-walk rate. He was especially dynamite across 20 starts in 2021 (3.07 ERA, 10.08 strikeouts per nine innings), but even with a bit of regression in 2022, he still set a career-high at 2.8 fWAR. As he’s developed, López has relied more and more on his fastball-changeup combination, with the latter offering getting better and better, indicating that he could have another level ahead of him.
Cabrera is the youngest of the three, although he only edges out Rogers by a matter of months, so it’s not that drastic a point in his favor. The 24-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut in 2021 and struggled, especially with his command. He came back strong in 2022 after getting some additional training in the minors to start the year. On June 1, in his first start of the 2022 campaign at the MLB level, he was incredible, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning and ultimately allowing one hit and zero runs while striking out nine batters in six innings. He continued to impress throughout the rest of the season, finishing the year with a 3.01 ERA in 71 2⁄3 innings, as well as a whiff rate in the 88th percentile, a fastball that sat at 96 miles per hour and a devastatingly effective changeup as part of a diverse pitch mix. However, he still struggled to find the zone far too often, with a walk rate of 11.3 percent, raising red flags throughout his underlying metrics. In addition, Cabrera has been on and off the injured list more than a few times over the last two seasons.
If I was writing this article a year ago, then it would be nonsensical for the Red Sox to be interested in anyone other than Rogers (or Alcantara, but again, he’s not really part of this discussion). The 25-year-old southpaw was exceptional in 2021 following a seven-start audition in the shortened 2020 season. He amassed 4.2 fWAR, produced a 2.64 ERA and struck out 28.5 percent of batters in 133 innings, earning himself a spot on the NL All-Star team and a second-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. Rogers was not so effective this year, regressing heavily to post a 5.47 ERA and 22.2 percent strikeout rate in 107 innings while joining Cabrera with a couple of IL stints. Despite the setbacks, Rogers, the only top 100 prospect of the three, still projects very well, with plus stuff (especially his fastball and changeup) and command.
If the Red Sox were to try to deal Casas for one of these three pitchers, López is the safest choice, as he has a high floor and could easily be a solid No. 3 or even No. 2 starter for a contender. Cabrera and Rogers provide much more volatility, but their ceilings go way higher, especially for Rogers. If he bounces back and recaptures the magic of 2021, you’re talking about a top of the rotation arm just entering his prime.
For my money, if the Red Sox had to make this deal and could only get one of these guys, I’d go for López. Cabrera and Rogers might have the higher upside, but trading one guy with lots of upside but no certainty for another is a lateral move, while adding a proven (and still improving guy) like López in exchange for someone who could be great but hasn’t proven it yet is a better bet. Essentially, if we go with the understanding that most prospects, even great ones, don’t pan out, then it makes sense to trade promise for proven talent.
Ultimately, I don’t actually think a deal is going to happen here and I don’t think it should. It’s possible that adding in Wendle or Rojas with one of these starters would make it tougher to say no since it would improve the Red Sox’s rotation significantly and fill in their gap at shortstop. However, while all three of these pitchers has a lot to like, there is enough uncertainty (Can López be a top of the rotation starter? Can Cabrera improve his command? Can Rogers regain the 2021 magic?) to make losing Casas not worth it.
Hitters are usually a bit more reliable in terms of long-term health than pitchers, and if Casas makes good on his potential, the Red Sox could have the middle of their order sorted for a decade or more. Trading him away — especially given the injury history of Cabrera and Rogers already — could look bad very quickly. In addition, if the Red Sox were interested in making these kinds of splashes, they would have made some already. At the very least, this shows just how valuable Casas is and how well he is regarded outside of the Red Sox’s system. Now, if the Marlins want to go full-scale fire sale and make Alcantara available, then that’s an entirely different conversation. But, and I’m reminding myself as much as you, that’s a pipe dream.