Marlins acquire Josh Bell from Cleveland Guardians

In a creative swap of bad contracts, the Marlins have added a middle-of-the-order bat for the rest of this season as well as 2024.

The news didn’t break until several minutes after the 2023 MLB trade deadline officially passed, but the Miami Marlins acquired first baseman Josh Bell from the Cleveland Guardians on Tuesday in exchange for third baseman Jean Segura and infielder Kahlil Watson. It’s a creative swap of bad contracts that also involves our Fish On First number four Marlins prospect.

Bell signed with the Guardians this past offseason, but has struggled throughout this season. He is slashing .233/.318/.383/.701 with 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a 95 wRC+ (his career averages are .259/.347/.451/.799 and a 114 wRC+). What does stand out about Bell is how his 20.6% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate are fairly close to what he’s previously done.

Bell is familiar with the NL East given that he played for the Washington Nationals for one-and-a-half season. He was an NL Silver Slugger winner for Washington in 2022, and then going back further, an All-Star in 2019 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

When it comes to Bell defensively, he is first base-only at this stage of his career. He previously got occasional work in the corner outfield spots. According to defensive runs saved, he’s been a below-average first baseman throughout his career, including -1 DRS in 2023.

After Bell signed with Cleveland at the 2022 Winter Meetings, general manager Kim Ng admitted that the Fish had interest in him. Bell ended up signing a contract that pays him $16.5M in 2023 with a $16.5M player option for the 2024 season. Given the down year he has had, he’s highly likely to exercise that option and stick around another year.

In terms of what Miami gave up, it is worth to start with the surprising departure of Jean Segura. He was the Marlins’ most expensive free agent signing this past offseason (two years, $17M with a 2025 club option). Unfortunately for Miami, Segura just wasn’t a good player despite playing well at certain portions of the season. He will finish his Marlins tenure slashing .219/.277/.279/.556 with three home runs, 21 RBIs and a 55 wRC+. Segura also had his challenges on defense at third base after having played mainly second base in recent years.

Segura was immediately released by the Guardians, who are still fighting for a playoff spot themselves. Maybe another team will give the 33-year-old a chance to re-establish himself.

Marlins 2021 first-round draft pick Kahlil Watson is the main piece going to the Guardians. Watson was considered the steal of his draft class after having been projected as a likely top-five overall pick and falling to the Marlins at the 16th pick. A pattern of immature behavior earned him a suspension in the middle of the 2022 season. He played at High-A Beloit this season and was on his way toward returning from a minor finger injury at the time that the trade went through.

The 20-year-old shortstop finishes his Marlins minor league career slashing .234/.331/.412/.743 with 19 home runs and 76 RBIs (157 games).

Following the trade, Watson is now the 15th-ranked prospect in the Guardians farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. Thankfully, Cleveland is well known for developing infield prospects. Some examples of infielders that the Guardians developed and had success in the majors include shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman José Ramírez.

Overall, the only complaint with this trade from Miami’s perspective is that they gave up Watson, who had as much upside as any player in their farm system. But it’s understandable if the organization did not trust him to realize his full potential.

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