After years of trading established major league assets assets for long term projects after both failure and success, the down-and-out 2021 Marlins traded away the best player on their team and one of the best players in baseball on Wednesday afternoon. This time though, under the new Jeter regime, the very talented name coming back to Miami should be music to Marlins’ fans ears and should signify a much more competitive strategy.
For at least a few weeks, it was a foregone conclusion that Starling Marte, who declined a contract extension with the Marlins before the All-Star Game, was going to be dealt, making him one one of the deadline’s hottest commodities. However, while there were reports of several interested parties including the Yankees, Giants and Astros, as late as Wednesday morning, there was not much movement on a potential deal. Then, in the 1 o’clock hour, a brand new suitor for Marte emerged: the Oakland Athletics. Things moved very swiftly and a few minutes later, the deal was announced by Craig Mish and Jon Heyman: Marte to Oakland for left handed pitcher Jesus Luzardo. Though the deal seemed to come out of nowhere, according to Kim Ng, she had been in contact with Athletics GM David Forst for most of the week.
To bring the Major League ready former third round draft pick with a high floor and a great high school pedigree back to where it all began for him in South Florida, the Marlins picked up the rest of Marte’s remaining contract. To sum this up from an organizational standpoint: Miami traded the expiry contract of a star player but also included cash in order to bring back a big league ready piece that will sure up a spot in their rotation for the rest of this season and potentially for seasons to come. Luzardo will be under the Marlins’ control until 2026. Even though the Marlins still maintained an annually low payroll this season, this is a new and much welcome practice for a historically thrifty club and a team that has only included cash in order for trade partners to accept deals for much farther away prospects. Today, Kim Ng and Derek Jeter spent money to ensure a return that will help the team be competitive as early as 2022, signifying a winning attitude and mindset. In theory, the Marlins both bought and sold in the same trade.
The acquisition of the MLB ready lefty Luzardo opens up a many possibilities for Ng and the Marlins for the rest of the deadline and/or this offseason. Among them: deal from the multitude of top pitching prospects the team has in the minor leagues (Jake Eder, Zach McCambley, Kyle Nicolas, etc) in order to acquire a controllable MLB center fielder or catcher. With the departure of Marte and with very little depth in the minors behind the plate, both positions are glaring holes for the Marlins. Acquiring MLB ready talent one or both of those positions would further solidify Miami as a contender in 2022.
Luzardo is a native of Lima, Peru who moved stateside and to South Florida when he was a year old. As a teenager, he attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. There, he played under head coach Tod Fitz-Gerald whose program is lauded producing professional talent. As early as his junior year, Luzardo was hitting as high and 95 mph with his four seamer and was showing three more pitches behind it, a curveball, slider and changeup.
In 2016, Luzardo was drafted in the third round by the Washington Nationals as the seventh ranked left handed pitcher in the nation by PerfectGame. A year later, Luzardo was sent to the A’s in a trade that pitchers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to DC.
Jesus made his MLB debut as a 21 year old in 2019 and since has thrown 109 innings for Oakland including 10.2 in two postseason trips. The A’s have used Luzardo in a multitude of roles both out of the rotation and out of the bullpen. Just less than half of his appearances have been as a rotational starter. This season, Luzardo began the year in the A’s rotation before suffering an injury at the beginning of May. He came back to the A’s at the end of that month. Oakland gave him a single start before sending him to the bullpen and then ultimately back down to AAA. The numbers overall have not been pretty: in MLB, he has a 6.87 ERA by way of a 1.63 WHIP and 40/16 K/BB in 38 IP. In MiLB, he has a 6.52 ERA via a 1.66 WHIP and 26/15 K/BB in 29 IP. However, his last two starts in Las Vegas have been better: 11 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 11/3 K/BB.
Since high school, Luzardo’s biggest crux has been the repeatability in his levers which has affected his command. This season in his MLB stint, Luzardo has thrown his sinker a career high 32% of the time and his four seamer a career high 32% of the time while he’s thrown each of his breaking pitches at career low rates, proving that Luzardo is still having trouble placing breaking stuff consistently and having to challenge hitters with heat more often. Here is a look at his pitch mapping in his MLB stint this year (with 21% of his mapped curveballs being sliders).
According to Aram Leighton of JustBaseball who played against Luzardo in his prep years, switching roles so often has affected Luzardo, disabling him from getting into a routine and consistent regimen. Today, Jesus comes home to play for his third organization in his five year career. In Miami, he will be able to find comfort as an every fifth day starter out of the rotation expectedly right off the bat. Although Kim Ng would not commit to that on Wednesday night, Don Mattingly made that prediction earlier in the day on MLB Network Radio.
With fiery heat and a wipeout slider but needing polish on the rest of his breaking pitches including his changeup and his repetition, Luzardo is reminiscent of Trevor Rogers, circa 2019. Per Statcast, in 2021, Luzardo’s velo and spin rates are very closely compared to Rogers. Coming back home to the Marlins’ pitching development system, the same system that turned Trevor into a Rookie of the Year favorite despite a missed season due to COVID and a missed season due to injury at the beginning of his career, this 23-year-old lefty enters a great situation for his career growth. In the hands of Mel Stottlemyre and the rest of the Marlins’ pitching development staff, it is tough to bet against him sticking as a starter long term. At the very least, his floor is that of a late reliever.
Luzardo could get his first start in a Marlins uniform as early as this coming weekend at loanDepot park.