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A’s acquire Starling Marte from Marlins for Jesús Luzardo

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WOW

San Diego Padres v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s just doubled down on their 2021 season.

The A’s made a trade with the Miami Marlins on Wednesday, with Oakland acquiring outfielder Starling Marte and cash in exchange for pitcher Jesús Luzardo. The deal has been officially announced by the team, but was first reported by Craig Mish of the Miami Herald, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, and insider Jon Heyman.

This is a significant move, both in how it strengthens the A’s roster but also in terms of the cost.

The benefit is clear. Marte is the kind of hitter Oakland needs right now, with the ability to make contact and get on base. He’s been a reliably productive star for a decade, and is in the middle of his best season yet at age 32.

  • Marte, 2021: .305/.405/.451, 140 wRC+, 7 HR, 11.6% BB, 20.7% Ks, .353 xwOBA

For what it’s worth, his numbers are even slightly better than that with runners in scoring position this year, and the same is true of his overall career. That’s not necessarily predictive of future success, but at the very least he doesn’t have a history of disappearing in the clutch.

Once on base, Marte can create some havoc, with 22 stolen bases this year in 25 attempts. That’s an incredibly high success rate, and for his career he’s racked up 271 swipes (albeit not always at the same level of efficiency). On defense he won a couple Gold Gloves as a left fielder several years ago, and now plays a decent center field — and the small-sample metrics suggest he’s doing his best work yet in CF this summer.

He’s an obvious fit in this A’s lineup. They already have power and a decent record of clutch hitting, but they’ve struggled to put runners on base consistently enough to generate rallies and produce runs. Consider the team’s rankings in the following categories, out of 30 clubs:

  • Homers: 12th in MLB
  • Average w/RISP: 11th
  • Sac flies: 3rd
  • OBP: 19th
  • Batting average: 23rd

Perhaps a lefty bat would have been a slightly more perfect fit, but Marte has the career splits of a lefty so even that works out nicely. And he shores up the outfield, where Oakland had a hole to fill — Mark Canha and Ramon Laureano have two spots locked up, but nobody has stepped up to fully seize the third position. And his hitting doesn’t come at the expense of defense or speed on the bases, as he’s a complete player who brings those skills too.

On the downside, Marte is a two-month rental who will be a free agent at the end of the season. That makes this a pure win-now move, with no future value beyond the hopes of winning a title this year. Earlier this summer he spent a month on the injured list with a fractured rib, but he’s been back since late-May. He also has a PED suspension on his record from 2017. He’s got a few million left on his hefty salary, but the Marlins are covering all of that, reports Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News.

So that’s what the A’s got. What did they give up?

Entering the year, Luzardo was viewed as one of Oakland’s biggest stars, and perhaps the single brightest part of their future. He was a national Top Ten prospect who had a solid rookie campaign in 2020, but none of it came together this summer. His season got off to a shaky start and then in May he injured himself while playing a video game, and since then he’s been knocked around — he served up six dingers in 10 MLB innings upon his return, and then went down to Triple-A Las Vegas and posted a 6.52 ERA in 29 innings there.

  • Luzardo: 6.87 ERA, 38 ip, 40 Ks, 16 BB, 11 HR, 6.07 FIP, .333 xwOBA

This is the ultimate dice roll. Luzardo is not currently contributing in the majors, so losing him doesn’t directly affect the 2021 team. His recent struggles are a reminder that no pitching prospect is ever a sure thing, and he might not ever pan out. But he’s also still an enormous talent, at age 23, with probably five more seasons of team control remaining, so there’s the potential chance to regret this decision for a long time.

Win the World Series with Marte, and any trade price will feel worth it. Fall short, and risk spending the next half-decade watching Luzardo win awards for the Marlins. That’s the range of (extreme) possibilities for how this turns out.

Analysis

Holy Toledo, this is a whopper. Sure, we’ve seen bigger blockbusters, with flashier names or larger quantities of players changing sides. But Luzardo for a straight rental? Nobody was expecting that in April.

There’s no shortage of speculation we could lay into this, looking for meaningful takeaways. It’s easy to guess that maybe the A’s had soured on Luzardo some amount, after his lost 2021. Or maybe they didn’t but this was the price they had to pay.

But first and foremost, this is the thought I can’t shake.

Above all else, this feels to me like a last resort kind of move from the front office. When you’ve been falling short for decades, and you know this is your last hurrah — whether because there’s no money to keep competing next year, or the team is about to move to Vegas, or simply the top executives want to move on, or some combination of those possible factors — there’s no longer any reason to hold back. It’s not quite all-in, which would require trading top prospect Tyler Soderstrom, but it’s one more sign that they aren’t really planning for 2022-24 and are likely heading for a rebuild this winter.

My immediate thought upon seeing the news was shock. At first glance this is a terrible value proposition for Oakland. But that confusion quickly faded, because the trade makes perfect sense from the standpoint of someone whose only priority is 2021. The acquisition itself is superb, as they got the player they needed, and the cost only matters if you think you’ll still be here in two years.

We’ll still be here in two years, as fans, so you’re free to like or dislike the move or reserve judgment until later. It’s complicated, after all. But one undeniable fact is that the 2021 A’s just got significantly better today, in exactly the way that everybody wanted them to.

Will it be worth it, and will it lead them to the promised land? We’ll see. But enjoy the rest of this contending season while you can, because the next few years might get dark.