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Tough Trade To Judge: Jesus Luzardo For Starling Marte

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros
“Of course it’s a HR — Luzardo’s pitching.”
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Just as Father Time remains undefeated, so does 20/20 hindsight. Years from now we will all know, pretty definitively, who fared better in the trade of Jesus Luzardo for Starling Marte. But you should only judge a trade based on what is knowable at the time, and what makes this particular trade difficult to handicap is how many “knowns” there were — and also how many “unknowns”.

What was pretty much knowable at the time of the trade?

- Although the A’s were within shouting distance of the Houston Astros, trailing by 7.5 games in the standings the day of the trade (July 28th), given the substantial deficit and how strong the Astros’ roster was, it was pretty clear that the A’s weren’t going to take the AL West with or without Marte.

- It was also clear that the A’s had a very legitimate chance at a wild card spot. They were in a 5 team battle with Boston, New York, Seattle, and Toronto, for 2 spots, but with a 56-46 record a key addition certainly put them in a strong position to vie for a WC berth.

- The front office knew what most A’s fans didn’t quite realize, and that is just how good Marte was. General Manager David Forst was quoted at the time saying the front office felt they had grabbed the best available player on the trade market, and while A’s fans were focused on targets like Nelson Cruz the front office knew they had done better than that.

- Also clear was that regardless of what kind of career Luzardo winds up having, he was not likely to be a key contributor to a 2021 team as he was serving up dingers like they were going out of style and showing no particular signs of suddenly pitching well in the immediate future.

- Finally everyone knew this was a trade of 5+ years of control (Luzardo) for a 2-month rental (Marte), as an A’s team on the verge of rebuilding was not going to offer Marte tens of millions of dollars over many years after the season.

So it was the consummate “win now” move, swapping future for present, knowing they would get a ton of value from Marte and give up little present value in Luzardo. On the other hand, if you accept that the AL West was not a highly realistic target it was a trade made for “a chance at a chance,” which is the chance to win a wild card spot and get a chance to win the wild card game.

What was pretty much unknowable at the time of the trade?

- First and foremost, the A’s couldn’t know that despite adding Marte and watching him exceed expectations the team would still fall short of even a wild card berth. When they did, though, the trade became what it is now: no change in the post-season fortunes of the team and no Luzardo from 2022-26. Oops.

- Also unclear is what the A’s had, and the Marlins now have, in Luzardo. Without question, Luzardo has the tools to be an excellent starting pitcher be it a “#3 SP” or a “#2 SP” — or even an ace in the mold of Johan Santana. The fastball velocity, the slider and changeup, control that was terrific throughout the minors, all remind one of Santana even if the results haven’t come anywhere close.

Now the A’s are about to rebuild and seek, among other assets, “MLB ready starting pitching” in the form of pitchers a lot like Luzardo is right now. It is also just as true that Luzardo’s combined ERA in 2021 was 6.61. And he finished the season with 5.1 IP of 1 run ball, striking out 11 without a walk. Who the heck knows what the next 5 years will bring?

- Finally, at the time of the trade, no one knew Chris Bassitt was about to get creamed by a line drive (if they had, you would hope they would have yelled “DUCK!” or some other bird). The plan was to pair Marte with Ramon Laureano, not swap one out for the other due to a PED suspension. The team the front office thought they were putting together was not the team they had for most of Marte’s time with the A’s.

I have a really hard time forming a solid opinion on this trade. My leaning is to criticize giving up Luzardo, when he still has 5 years of control left on his contract, for what was always realistically just a chance at a chance.

But I also feel that as a fan, I got an electric 2-months of Marte, the best shot possible at a wild card spot, and an addition who pretty much carried the team on his back — and sometimes it still just doesn’t work out anyway for a variety of reasons.

If Luzardo continues to struggle, fizzles, and goes the way of umpteen great prospects you can hardly remember, no doubt it will have been worth it to take a shot at the post-season in 2021. But if Luzardo figures things out at all over the next 5 years, and especially if he is dealing while Oakland is back trying to compete, it’s going to hurt.

Or maybe the lockout will drag on literally forever and 2021 will be the last season ever played. In that case, I guess I have to admit it was pretty damn good trade.

Poll

What grade do you give the Marte-Luzardo trade?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    A — I make that deal every day and twice on Sunday
    (133 votes)
  • 29%
    B — It will hurt over time, but good move
    (265 votes)
  • 30%
    C — Decent "win now" trade but they didn’t win, so...
    (275 votes)
  • 17%
    D — Gave up too much for too little of an opportunity
    (161 votes)
  • 7%
    F — The kind of trade that winds up haunting a franchise
    (64 votes)
898 votes total Vote Now