Michael Hill was getting ready to answer his first question from a reporter Tuesday before the Miami Marlins opened a three-game series against the Washington Nationals when one of those typical early summer interruptions popped up.
Just as he was getting ready to answer a question about starting pitcher Caleb Smith’s status, his phone started to ring.
“That time of year,” Hill said with a smile.
The trade deadline is still more than a month away, but it’s already time to start figuring out which players a team might be willing to move and what players another team might want. Especially for a last-place team like the Marlins, there’s no reason to delay and get a better sense of how the standings will play out. Miami, as it has been for most seasons throughout its existence, will be a seller when the trade deadline arrives on the final day of July. The bigger question: What do the Marlins have that other teams might want? And would Miami be willing to part with some of its most appealing assets?
There are only so many position players which could fetch a worthy return, and the Marlins are so short on hitting prospects they can’t afford to part with some of their youngest, most-promising assets at the plate.
There is, however, a surplus of starting pitching, even as injuries have tested Miami’s depth. All five members of the Marlins’ Opening Day rotation are 27 or younger with ERAs better than 4.60. Jordan Yamamoto, who was called up when fellow starting pitcher Jose Urena went on the injured list, has thrust himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation in just three starts and has the look of a future ace in a limited sample size. Zac Gallen, who was called up when fellow starting pitcher Pablo Lopez went on the IL, gave up one earned run in five innings in his Major League debut Thursday. Even pitcher Elieser Hernandez, who has shuffled between long relief and starting roles, has filled in more than adequately for injured starting pitcher Smith.
At some point, Miami will have to pick five starters.
“You lose a Jose Urena, or Caleb Smith or Pablo Lopez, but you get a Yamamoto to step right in and not miss a beat. You get a Hernandez to step right in, a Zac Gallen and just a credit to the depth we’ve been able to accumulate,” Hill said. “They’re good problems to have and we’ll work through it when the time comes.”
A trade would potentially alleviate some stress of this welcome challenge.
Right now, starting pitching depth is the organization’s greatest strength — five of the Marlins’ top 10 prospects in the MLB.com rankings are pitchers — and Hill didn’t rule out potentially trading some of these pieces away to strengthen other areas.
“It’ll be an interesting deadline and it’s already started,” Hill said. “You talk with your peers every day about their needs, and the one thing that we always know this time of year — trade deadline — there’s always a need for starting pitching and bullpen help. We’re always looking for ways to make our organization better. Until we’re the last team standing and we have a championship in South Florida, we’ll continue to work hard to bring as much championship-caliber talent to South Florida, so whenever you get this time of year you’re always looking for ways to get better and we’ll continue to do that.”
Marlins still working to signing No. 35 pick
Hill joked Monday was the best-case scenario for a game at the College World Series. JJ Bleday, whom the Miami picked No. 4 in the 2019 MLB draft, blasted a monster home run for the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Michigan Wolverines, the preferred team of CEO Derek Jeter, still managed to win Game 1.
Bleday still has one more game left in his Vanderbilt career, though, after the Commodores beat Michigan, 4-1, on Tuesday to force a decisive Game 3 on Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska. The Marlins are optimistic the outfielder will sign his contract with the team shortly after.
“It would make sense for any young player who we’ve drafted to start their professional career as soon as possible,” Hill said. “The sooner you sign, the sooner you get your professional career started and you’re one day closer to being in the big leagues, but negotiations go how they go. I think we feel comfortable where we are with No. 1.”
Negotiations have a bit longer to go with Miami’s second pick from the draft. The Marlins took Kameron Misner with the No. 35 overall pick, the first pick of competitive balance round A, and have a little less than two weeks to reach an agreement with the Missouri Tigers outfielder.
Like Bleday, Misner has a season of eligibility remaining and could return to Missouri if he doesn’t sign with the Marlins. Miami hopes it won’t come to that.
“We still need some work to do with the 35th overall to get him signed and playing,” Hill said, “but hopefully we’ll get him out sooner rather than later so he can start his professional career and his ascent into the big leagues.”