I was going through my A’s notes yesterday afternoon and contemplating quite what I might write about today.
I skipped the column last week as we’re firmly in the pre-Spring Training camp news lull when nothing much is happening, but I didn’t want to go two weeks without writing something if I could help it.
Maybe I tempted fate? Maybe it’s just that the A’s are liable to trade away anyone with a pulse? Either way, today’s subject appeared when I checked my phone upon waking up this morning.
Puk heads to the Marlins
A.J. Puk is the latest ex-A after being traded to the Miami Marlins on Saturday for outfielder JJ Bleday.
My initial reaction is similar to that of the recent trade of Cole Irvin to the Baltimore Orioles.
Whilst no trade is truly a surprise given the position the A’s are in currently, this is another transaction that has come out of nowhere for a player that we assumed would be one of the certainties for our Opening Day roster. All the same, it’s a move around the edges of a squad with modest expectations for the season ahead.
Puk promised much ever since the A’s took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft. He came out of the University of Florida with a blazing fastball-slider combination that caught the eye as much as his 6ft 7 frame and long-flowing hair. Puk had rock star starting pitcher potential in more ways than one.
Then he blew out his arm, cut off his hair and moved to the bullpen.
There was always some reliever risk with him as a prospect and that was increased with the troubles he experienced in staying on the mound, including undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.
Consequently, Puk’s 2022 season, in which he finally stayed healthy and made 62 relief appearances, was seen by many as the start of him settling in to a good Big League career as a lefty-handed reliever. It wasn’t quite what we hoped for on draft day back in 2016, but could still be considered a success given that there were times we feared he may flame-out completely.
That made it all the more curious when GM David Forst and Manager Mark Kotsay announced early in the off-season that Puk would be coming to Spring Training camp with the opportunity to earn a spot in the starting rotation.
They always noted in their comments that this was a decision driven by Puk and that they felt they owed it to him to give him a shot. Even so, I’m sure I’m far from the only A’s fan who kept him in the bullpen for my Opening Day roster thoughts.
Puk’s 2022 campaign offered reasons for optimism without clear signs that he was ticketed for a promotion to the rotation.
He settled into a strict fastball-slider mix that even in a reliever role made him susceptible to more damage than you’d like by right-handed hitters. A return of his change-up to his pitching arsenal seemed a necessity if he was going to address that flaw and it was difficult to know how ready he would be to start mixing it into at-bats against righties given we haven’t seen it for a few years.
Add to that his sometimes wayward control – including 10 hit-by-pitches across 66.1 innings pitched in 2022 – and the ever-present injury risk and the odds seemed stacked against Puk from making it work.
On to Miami
Presumably those plans have been squarely squashed upon his trade to Miami.
The Marlins have been crying out for a quality left-handed reliever all off-season. The fact that this trade was completed on a day in which Andrew Chafin (D-Backs) and Alex Reyes (Dodgers) both came off the free agent market tells me that Puk was a name on the Marlins’ list and became their best option to fill the role.
This could be a great move for A.J. Whilst I understand his preference is to be a starter, he has the tools to be a high-quality relief pitcher and being traded to a new organisation may be the thing he needs to really commit to being the best reliever he can be rather than holding on to hopes of something else.
The trade takes him back to Florida and also back to playing with his good friend Jesus Luzardo, so I’m sure from Puk’s point of view it’s a great opportunity and one that I hope he will grab with both hands.
What about us?!
Where it leaves the A’s is more of an open question.
MLB.com A’s beat writer Martín Gallegos wrapped up his report on the trade by stating: “despite Puk’s departure, the A’s still have a plethora of starting rotation options they’ll look to sort through in Spring Training”.
As above, I don’t feel that Puk was ever particularly likely to end up in the rotation so I would look at it more in terms of the impact on the bullpen. In that context, it fits into the category of our efforts this season being focused on working out what we’ve got for the future.
Some of the “plethora of starting rotation options” that Martín refers to may switch between starting and relieving this season as we assess if they can stick as starters in the Big Leagues or are headed for a future in the bullpen. In other words, they are the next wave behind Puk and are therefore the pitchers who will get opportunities to earn a spot on the next competitive A’s team.
A strong first half to 2023 from Puk would have resulted in him being traded anyway, so from a player asset perspective the question is whether we got good value for him?
Bleday is an A
As so often is the case, the answer to that question will take a few years to come to light.
JJ Bleday is in some ways the position player equivalent of Puk: a former high first-round pick (4th overall in the 2019 draft) who should have a Big League career ahead of him but one of high variance in terms of quality and length. He may be a useful roster piece for a while as a decent outfielder or he may turn out to be better than that.
It’s a roll of the dice and, as I’ve written plenty of times already this off-season, precisely the sort of low-risk gamble that we should be taking in the hope that one or two will pay off. He does have three Minor League options remaining (i.e. he can be optioned back to the Minors without being exposed to a wavier claim by other teams) as the Marlins fast-tracked him to the Majors last year in part due to the lost-2020 Minor League season, so he comes with some useful flexibility in terms of how we develop him.
That’s important given that a decision needs to be made on Cristian Pache ahead of Opening Day, as he is out of Minor League options, and that the A’s Front Office appear to be bullish on Esteury Ruiz (acquired in the Sean Murphy trade) being able to play centre field in the Big Leagues this season.
In case you were wondering, JJ’s surname is pronounced bluh-DAY.
We’ll start to learn more about the shape of the roster over the next week as players report to Arizona. The official first workout for pitchers and catchers is this coming Wednesday (15th), with position players joining in from the following Monday.
The A’s Cactus League schedule has now been finalised. It includes a Big League weekend in Las Vegas on the 4th and 5th of March with games against the Cincinnati Reds at the Aviators’ ballpark.
The A’s did that before in 2020, with 2021 and 2022 editions being cancelled due to Covid and the MLB lockout, and the Rockies and Royals are playing two games there later in March too. It’s therefore not particularly linked to the potential relocation plans, but clearly that’s going to be hanging over the A’s series there in a few weeks’ time.
The A’s have gone completely silent over the past three or four months on plans for a new ballpark at either Howard Terminal or in Vegas, although unofficially there has been news of progress at both ends very recently. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred reiterated this past week that the A’s need to get something done this year. The visit to the Aviators’ home in early March will be telling as to whether they have news to share (a site chosen, potential finance plans in place).
And along those lines, it will be interesting if we hear from the owners of the Aviators during that weekend. Their $150M Las Vegas Ballpark only opened in 2019 and has been a big success so far, something that surely will be impacted if an MLB team moved in (the two reported potential sites that the A’s are looking at are 20 minutes or so drive away). They can’t be exactly thrilled that the MLB team they are an affiliate of is threatening to move into their patch.
One reply on “There’s Always Another Trade”
It’s essentially trading one disappointing first round pick for another. I wasn’t impressed with Bleday’s minor league stats, (he can’t hit at the big league level yet) but the A’s were probably impressed by his OPB no doubt.