The Opener: D-Backs, Kepler, Marlins

As the hot stove continues to warm back up after the holidays, here’s three things we’ll be keeping an eye on around baseball throughout the day today:

1. What’s next for Arizona following their trade with Toronto?

The trade last week that sent Daulton Varsho to Toronto with Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. heading to Arizona in exchange brought to a conclusion two storylines that had stretched throughout the whole offseason to that point- that of the Diamondbacks trading one of their outfielders and that of the Blue Jays trading one of their catchers. Toronto could be mostly done after adding Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier, Chris Bassitt, and Erik Swanson, but Arizona still has work to do to round out their roster, even after adding Kyle Lewis in a trade with the Mariners earlier this offseason. The D-Backs lineup looks fairly set at this point, but Mike Hazen’s front office has been said to be targeting relief pitching this offseason, and even though that didn’t come to pass in the Varsho deal, there’s plenty of free agent relievers left on the market for Arizona to choose from. Chief among them is former Diamondback Andrew Chafin, though others such as Michael Fulmer and Will Smith also remain available. Perhaps even more in need of additions than the relief corps is the rotation, however. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly combine to form a solid top of the rotation, and Madison Bumgarner is locked into a rotation spot toward the back, but the D-Backs could really use another arm or two to occupy the middle of their rotation. Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha, and Johnny Cueto are the top options remaining on the free agent market, though a bounce-back candidate such as Wade Miley or Corey Kluber could also make sense.

2. Which teams remain a fit for a Kepler deal?

The Twins are known to have interest in dealing longtime right fielder Max Kepler this offseason, and it’s possible that, with the long-awaited outfield deal out of Arizona done, Kepler’s market could begin to heat up. The Yankees and Marlins both were known to have interest in Arizona’s outfielders prior to the Varsho deal, and if Arizona is done trading from its outfield corps then its possible either team could pivot to Kepler as a less expensive backup option. While the Dodgers and Braves are both known to have interest in upgrading their outfield mixes, the addition of Kepler’s $8.5MM salary in 2023 would be a complicated add for either team, making a deal unlikely. Perhaps the best fits for Kepler are the Rockies and Rangers, both teams in need of outfield help who could be improved by Kepler’s steady though unspectacular bat even if he fails to return to the solidly above average bat he was 2019-2020, when he posted a .831 OPS in 182 games.

3. When will the Marlins move an arm?

The Marlins are known to be shopping members of their starting rotation to other clubs in their search for improved offense, though they’ve made it clear both Sandy Alcantara and Eury Perez are off-limits. Pablo Lopez is the most frequently discussed trade candidate in the Marlins rotation, but Trevor Rogers could make more sense for clubs with a longer path to contention, as he is under club control for two more years than Lopez, a free agent after the 2024 season. The Dodgers and Cardinals, as immediate clear contenders with solid rotations lacking in depth, seem like prime candidates to deal for Lopez, as such a deal would allow them to push Dustin May and Steven Matz, respectively, into swing roles. The Orioles and Diamondbacks, meanwhile, could make sense as partners in a Rogers trade. Both clubs are making pushes toward increased competitiveness in 2023, but face tough divisions that could limit their playoff opportunities in the near-term, making a longer term investment make more sense. Both teams are also in desperate need of rotation help; Arizona’s situation is detailed above, while Baltimore arguably downgraded the rotation by swapping out Jordan Lyles for Kyle Gibson when it was already the weakest part of their roster. All four of these clubs have the young, controllable position players/prospects who could be attractive to the Marlins as a return for one of their pitchers, as well.

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