This high-variance Marlins lefty should be a Pittsburgh Pirates trade target

With the Pittsburgh Pirates needing bullpen reinforcements, they should look into left-handed reliever A.J. Puk from the Miami Marlins.
Apr 3, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher A.J. Puk (35) pitches in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher A.J. Puk (35) pitches in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports / Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen hasn’t been what many were expecting it to be. They’ve blown a lot of late leads and have made close games into blowouts on more than one occasion. This team would probably be above .500 right now if the bullpen had more depth. While guys like David Bednar and Aroldis Chapman have gotten things back on track, injuries and early-season underperformance have taken a toll, but it’s far from too late to fix what ails them. Bullpens can be one of the easiest parts of a roster to fix come midsummer.

The Bucs need to start looking at their potential options on the trade market, and one guy they should definitely go after is left-hander A.J. Puk from the Miami Marlins. Puk was a former top prospect with the Oakland Athletics but has settled in nicely as a decent lefty reliever. Like many players on the Miami Marlins’ roster, he will likely be on the trading block this summer. He’s someone who is likely both reasonably priced and also an arm that could really bolster the Pirates’ bullpen.

Puk hasn’t been great this year. He has an ERA of 7.30, with a 5.96 FIP and 1.91 WHIP. He’s walked (20) more batters than he’s struck out (18) and has allowed two home runs in 24.2 innings of work. The first thought that might come to your mind based on these numbers is how will this guy help out the Pirates’ bullpen?

Pirates can mine gold in A.J. Puk trade with Marlins

Well, that’s because all of Puk’s poor performances this year have been as a starting pitcher. The Marlins attempted to make Puk a starter at the beginning of the year, and it went horribly wrong. He only made four starts and pitched 13.2 frames, allowing 14 earned runs, handing out 17 free passes, and only striking out a dozen batters.

But since then, Puk has only allowed three earned runs in 10.2 innings, striking out six and walking three. He has a zero percent barrel rate and 86.2 MPH exit velocity as a reliever. This isn’t just a small sample size fluke either; Puk showed he was a competent left-handed reliever in 2022-2023 with the Oakland A’s and Marlins. 

Puk had a 3.51 ERA, 3.64 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP between the two seasons. Puk struck out nearly 30% of opponents with a 29.4% K%, but he also maintained a strong 6.9% walk rate. He gave up home runs more frequently than you’d like to see from a reliever, with a 1.24 HR/9 rate, but was good at limiting hard contact with an 87.1 MPH exit velocity.

As a starter, Stuff+ did not look too kindly at Puk’s ability, putting him at a below-average 92. But since moving back to the pen, he’s seen an uptick and is 111 when pitching in relief. His move to the bullpen also coincides with an uptick in velocity, as he’s now sitting around 96 MPH, which is much more akin to the heat he was throwing in 2022-2023 when he was a reliever.

A.J. Puk has proven that he’s a solid left-handed reliever with decent offerings to back it up. He also isn’t a rental and is controlled through 2026. The Pirates need to seriously consider Puk, because he could really help solidify things in their bullpen, and would stick around to help it out in the coming seasons as well.

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