NEW YORK — Zac Gallen had just moved into his Miami apartment.
Two weeks later, he needed to move out.
A day after making his seventh career start with the Marlins and lowering his ERA to 2.72 with seven innings of two-run, eight-strikeout ball, the rookie right-hander was summoned to manager Don Mattingly’s office.
Gallen, who was just beginning to get acclimated to his new surroundings, initially assumed the coaching staff wanted to go over his last outing. But the Marlins had other plans on July 31 — and they weren’t sending Gallen back down to the minors.
Instead, Miami sent the 24-year-old to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade-deadline deal. In exchange, the Marlins received middle infield prospect Jazz Chisholm. Mattingly and Michael Hill, Miami’s president of baseball operations, delivered the news.
Well, sort of.
“At first, they didn’t tell me what team I’d been traded to. So at the end of the meeting, I was like, ‘Hey, where am I going?’” Gallen, who will match up against Reds righty Trevor Bauer on Sunday, told Yahoo Sports.
“They didn’t say. But at the time, I didn’t know what to do. I was just like I’ve got to pack up my stuff within like 12 hours. It was crazy.”
Different city, same results
Gallen found out about the trade at 2:30 p.m. He left Marlins Park two hours later after cleaning out his locker, saying his goodbyes and talking to reporters. Next, it was time to pack. Fortunately, Gallen had a close friend in town, who proved to be a huge help with the move.
“My phone was blowing up all day,” Gallen said. “And it was tough because I had to decide what to bring with me and what I was going to get shipped in my car a couple weeks later. I’m kind of a paranoid packer.”
Nevertheless, after taking a flight out west, Gallen found himself in another meeting with Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo. And this one went a bit differently.
“‘We’re excited to have you. We wanted you for a few months now, and we were finally able to make it happen,’” Gallen was told.
“So that was awesome to hear,” he said. “When you get traded, it’s good and bad. One team doesn’t want you, I guess you could say, but another does, so it’s cool. I was really glad to hear that they had so much interest in me.”
While the Diamondbacks have sputtered of late, their playoff hopes hanging by a thread after a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets at Citi Field, Gallen hasn’t slowed down. And Arizona has yet to feel the sting of losing staff ace Zack Greinke, who they moved to Houston at the deadline.
In seven starts with the Diamondbacks, Gallen has compiled a 2.61 ERA. On Sept. 4, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. In his last outing, against the Mets, he struck out nine — including All-Stars Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso a combined five times in six plate appearances.
Zac Gallen, Filthy 87mph Changeup (release/spin axis/slow). 😷 pic.twitter.com/C6HdG4NOQz— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 11, 2019
He is the second NL pitcher to begin his career with 14 consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs. Over that span, he has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
“He’s really good,” Arizona veteran Robbie Ray said. “He knows how to pitch.”
Or, as one Diamondbacks source put it, “Sure, we had to give up Jazz. But he’s been a damn good pickup for us.”
Gallen didn’t necessarily expect to be traded, though he had been before — a young player on a rebuilding team — but he’s enjoyed his new environment so far.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t expect I’d be anywhere close to a playoff hunt,” he said. “And then here I am two months after I made my debut and we’re right in the mix. It’s pretty cool.”
Oh, what could’ve been in Miami
In an alternate universe, Miami would still have a Big Three. It just wouldn’t consist of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
A new trio of Luis Castillo, Chris Paddack and Domingo German would dominate on the mound. And with a potent lineup featuring Christian Yelich (Brewers), Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees), Marcell Ozuna (Cardinals) and J.T. Realmuto (Phillies), the Marlins would be among the favorites to reach the World Series in 2019.
But none of that is going to happen.
Castillo has emerged as an NL Cy Young award candidate — in Cincinnati. Paddack just wrapped up a solid rookie year with six shutout innings against the Cubs — in San Diego. And German became an unsung hero, winning 18 games — in the Bronx.
All three starters were dealt away by the previous regime.
Castillo netted Dan Straily. Paddack netted Fernando Rodney. And German (and Nathan Eovaldi) netted Martin Prado and David Phelps.
WHAT IF of the day:— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) May 10, 2019
What if the #Marlins didn’t make bad trades & still had:
1. Chris Paddack (for Rodney)
2. Luis Castillo (for Straily)
3. Domingo German (for Prado)
4. Anthony Desclafani (for Latos)
and had kept some combo of Yelich, Ozuna, Stanton, Gordon & Realmuto WHAT IF
Meanwhile, Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has gutted the team since taking over in 2017 — jettisoning all of the impact hitters listed above — and a massive rebuild is underway. Miami has the third-worst record in the majors, while drawing less than 10,000 fans per game.
The returns for Yelich, Stanton, Ozuna and Realmuto have been a mixed bag.
Lewis Brinson and Isan Diaz (Yelich deal) haven’t been able to get over the Mendoza line. Sixto Sanchez (Realmuto deal) has a high ceiling as a starter. Righty Sandy Alcantara (Ozuna deal) was Miami’s lone All-Star. And unloading Stanton’s massive contract looks like it’s already been a victory for the Marlins, even if the prospects they acquired from the Yankees (Jose Devers and Jorge Guzman) don’t pan out.
Gallen was part of the Ozuna deal as well. Prior to his promotion, he went 9-1 with a 1.77 ERA at Triple-A New Orleans, and was just named Triple-A Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America as a result.
But Miami elected to take a shot on Chisholm, a raw, toolsy 21-year-old with high upside. He hit a combined .221/.321/.441 with 21 homers in 112 games at Double-A in 2019.
“We were dealing, in our minds, from an organizational strength,” Jeter told reporters in August. “We felt as though pitching is one of the strengths we had in the organization at the time and we want to continue to acquire top-notch position players, which we were able to do.”
Only time will tell whether it turns about to be another mistake by the once beloved Yankee captain and the rest of his front office.
Zac Gallen’s rise to the majors
When the Philadelphia Phillies won the championship in 2008, the South Jersey native Gallen wanted to attend the parade with his friends. But his mother, Stacey, wouldn’t let him.
You see, Gallen didn’t root for the Phillies growing up. The Cardinals were his favorite team, and Mark McGwire his favorite player.
“The Phillies weren’t really competitive when I was younger,” Gallen said. “So it was fun for me to rag on my friends that were Phillies fans.”
And now, “My mom was like, ‘No, you’re not going, you weren’t a fan. If you’re not a Phillies fan, you can’t go. You’re not missing school.’ And I was like, ‘Man, that stinks.’ It was Halloween, so it wasn’t a ‘real’ day of school, but I never hopped on that bandwagon.”
As fate would have it, after starring at Bishop Eustace Prep School and then North Carolina, Gallen was selected by St. Louis in the third round of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. He ultimately made his major-league debut three years later with Miami, tossing five innings of one-run ball — against the Cardinals on June 20 at Busch Stadium.
Gallen looked up to sinker-slider pitchers Tim Hudson and Mike Leake (now his teammate) before his repertoire changed as he got older. “It’s kind of surreal,” Gallen said of being in the same rotation as Leake, a pitcher he also admired for never having been in the minors.
He throws a fastball that averages 93.1 mph, plus a slider/cutter, a changeup and a curveball (which he didn’t have until his sophomore year in college). Opponents are batting just .163 against his changeup, according to Brooks Baseball.
“I think it’s just been an ever-developing timeline of working on pitches that do certain things, and I’ve been able to give guys different looks which has been able to help me out a ton,” Gallen said.
Three scouts told Yahoo Sports that Gallen projects as a No. 3-4 starter in the majors.
“He fights command a little bit, but he’s an aggressive guy,” one scout said. “He’s good.”
Gallen has started his career pitching above that projection, though. And he’s got a chance to prove that Derek Jeter and the Marlins were wrong to trade him.
Maybe he can even keep his next apartment for a while.
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