While reliever Edward Mujica spent his final moments with the Marlins on Tuesday packing his bags for St. Louis and dishing out hugs, his former teammates sat around a TV in the visitors clubhouse at Turner Field counting down the final minutes and seconds before the trading deadline.
“You think they’re done?" a worried Emilio Bonifacio asked a reporter moments before it was announced on TV that Gaby Sanchez, a three-year starter at first base and a 2011 All-Star, was being sent to the Pirates.
“I mean, there’s almost nobody left from Opening Day. Just me, [Jose] Reyes, [John] Buck, J.J. ...’’
Although the Marlins’ current 25-man roster may hardly resemble the team they were when they opened their new stadium just four months ago, there are at least a couple guys from opening night still around.
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Tuesday, though, the club’s “restructuring’’ continued as a third infielder counted on at the beginning of the season was shipped off to a playoff contender, and a dependable reliever and clubhouse leader was traded to the defending World Series champions.
“Again, our disappointment with the team continues,’’ president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said in his opening statement about the trades before later pointing out players can still be traded before Aug. 31 but must clear waivers first.
The additions from Tuesday’s two moves: 23-year-old left-handed-hitting third baseman Zackary Cox, a former 2010 first-round pick who was hitting .254 with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 84 games for the Triple A Memphis Red Birds, and Gorkys Hernandez, a 24-year-old Venezuelan-born outfielder, who hit .083 (2 for 24) with two stolen bases and two RBI in 25 games with the Pirates this season primarily as a defensive replacement.
Hernandez, described as fleet-footed and well above average defensively by Beinfest, will join the Marlins on Wednesday and start in center field, according to manager Ozzie Guillen. Cox, a welcome addition considering the Marlins don’t have much in the way of talent at the hot corner, will head down to Double A Jacksonville.
While Beinfest said he can’t really speak to how close Cox might be to filling the hole at third for the Marlins, he said: “This trade was made with the thought he could be our third baseman in the near future.’’
“We really like the bat,’’ Beinfest went on to say of Cox, who has been one of the game’s top 10 prospects at third base since he was drafted out of Arkansas. “He’s moved through the Cardinals’ system very quickly. Third base is an area of need for us.
“... In terms of moving Edward, he’s done a good job for us. It’s an area of some depth now with Big Z [Carlos Zambrano] in the bullpen and prospects like Even Reed and A.J. Ramos and [Chris] Hatcher ready to go. It was an area we felt like we had some depth to make the move.”
Beinfest said a big part of the trade with the Pirates for Sanchez and Double A right-handed reliever Kyle Kaminska (6-4, 5.11 ERA in 31 appearances in Jacksonville) was acquiring the Pirates’ competitive-balance lottery pick — the second overall following the first round. That gives the Marlins four picks before the third round of next year’s amateur draft.
“We’ve been involved now in a couple of these things,’’ Beinfest said. “These are very valuable assets. To have access to the 33rd pick in the country is a very big deal. Gorkys is a young player we’re going to take a look at and we’ve liked for quite some time all the way back to his days with the Tigers and the Braves.
“That’s how we finished things up. Now we’ll go through the post-waiver deadline and hopefully start to improve on the field and win some games, and take a look at some of the assets we’ve accumulated in the last 10 days.’’
One player still very happy to call Miami home after the deadline: Opening Day starter Josh Johnson, who was being shopped hard, but apparently didn’t do enough over the past couple weeks while he was being eye-balled by opposing scouts to warrant the substantial sum the Marlins sought.
“The only time I really thought about [the trade rumors] was with my wife, and with my family," said Johnson, who has one year and $13.75 million left on his contract with the Marlins. “Yes, I’m still happy to be here ... the rest of my career would be great. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known. I’d love to stay here, be part of it, and be part of a World Series here.’’
Although Beinfest didn’t discuss specifics of who else came close to being traded, ESPN reported that first baseman Carlos Lee came close to being sent to the Yankees. Lee reportedly turned the deal down.
Mujica, who went 9-9 with a 3.44 ERA in 108 appearances for the Marlins over the past two seasons, said he was “very surprised’’ he was dealt. Like Sanchez, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s first child last Saturday, he also recently became a father.
“I didn’t know what time the trade deadline was, so I told my wife today at noon I [wasn’t] going to be traded. I thought the deadline was 11, I’m going to be fine,’’ Mujica said. “I got here and Ozzie told me, ‘St. Louis wants you, they’re talking right now.’ Ten minutes after he told me, it was official.’’
Said Guillen: “We lost one of the favorite guys. Muji, everybody was feeling for him. We knew how much Muji wanted to stay here. I think it’s a hard day for a lot of people off the field.’’