They went from all-in to “trying to get back as much talent as possible” following a 34-38 start to the 2012 season.
The Miami Marlins made nine trades, waving goodbye to 13 players who were in uniform the night their new ballpark opened in Little Havana.
They shipped off two batting champions, two pitchers with no-hitters on their résumés, eight All-Stars, a former first-round pick and their all-time wins leader in a span of 368 days — from one July through the next. In exchange, Miami received two established major-leaguers (one has since retired), five players whose big-league careers were just getting off the ground, and 11 minor-league prospects.
Heading into the final stretch of what probably will end in the franchise’s second 100-loss season, the Marlins are filling their ballpark to only 51.5 percent capacity on average during home games (27th out of 30 and worst in the National League). Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in February the franchise’s makeover was simply “pushing the restart button … a chance to get young players in and see where the franchise is in another year or so.”
So where are the Marlins today? “We’re excited about the future,” general manager Mike Hill said on the night 21-year-old ace Jose Fernandez pitched his final game of what probably will be a Rookie of the Year season.
Of course, Hill and Beinfest might not be part of the Marlins’ future at all. ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian believes the Marlins’ venture into the offseason likely won’t include the current front office, which, despite trading away one of the 10 greatest hitters of all time in Miguel Cabrera a few years ago without much at all to show for it, “has done a pretty nice job bringing talented players back in.”
“It’s hard to say they’re going in the right direction when they’re 40 games under .500 and headed for 100 losses and 34 games out of first place and been outscored by 132 runs,” Kurkjian said. “It’s hard to find something positive out of that and yet Jose Fernandez is one of the best young pitchers in the game. [Marcell] Ozuna kind of came out of nowhere, at least for me. It looks like Christian Yelich has a chance to be a pretty good player. Jake Marisnick has really struggled, but all indications are he’s going to be a good player. With Giancarlo Stanton, it looks like they have the makings of a great outfield.
“They just have to develop a few more pitchers, like every other organization, and they have to find some other players. They have to find a third baseman, second baseman and first baseman probably, maybe a catcher who can hit a little bit more, and those are big, big tasks. So as you look forward at the Marlins, you have to ask yourself if they’re going to go out and spend a little bit of money and see if they can bring some complementary pieces to all these young players they’ve brought up and are starting to develop, which is encouraging. But 100 losses is 100 losses and even though you’re going in the right direction with it, it’s tough to take.”
When teams trade veterans for young players or prospects, it usually takes a while to determine the wisdom of those deals. But the Marlins now have a sense of the value they netted. Here’s a look at those deals and what they’ve amounted to so far:
July 4, 2012• Acquired first baseman Carlos Lee from Houston for former first-round pick and third baseman Matt Dominguez, and left-hander Rob Rasmussen.
This was the only one of the nine trades that added payroll and was made with a win-now approach. It didn’t help. Lee batted .243 in 81 games and is now out of baseball. The Marlins concluded Dominguez wouldn’t hit enough to be an everyday player. But he has hit 20 homers and driven in 75 runs, more RBI than any current Marlin.
July 24• Acquired catcher Rob Brantly, right-hander Jacob Turner and left-hander Brian Flynn from the Tigers for right-hander Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante.
The Marlins weren’t going to be able to afford Sanchez (five years, $88 million) anyway at the end of last season. He has been a gem for Detroit (14-7, 2.50 ERA, 178 strikeouts in 2013) and Infante (.320, 9 HR, 45 RBI) has been decent.
The deal hasn’t been a disaster because Turner (3-3, 3.46 ERA in 18 starts) has developed into an effective starter. Flynn, the Marlins’ ninth-best prospect according to MLB.com, emerged in the minors (7-12, 2.63 ERA) and could compete for a rotation spot eventually. But Brantly (.218, 1 HR, 18 RBI) regressed this season and probably isn’t the long-term solution.
• Acquired right-handed pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough from the Dodgers for shortstop Hanley Ramirez and left-handed reliever Randy Choate.
The Marlins believed Ramirez, the National League’s 2009 batting champion, would never lead them to a championship or anything close. But he has played far better for the Dodgers than he did here, hitting .342 with 18 homers and 53 RBI through his first 79 games this season and helping lead Los Angeles to a division title.
The Marlins love Eovaldi’s stuff and believe he can be, at worst, a middle-of-the-rotation piece for years. But he missed the start of the season with an injury and is now injured again after going 3-6 with a 3.80 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 15 starts this season. McGough has pitched well in Double A and Triple A (4-4, 2.82 ERA).
“Eovaldi has thrown over 100 miles an hour a bunch of times this year, which I know [Giants manager] Bruce Bochy and I discussed,” Kurkjian said. “They never saw him throw that hard when he was in L.A.. That’s a really good sign they got a young hard thrower like him. Turner is going to be a very good pitcher and showed it at times this year.
“I saw them recently, and Mike Redmond was pretty happy with the number of young pitchers that have come along and I think that’s the only way to build a franchise — with as many young pitchers as possible. And I think the Marlins have done a pretty good job with that. They have a pretty good collection going.”
• Acquired minor-league third baseman Zack Cox from the Cardinals for reliever Edward Mujica.
Perhaps the worst deal of them all. Mujica (2-1, 2.33 ERA, 36 saves), making $3.2 million in arbitration, blossomed into an All-Star closer this season. Cox has been decent, but the Marlins don’t view him as a potential everyday player in the big leagues because of his limited power and defensive limitations. They used their first-round pick to take Colin Moran out of North Carolina and are expected to give Chris Coghlan a strong look there next season.
• Acquired outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and the second pick after the first round in the 2013 draft (left-hander Matt Krook) from the Pirates for first baseman Gaby Sanchez and minor-league pitcher Kyle Kaminska.
The offensively challenged Hernandez was a disappointment in spring training and was hitting .275 with four homers, 22 RBI and 22 stolen bases for Triple A New Orleans before being traded to Kansas City two months ago for weak-hitting Double A shortstop Alex McClure. Sanchez (.254, 7 HR, 36 RBI) has played OK for Pittsburgh, but the Marlins saw more upside in Logan Morrison. Krook failed his physical and didn’t sign, but the Marlins will get a compensatory pick next year.
• Acquired infielder Yordy Cabrera from Arizona for reliever Heath Bell.
The Marlins believed they had to purge Bell from their clubhouse, and agreed to pay $4 million of his $8.5 million salary this season. He has gone 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA, but he’s still blowing saves — seven of them. Cabrera, 22, hit .237 with 14 homers and 62 RBI between Single A Greensboro (N.C.) and Jupiter while starting 82 games at third base and posting a .888 fielding percentage.
Nov. 19• Acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, outfielder Jake Marisnick, catcher Jeff Mathis and pitchers Justin Nicolino, Henderson Alvarez and Anthony DeSclafani from the Blue Jays for pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck, utility man Emilio Bonifacio and cash.
From a baseball standpoint, this trade looks very good for the Marlins, though ownership should have reinvested some of the money saved elsewhere.
Johnson, a two-time All-Star and free agent at season’s end, went 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts for Toronto before going down for the season with a strained right forearm. Buehrle, who went 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA in his one season in Miami, has gone 11-8 with a 4.18 ERA in his return to the American League. Bonifacio, who hit .271 and averaged 26 steals a season for the Marlins over four years, was hitting a career-worst .218 with only 12 stolen bases in 94 games for the Blue Jays before he was shipped off to the Royals. Buck was traded to the Mets in the deal that netted Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Reyes, a four-time All-Star, missed 66 of his team’s first 97 games, but is hitting .301 with 10 homers, 34 RBI and 14 steals since his return.
Hechavarria (.227, 3 HR, 36 RBI, 11 stolen bases) has been terrific defensively but mediocre at best with the bat for Miami. “When trading away our shortstop at the time we wanted to get one back,” Hill said. “Hechavarria has been everything as advertised.”
Mathis (.196, 5 HR, 29 RBI) handled the pitching staff well including Fernandez, who absolutely loves him. Marisnick, rated the organization’s No. 1 prospect (56th overall), came back strong from an early injury and hit .294 with 12 homers and 46 RBI for Jacksonville before getting his call-up. Alvarez (3-4, 4.34 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 13 starts) has pitched better than he did in Toronto since coming back from a shoulder injury to start the season. Nicolino, rated the Marlins’ third-best prospect according to MLB.com, went 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA for Single A Jupiter in the first half of the season before earning a promotion to Double A Jacksonville, where he went 3-2 with a 4.96 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in nine starts. DeSclafani, rated the organization’s 14th-best prospect, turned heads finishing 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 starts for Jacksonville with a 1.17 WHIP.
“The only guys who haven’t appeared in the big leagues yet in that trade are DeSclafani and Nicolino,” Hill said. “They both had great years at High A and were both promoted to Double A and continued to have good years. They’re at the upper levels now and just depending on what your needs are, you could see them [in the majors] at any point next season.”
• Acquired infielder Derek Dietrich from the Rays for shortstop Yunel Escobar.
The Marlins believe Dietrich (.214, 9 HR, 23 RBI in 57 games) can be an everyday player because of his above-average power. He has been better than expected defensively. But he struggled hitting for contact with the Marlins. Escobar, in the final year of his contract, is hitting .260 with nine homers and 53 RBI for Tampa Bay.
“When he went down [to the minors], he scuffled a little bit,” Hill said of Dietrich. “But the last 10 days of the season he got really hot and raised his average back to where it was in that .270 range, and then unfortunately pulled an oblique muscle and ended the year on the disabled list. We’re nursing him back to health and the plan is for him to go to the Arizona Fall League along with six others.”
July 7, 2013
• Acquired three minor-leagues pitchers from the Dodgers for Ricky Nolasco.
The Marlins had no intentions of re-signing Nolasco, who has gone 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in 12 starts for the Dodgers. The minor leaguers acquired aren’t elite prospects. Right-hander Angel Sanchez, rated the Marlins’ 10th-best prospect, is the best of the group. He went 4-3 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in Single A.
THE NEXT MOVE?
The next big trade the Marlins probably make is dealing Stanton, whose power continues to attract suitors. But Hill said he doesn’t see that happening.
“He’s a talented player so obviously clubs will make the call,” Hill said. “We’ve made it abundantly clear that he was not available. Until we’re told otherwise, he’ll continue to be unavailable and part of our future moving forward.”
Kurkjian is not so sure.
“My guess is two years from now, he’s going to be playing for somebody else — and I’m saying two years, not two weeks from now,” he said. “He’s so gifted, has so much ability the Marlins need to hang on to him for as long as they possibly can just because of his incredible talent.
“Eventually, though, someone is just going to come along and blow the Marlins away. If they’re not in a position where they’ve got this team going in the right direction, maybe the best thing is to trade him and get several key pieces in return.”