Barry Jackson

The backstory on how ex-Marlins ownership dealt five pitchers who won 58 games in 2019

For the past two years under new ownership, most of the Marlins trades have involved dealing established players for prospects. It wasn’t always like this, of course.

During the Jeffrey Loria regime, Miami often traded prospects for veterans, only to regret many of those decisions.

So it’s notable, and cringe-inducing for Marlins fans, that as we enter the final week of MLB’s regular season, five former Marlins farmhands --- Domingo German, Chris Paddack, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani and Trevor Williams - have a combined 58 wins (against 35 losses). That’s three more wins than Miami had as a team entering Wednesday’s game against the N.Y. Mets.

German - who won’t pitch again this season because he’s on administrative leave under the MLB and union joint domestic violence policy - is third in baseball with 18 wins. Castillo and Paddock are top 20 in earned-run average.

As ESPN and Sirius XM analyst and former Nationals GM Jim Bowden tweeted this summer (and I inserted first names): “WHAT IF of the day: What if the #Marlins didn’t make bad trades & still had: 1. Chris Paddack (for Fernando Rodney) 2. Luis Castillo (for Dan Straily) 3. Domingo German (for Martin Prado) 4. Anthony Desclafani (for Mat Latos) and had kept some combo of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon & J.T. Realmuto WHAT IF.”

And that Bowden tweet didn’t even include the most egregious deal (trading Williams for a coach).

So how this could have happened, the Marlins (under the Loria regime) trading five established big league starters for so little back? In a phone conversation, former Marlins president David Samson helped provide the backstory of what cost the Marlins five talented young arms:

Trading pitching prospect Trevor Williams to Pittsburgh essentially for a minor league pitching coach, Jim Benedict, on Oct. 24, 2015.

Williams (7-8, 5.52 for Pittsburgh) has been the worst of these five pitchers this season, but the fact Miami traded him for a coach was regrettable.

The trade was actually announced as Williams to Pittsburgh for Richard Mitchell (who never again pitched at any level after the trade), but the deal was made to compensate the Pirates for the Marlins hiring Benedict, who made a negligible impact here as vice president/pitching development and was repeatedly criticized privately by the big league staff.

Samson said Mike Berger, a Marlins’ vice president and assistant general manager at the time, had owner Loria’s ear and convinced Loria that he must get Benedict.

“This was all Berger,” Samson said. “Berger told us, ‘You have to get Benedict. Every pitcher will become amazing under Benedict.’ We knew Trevor Williams was a prospect; Berger didn’t know he would be what he became. But even then, trading a prospect for a coach made no sense. We all spoke up [to Loria] but to no avail. In hindsight, I regret it because Benedict didn’t work out.”

And did Benedict ever make any significant contribution? “Not that I recall,” Samson said.

The Pirates asked for Williams, and the Marlins didn’t think much of giving up a pitcher coming off an average season in the minors (7-10, 3.85 ERA).

But Williams has been an asset in Pittsburgh, going 29-28 with a 4.25 ERA in four seasons.

Trading prospect Paddack to San Diego for veteran reliever Rodney on June 30, 2016.

The Marlins were trying to make the playoffs that year, and Rodney had gone 17 for 17 in saves with a 0.31 ERA for the Padres that year. After his trade to Miami, he was much worse, converting 8 of 11 save opportunities with a 5.89 ERA.

Samson said Berger and Benedict advocated giving up Paddack, not having any idea he would become a front-line starter.

“I don’t regret that trade for a minute, because it was like trading Adrian Gonzalez for Ugueth Urbina, and we won a World Series with Urbina,” Samson said. “The thinking was why not go for it when you had Jose Fernandez and Wei Yin Chen, who we didn’t know would be a disaster at that time. We gave up a starter we didn’t know would make it, and we got what we thought would be a lock down closer. The season ended with Jose dying.”

Paddack was very good this year for San Diego (9-7, 3.33 ERA).

Trading Castillo to the Reds for Straily on Jan. 19, 2017.

Straily went 15-15 with a 4.20 ERA in two years with the Marlins before being released this past March. He signed with Baltimore, was awful there and subsequently released.

Castillo, meanwhile, has become one of the best young pitchers in baseball, going 15-7 for the Reds this season, with a 3.25 ERA and 28-26, 3.62 in his big league career.

“Benedict and Berger were the catalysts behind the Paddack and Castillo trades,” Samson said. “We were told by Benedict and Berger that Castillo would be a bullpen arm and if you can get a starter for a bullpen arm, you do that.

“We didn’t want to rebuild after Jose died and we wanted to try to get starting pitching with the position players we still had. We still had Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna. We viewed Straily as a middle of the rotation starter who we had control over for a number of years.

“Benedict told us Castillo would be a bullpen arm, and if we are going to believe in [Benedict], we are going to believe in the guy. If you knew Castillo was going to be a top starter, you don’t make that trade.”

Trading then-Class A prospect German, Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones to the Yankees for Martin Prado and David Phelps on Dec. 19, 2014.

German (18-4, 4.03) was a rising young star for the Yankees, but now in limbo following his placement on administrative leave. Prado was a helpful player for a while here before breaking down physically with hamstring and other injuries during portions of the past three years. The Marlins later traded Phelps to Seattle for a four-player package highlighted by Pablo Lopez, who has struggled coming back from injury this season.

Samson suggested everyone agreed with that deal, because Prado was an above-average starting infielder and Phelps a serviceable starter, at the very least. “I am not convinced that was a bad trade,” Samson said.

Trading DeSclafani for the Reds for Latos in December 2014.

Latos lasted only half a season in Miami, going 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA before being shipped to the Dodgers the following July.

DeSclafani is 9-9 with a 3.84 ERA for the Reds this season and 36-37 in his big league career.

“We knew DeSclafani would turn into a pitcher but we thought Latos would be a middle of the rotation guy who would help us win,” Samson said, adding the front office was pretty unanimous on that deal.

“We didn’t know Latos would turn into an underwhelming player. We felt he was a pitcher who made sense who would be able to help us, that on a good year would be a No. 2 starter. We viewed DeSclafani as a middle of the rotation starter.”

Latos was 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA for the Marlins and is now out of baseball.

Samson offered some additional insight. Asked why Berger was given so much influence and authority on trades when he was below president/baseball operations Michael Hill in the hierarchy, Samson said:

“Everyone has someone in their organization that’s a go-to guy. Berger is the guy Jeffrey leaned on” and Benedict became another voice Loria listened to.

“Whenever they had a view, Jeffrey would go with that view because they were Jeffrey’s guys,” Samson said. “They used the power they had and they weren’t always wrong. It doesn’t mean [Berger and Benedict] are bad baseball people or bad guys. Berger would speak to Jeffrey every single day. We’re focusing on three trades that [didn’t work out] because Paddack, Castillo and Williams are pitching as top of the rotation guys. But we got Dontrelle Willis, who ended up being great.”

And of all of those trades, Samson reminded: “We were going for it. Jeffrey didn’t care to have a highly ranked farm system. We wanted to win at the major league level.”

Berger, now a scout for the Brewers, declined to respond to Samson’s comments about any of the trades. Benedict, now with the Cubs, did not respond to a request for comment.

New ownership must hope that their veteran-for-prospects trades will work out as well for them as the Paddack/German/Castillo/Williams/DeSclafani trades worked out for the other team.

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