Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Marlins’ deals at trade deadline won’t be a fire sale — they’ll be smart

Marlins pitcher Mat Latos, a free agent after this season, has seen his market value rise with recent strong performances, including seven well-timed shutout innings Tuesday night.
Marlins pitcher Mat Latos, a free agent after this season, has seen his market value rise with recent strong performances, including seven well-timed shutout innings Tuesday night. El Nuevo Herald

It won’t be a fire sale this time, as much as angry fans may be ready to clang that familiar bell. It won’t be a salary dump or another reach for the “reset” button. The Marlins are poised to be sellers again as the July 31 MLB trade deadline looms, but, this time, what they’ll be doing is necessary and smart.

I know, I know. Giving benefit of doubt to the Jeffrey Loria-owned Fish never comes easily – especially in the midst of a season that has seen Miami perhaps the most disappointing team in baseball. Beyond that, a franchise that has missed the playoffs 21 times in its 23-year history and is headed for a sixth straight losing record isn’t in the best position to tell fans, “Trust us on this.”

This, after all, is the club that once traded Miguel Cabrera for what amounted to a bucket of sunflower seeds and a fungo bat. The club that notoriously under-spent on player payrolls for years and had a mass salary purge as recently as 2012.

It’s different now.

Trading away starting pitchers Mat Latos and Dan Haren and reliever Steve Cishek – as the Marlins almost certainly will – makes sense on a few levels.

Yes, it’ll be a ceremonial surrender flag on the season, but that’s justified. Miami was 39-55 entering Wednesday night’s game in Arizona. Time to look ahead.

Latos, a free agent after this season, has seen his market value rise with recent strong performances, including seven well-timed shutout innings Tuesday night. He’s a power-pitcher who’ll make a great rental for some contending team, but is too injury-prone to be in Miami’s long-term plans. Latos has enough value for the Marlins to get in return a minor-league prospect with major-league potential. The timing is right.

Haren, also a pending free agent, has performed well enough also to have value as a rental. But he’s a late-career, West Coast-preferring player with an 85-mph fastball and wouldn’t re-sign with Miami even if it wanted him to. So get something for him now.

Cishek? The defrocked closer simply makes too much money (more than $6 million) to keep around as a bullpen spare part. Miami will be in solid shape without him, likely with flamethrower Carter Capps as a setup man for well-suited closer A.J. Ramos.

Trading Latos, Haren and Cishek also makes sense with this reality in mind:

The Marlins’ cupboard quietly has gone bare – the farm system thinned by trading away too much promising youth and by too many bad drafts.

Three of Miami’s NL East rivals – the Braves, Mets and Nationals – have the majors’ second-, fourth- and fifth-rated minor-league talent, according to an ESPN ranking out this week. And the Phillies have the No. 2-rated individual prospect.

Miami has nobody in the Top 50.

Time to restock for the long-term future.

The immediate future – contrary to this season’s record – remains promising.

The 2015 Fish have underperformed but a big part of that owes to awful luck with injuries. Consider that the four most recent Marlins All-Stars – Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez – all have missed significant chunks of this season. Consider that shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is the only starting position player who has avoided injury or time on the disabled list.

Miami will retain a starting core of players that, when healthy, is solid. That’s Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Stanton left-to-right in the outfield. That’s Martin Prado, Hechevarria, Gordon and Justin Boer or Michael Morse third to first in the infield. That’s J.T. Realmuto at catcher. And that’s Capps and Ramos anchoring the bullpen.

The starting rotation is a bit more complicated.

There is the ace Fernandez ... and then what? Miami hopes as much as expects that Alvarez and Jarred Cosart can get and stay healthy. Tom Koehler has proved a solid lower-rotation guy. Justin Nicolino could be ready for a breakout year in ’16.

Clearly, the Marlins should have two equal priorities after this season ends.

One is to hire an experienced manager who will command respect in the clubhouse. Dan Jennings, a front office man, has been a pretend-manager since replacing the prematurely fired Mike Redmond, but Jennings should slip back into a suit and tie after the season and help make sure his replacement is a smart, inspired hire.

The other priority should be a major free agent signing to bolster the starting rotation. The market should be ripe. Several quality starters currently being shopped as late-year rentals figure to be available after the season. They include the Tigers’ David Price, Phillies’ Cole Hamels, Reds’ Johnny Cueto, Padres’ James Shields and White Sox’s Jeff Samardzija.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

The Marlins first must do what they can to make the most of this lost season, and that starts with targeted, prudent trade-deadline selling to help restock the depleted farm.

It wouldn’t be a fire sale this time.

It’d be smart.

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