What did the Marlins actually get in return?by Jeff Moore
November 20, 2012
Forget the moral implications of the Miami Marlins' latest trade, which sent most of their returning payroll to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for seven young players.
Forget the promises that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria made way too recently that he's already gone back on, leaving the city of Miami with a beautiful new stadium and an inferior product to put in it.
Forget the fact that the Marlins have done this before, and promised their fans that things would be different with their new stadium, logo, re-branding, etc. There's really very little argument to be made defending Loria's actions.
But the argument has been made in a number of places over the past week that the trade, which saw Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio sent to Toronto in exchange for major leaguers Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, and Adeiny Hechavarria and minor leaguers Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony DeSclafani, actually made sense, baseball-wise, for the Marlins if you could just get past the dirty taste it left in the mouths of everyone in south Florida.
This is not to knock Marisnick, Hechavarria, Nicolino or DeSclafani as prospects. They all have their merits. It just wasn't enough, given what the Marlins gave up.
Fellow THT writer Scott Spratt has a great breakdown up comparing this deal to the contract-unloading the Red Sox were able to pull off over the summer. But unlike that deal, which was all about unloading contracts, this deal was also about the Blue Jays adding valuable players.
Yes, there was a lot of money in salaries owed to the quintet of players unloaded by the Marlins, but none of the contracts was a complete albatross in the same way Carl Crawford's and Josh Beckett's were for the Red Sox. Jose Reyes may not have had his best season, but there no reason to think he won't bounce back. Mark Buehrle was the same he's always been.
For the Marlins, this wasn't about unloading bad contracts. It was about unloading all contracts.
Unlike the Red Sox who were just happy to find a trading partner to take their bad contracts off their hands, the Marlins should have expected significant assets back in return. They got a significant number of players, but none who project to be the centerpiece of their next competitive team.
When the Marlins unloaded talent from their last World Series team, they landed Hanley Ramirez in return. They never put a playoff team around him, but Ramirez turned into a good enough player that, had the organization surrounded him with the proper talent, he could have been at the center of it.
I don't believe that, in five years from now, we'll be saying that about any of the seven players the Marlins got in this trade.
We already know what Alvarez, Escobar and Mathis are in the majors. Escobar is a nice shortstop, but won't be the catalyst of any potent offense, and is likely to be traded and replaced by Hechavarria as Escobar gets more expensive anyway. Alvarez is a nice pitcher but strikes no one out and isn't an ace. Mathis is a backup.
It's the prospects the Marlins hope will develop into the nucleus of their next good team, much as Ramirez did. But none of these prospects are in Ramirez's class.
Jake Marisnick has the highest ceiling of the prospects, but also the biggest question marks. If everything goes right, he could offer above-average power production along with center field defense. That type of player is what the Marlins are hoping for. But there are significant developmental issues with Marisnick that put that kind of projection way off on the horizon, with roads leading to a number of other possible destinations.
For instance, Marisnick has yet to show off his plus-power potential in games, and despite his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame, he's never hit more than 14 home runs in a season. He hit just eight in 2012. He puts on a nice power display in batting practice, but it just hasn't come out in games yet, and it's not like he's putting up ridiculous doubles numbers either (sometimes an indicator of future power numbers). He's in danger of developing a reputation as a five o'clock hitter, if he hasn't already.
His lack of power has a lot to do with his free-swinging approach, something that will only get worse as he faces better pitching. His walk rate of 6.7 percent is way too low for a player with kind of speed (84 stolen bases in three seasons) and his 37:100 BB/K ratio from 2012 will only get further exposed at higher levels.
If everything goes right for Marisnick, he could be the type of centerpiece the Marlins needed to get in return in this deal, but the question marks in his game are just too significant to realistically project him as that type of impact player. It's significantly more likely that he's a flawed player who falls short in at least one aspect of his game—either that he outgrows center field and has to move to right, hits for average and has speed but no power, or the power develops but at the cost of average and more importantly, on-base percentage.
Unlike Marisnick, who has major question marks, Nicolino is probably more of a sure thing, despite being further away from the majors. As a lefty with a plus-change-up and a good idea of how to use it, there's little reason to believe that, barring injury, he won't have some kind of major league career. He doesn't have a terribly high ceiling but should be able to stick as a starter and could ironically be in the Buehrle mold. Even at his best, he won't be leading the Marlins rotation, but he could be a key role player on a successful team.
Hechavarria could be a starter on a first-division team, assuming there's plenty of offensive support surrounding him. He's not quite as drastically one-dimensional as Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias, but he's in that same mold as a defense-first shortstop. His defense is strong enough to justify regular playing time, even on good teams, but he'll never be a top-of-the-lineup hitter.
DeSclafani is a fringe prospect who projects as a reliever down the road.
So there you have it. In exchange for an ace, a mid-rotation starter, an all-star shortstop, a utility man and a back-up catcher, the Marlins got a flawed potential star who is more likely to be an accessory offensive piece, a mid-to-back rotation starter, a defense-only shortstop and a possible bullpen pitcher, to go along with a few holdover major league players.
With what the Marlins gave up in the trade, not receiving a truly impact player in return makes it feel like a loss. The best prospect, and closest thing to a guaranteed one (as though there is such a thing), in the Blue Jays system is catcher Travis d'Arnaud. It's hard to believe the Marlins gave up three significant players in Johnson, Reyes and Buehrle without demanding him in return.
Instead, they appear to have settled for quantity over quality, and that makes the trade feel like the Marlins came up a little short on the deal. I believe Marisnick, Hechavarria and Nicolino can become nice players, but none will lead a competitive Marlins team a few years from now. And the Marlins don't have too much left to trade to help the rebuilding process.
Jeff Moore is the creator of MLBProspectWatch.com, your one-stop site for all the information you need about minor league prospects. He can be reached via e-mail at mlbprospectwatch AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter at @MLBPW