The Marlins, the Red Sox, and goodwill

When the Marlins crossed the $100 million payroll barrier with their 2011-2012 offseason signings of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle, it appeared their new stadium had ushered in a new era of baseball in Miami. That era was short-lived.

Since the 2012 season eded, Miami has unloaded all three new players as well as incumbent stars Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. Owner Jeffrey Loria has taken all of the heat because of his history with the Marlins and Expos and because of his extortion of the city for a publicly-funded new ballpark that now seems to have been built on bad faith. I believe the criticism is deserved, but I cannot help but be reminded of a very different reaction to a similar recent salary dump.

The Red Sox and Marlins have been linked over the last decade by a short series of events that likely would have resulted in dramatic differences in the fortunes of each franchise. It was Miami’s initial—and justifiable—reluctance to publicly finance a new stadium that chased current Red Sox owner John Henry out of town, and it was Henry’s previous ownership of the Marlins that socially financed his winning bid for the Red Sox when the finances themselves would not have otherwise been enough.

If the hearsay is to be believed, that was how thin the line was between our world with the Henry-owned Red Sox and the Loria-owned Marlins and the world that could have been with the McCourt-owned Red Sox and the Henry-owned Marlins, a twist of fate that neither franchise is keen to be reminded of.

Since that ownership merry-go-round stopped spinnings, each owner has won a World Series (or two) with his new team and failed spectacularly the last few seasons, but where the perception of Henry is that his success robbed him of his discipline to build the Red Sox patiently from within the organization, the perception of Loria is that he cashed in on the goodwill that came from his championship by selling off his players. I think goodwill drives both responses, and not only because the Red Sox have more recent success.

Henry’s failures with the Red Sox are ones of execution, not of effort. In spending $450 million on Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey, Henry falls somewhere between unlucky and misguided, but it is obvious that he was trying to win. Ironically, that effort should have resulted in more extensive and long-lasting damages to the Red Sox’s title hopes that those the Marlins faced.

Here is a breakdown of the players the Red Sox traded to the Dodgers with their remaining contract values and WAR estimates by season:

Adrian Gonzalez Carl Crawford Josh Beckett Nick Punto
Year Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR
2013 $21.9 4.5 $20.9 2.5 $17.0 2.5 $1.5 1.0
2014 $21.9 4.0 $21.1 2.0 $17.0 2.0    
2015 $21.9 3.5 $21.4 1.5        
2016 $21.9 3.0 $21.6 1.0        
2017 $21.9 2.5 $21.9 0.5        
2018 $21.9 2.0          

With a back-of-the-envelope price-per-WAR schedule, the Red Sox looked to be locked into two contracts with poor value propositions in the short-term. In the long-term, it only got worse as both Gonzalez and Crawford were set to make elite money well into their expected declines. If we assume the price per win in free agency will be $5.25 million in 2013 and will see five percent inflation each year, then even optimistic WAR estimates show the collection of traded players is worth less than what the same money could buy at free agent prices.

Here are the combined salaries and WAR estimates for Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett, and Punto:

Year Price Est. WAR $/Win Value
2013 $61.2 10.5 $5.25 -$6.1
2014 $60.0 8.0 $5.51 -$15.9
2015 $43.2 5.0 $5.79 -$14.3
2016 $43.5 4.0 $6.08 -$19.2
2017 $43.7 3.0 $6.38 -$24.6
2018 $21.9 2.0 $6.70 -$8.5
$273.4 32.5   -$88.4

In contrast, the Marlins traded away eight players that collectively project to have substantial short-term value relative to free agent prices:

Hanley Ramirez Omar Infante Josh Johnson Jose Reyes
Year Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR
2013 $15.5 3.0 $4.0 3.0 $13.8 4.0 $10.0 4.5
2014 $16.0 3.0         $16.0 4.0
2015             $22.0 3.5
2016             $22.0 3.0
2017             $22.0 2.5

Mark Buehrle Heath Bell Emilio Bonifacio John Buck
Year Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR Price Est. WAR
2013 $12.0 3.0 $10.0 0.5 $4.2 3.0 $6.5 1.5
2014 $19.0 2.5 $10.0 0.0 $7.9 3.0    
2015 $20.0 2.0 $1.0 0.0        

The $1 million salary for Bell in 2015 assumes a buyout, and the $4.2 and $7.9 million salaries for Bonifacio in 2013 and 2014 assume 89 percent raises in arbitration each season, which was the average increase last offseason according to Sports Illustrated.

Here are the combined salaries and WAR estimates for Ramirez, Infante, Johnson, Reyes, Buehrle, Bell, Bonifacio, and Buck:

Year Price Est. WAR $/Win Value
2013 $75.9 22.5 $5.25 $42.2
2014 $68.9 12.5 $5.51 $0.0
2015 $43.0 5.5 $5.79 -$11.2
2016 $22.0 3.0 $6.08 -$3.8
2017 $22.0 2.5 $6.38 -$6.0
$231.8 46.0   $21.3

One reason for the major disparity between their surplus of value in 2013 and their deficit from 2015-2017 is the back-loaded contracts Reyes and Buehrle signed. They will see a combined $20 million raise from 2013 to 2015. A pessimist would view those contracts as evidence of an intention to sell off the players from the start, but I wonder what would have happened to the Marlins team if Miami had refused to pay for a new stadium and Loria had sold the team as Henry had before him.

The Cardinals needed just 88 wins to make the expanded playoffs a year ago, but the Marlins finished 19 games behind St. Louis with a record of 69-93. Of course, that record is not an indication of what the Marlins could have accomplished next season had they kept their team intact.

However, my projections show the players lost will cost the Marlins an estimated 22.5 WAR in 2013, which is about half of what a team needs from its entire roster to compete for a playoff spot. With a remaining roster that accounted for less than 10 WAR in 2012, Miami would need a bunch of its players to have career years, or they would need to spend substantially more money than their already-inflated 2012 budget.

I do not want to dismiss the value of a middle-of-the-road team with some star power because, for most fans, it would have been a much better on-field product than the team of prospects and fill-ins the Marlins will start in 2013. That said, if Miami were to exhaust the remaining value of the contracts of the players they traded away on teams with little chances of a postseason berth, then the fire sale that netted them financial flexibility and prospects was a better choice for the franchise’s title hopes in the long run.

This is not a defense of Loria. He has a body of work that has earned the ire he has received of late. This is simply speculation that, even if Loria had sold the team to an owner a little less interested in the bottom line, these trades easily could have played out the same way.

The Marlins have an unfortunate tradition of selling off their players, and the last few months have fanned those flames. However, the Marlins are also the franchise that has best demonstrated the potential for success of a team built primarily from the farm. It will be more difficult for Miami than for Boston because of their respective markets, but both teams have reintroduced hope with their recent trades.

References & Resources
Salary information from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
All other statistics from FanGraphs.
HTML tables produced by The Tableizer.

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Comments

  1. Paul G. said...

    Good analysis.  Of course, the problem is bigger than the salary dump.  Once a team sufficiently alienates its fanbase it can be very difficult to recover.  It is hard to love a team when the team seems to hate you.

  2. Sparkles Peterson said...

    It goes against my inclinations to say this, but whether or not the move makes economic sense with regards to expected $/win valuations is completely beside the point here.  The Marlins make the majority of their income through revenue sharing.  Revenue sharing is sold to successful franchises because it’s for the good of the league to maintain competitive balance and to nurture baseball markets.  Ask a Marlins fan how nurtured he feels this offseason.

  3. John Northey said...

    Works nicely for the Jays… $175.3 million over 5 years, 36.5 WAR for a net return of $27.08 million over that stretch, $37.6 in year one then $9.44 year 2 and losses in years 3/4/5 totaling about $20 mil.  Not bad in those last 3 (not good, but workable) while very nice bonus bucks in year one.

  4. rubesandbabes said...

    Love the basic question of this article. But the haul the Marlins got back is not discussed. :-(

    The WAR predictions for the Boston guys that got traded are laughingly pessimistic. It’s simply wrong to Say Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett won’t have any more top seasons. The future will prove this out. Same with Hanley.

    The player stigma against signing with the Marlins will last a long time…

  5. richard preciose said...

    Nice breakdown of both team salary dumps. I believe both teams would not have gotten a good return on their investments. Only thing missing was the breakdown of the players received in return, which I believe favors boston.

  6. hopbitters said...

    “The player stigma against signing with the Marlins will last a long time…”

    That’s an interesting point. I think there’s a perception that players just follow the money around, but I suspect most of them have considerations other than dollar signs.

  7. wsk said...

    paying state income on only 75 days a year (3 away games at tampa & three in texas) is a pretty good push for an agent.
    and the marlins should have a pretty good base of talent over the next several years.
    remember, they moved names & a lot of obligation, but not a boatload of ability.

  8. wsk said...

    okay, punto is the prize here.
    the jays are taking a run at things now, but who in the devil thinks that buehrle & johnson are going generate 12+ wins over the toronto 4 & 5 starters last year?
    the blue jays get to buy up more expensive used-to-bes after the johnson contract is over, and they move buehrle, (and who the hell is heath bell & why is he paid lotsa money?)
    marlins made out wonderfully.
    who ever ran the projections on jose reyes playing in the majors in 2016?
    get a firm grip on things. he’ll take the money, but contributing?
    wsk

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