The Miami Marlins have undergone an incredible amount of changes in just the last few years, now culminating in the trade of four all-star level hitters in just this current off-season, with likely more selling-off to come. Before we make a decision on how we feel about the direction of the organization, let’s take a quick look at the radical changes already undertaken.
First, Marlins Baseball had to grapple with perennially dismal attendance. It was addressed in a major way when they re-branded themselves the Miami Marlins (formerly Florida) and moved into a new stadium complete with retractable roof to protect from the constant threat of rain delays. Unfortunately, the investment hasn’t paid off, as attendance has continued to lag. The Marlins ranked last in NL attendance each year for the last four consecutive years. Yet, prior ownership kept handing out contracts, including the $300 million behemoth to Giancarlo. Lo and behold, the debt piled up and became new ownership’s problem.
Following the tragic death of sensational pitching talent Jose Fernandez, it became difficult for the Marlins to be anything more than mediocre, with one of the weakest pitching staffs in baseball. It didn’t help matters that the farm had little to very marginal help on the way. Early first round draft picks spent on Tyler Kolek and Josh Naylor are looking like almost inevitable bust picks at this point (Naylor is no longer Marlins property anyways, as he was jettisoned along with promising young arm Chris Paddack to net a half season of Andrew Cashner’s damaged goods).
So the new ownership group, headlined by their new CEO Derek Jeter, has inherited a bleak situation. No pitching, no farm, and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. The Marlins have succeeded in getting significant salary off of the books, a significant and necessary primary step. Luckily, the Marlins had enough prized offensive assets on the roster to bring back some young, cheap talent, which is the lifeblood of any good rebuild. So how did they do?
Dee Gordon to the Mariners
The Marlins sent Dee Gordon to the Mariners, along with the 3 years, $34 million remaining on his contract. What is Dee Gordon? A roughly 30 year old speed demon, who will play an above average second base (one can guess his speed should project him to play at least an average CF, where Seattle will deploy him). Moderately successful at getting on base, and with zero power, he has been worth about 3 WAR in his prime. Because of a low walk rate, he is dependent on being able to continue high rates of hard contact just to keep the OBP respectable. There is enough volatility in that ability, that one can view him as having a peak of 3 WAR, but also a real possibility of playing to significantly worse. While Dee Gordon carries great name recognition with fantasy baseball owners for his SB impact, his actual worth, including contract, on the open market seems modest. Considering Austin Jackson just got 2 years, $6 million after putting up a very comparable season, Dee Gordon’s contract could be debated as to whether it’s slightly underwater.
So for the Marlins to land Nick Neidert, a strike-throwing high floor #4 type starter, with potential to be more, and a teenage, toolsy lottery ticket, Christopher Torres, while dumping the whole contract, the Marlins did quite well here.
Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees
While some MLB followers voiced some concern that the Marlins did not do too well here, we have too evaluate it in stages, as the process unfolded. The Marlins did themselves no services by not adequately communicating with Stanton. Having it publicly released that they had worked out deals with the Giants and Cardinals, only to have Stanton nix them and dictate almost exactly where he was going, obliterated almost all of their leverage. Until that point in time, when Stanton released his 4 team trade list (baseball’s four super-teams), the Marlins performance would have to be rated as D for disaster.
But the Yankees came in and agreed to take on the entire contract if Giancarlo opts out in two years, and the entire contract minus $45 million if he doesn’t. Given everything the Marlins were facing as we laid out earlier in this article, this alone was huge. While Giancarlo busted out last year with roughly a 7-8 WAR season, that contract was no joke, and it certainly offered little value to be extracted. His option to buy out in two years if he is still a stud, leaves his team carrying an insane amount of risk.
So the way I see it, the Yankees bailed out the Marlins, by not only taking the contract, but throwing in an exciting arm, Jorge Guzman, who is garnering mention on Top 100 prospect lists. With the ability to sit in the high 90s with his fastball, spin an above average breaking pitch, and show respectable command, you are looking at a high ceiling pitching prospect who might just be about to break out big-time in full season ball next year. My final take on the Giancarlo trade: Grade B
Marcel Ozuna to the Cardinals
With Ozuna also enjoying an absolute 4.5-5 WAR breakout last year, and only 2 years left of team control, the time was absolutely right to move Ozuna. There would have been no shortage of suitors for the tooled up outfielder, but the Cardinals seemed to have dangled enough assets to get the deal done mere days after their pursuit of Stanton fell flat. With Ozuna’s best assets being his toolsy profile, his breakout ability to combine his impressive power with a high contact rate, and two years of affordable control, it’s hard not to see Ozuna as potentially having close to the amount of value of Christian Yellich. Yellich had the amazing contact ( 5 years of control for what $35 million? INSANE) and was a steady 3-4 WAR player with potential for more. But one could argue that Yellich might easily never have the full season Ozuna just had. So was the haul for Ozuna likewise commensurate with the Yellich haul?
For reference, if we assume the Marlins received fair to good value for Yellich (which I think they did), then let’s see if this feels right:
Yellich = Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison (more on him later), Isan Diaz, and Jordan Yamamoto
Ozuna = Sandy Alcantra, Zac Gallen, and Magneuris Sierra
Because of how much trouble Alcantra, the clear headliner of the package, had throwing strikes and getting swings and misses at the rate you would expect from a pitcher with his stuff, there were rumors that the Cardinals were already moving him to the bullpen full-time in 2018. Granted, that did seem premature for a 22 year old pitcher who sits mid-high 90’s with the fastball and flashes a wicked breaker. But there is serious risk that Ozuna netted the Marlins a high leverage reliever, a solid back end starter in Gallen (who’s combination of above average command and passable stuff is intriguing), and a second division regular CF/ 4th OF. While it may not be a return you can dream on, it actually isn’t terrible when you list it out. If Alcantra finds average command and/or a change up, it’s a huge win. But the floor in this deal is not nothing. Final grade: C+
Christian Yellich to the Brewers
As I said, I like’d the haul for Yellich. Quite a bit actually. While received mostly favorably by the MLB media pundits, there seems to be a lack of mention of how valuable adding Monte Harrison to the Marlins system is. Lewis Brinson is plenty exciting in his own right, and is garnering national prospect attention. But lets’s just call to attention that Monte Harrison might very well be every bit the prospect. First round pedigree? Check. Tooled up to the max? Check. And finally, after dealing with injuries in his first few professional years, showed an ability to adjust to professional pitching, show improved approach, get on base, and allow the tools to play? Check. Make that Lewis Brinson a double, please.
Throw in Isan Diaz, a high risk second base bat who shows tantalizing ability to show power and patience that you rarely see from middle infielders, and you have about as high an upside play as any deal can hope for. All three bats carry risk with ability to let their power play against pro pitching. But with the ability to play premium positions well, there is some inherent floor here as well. Final Grade: B+
It is fairly apparent that the Marlins, at least, did a nice job delineating a clear plan in the type of young talent they are looking to acquire. Power arms like Guzman and Alcantra. Toolsy, up the middle hitters like Brinson, Harrison, Sierra and Diaz. Substantial upside, but substantial risk. It’s the right play for a team that is going to be the favorite to land the #1 overall pick in the amateur draft. With a 4+ WAR catcher in Realmuto, and a few other potentially useful pieces that can play themselves into being marketable during the 2018 season, it should be interesting to see if Marlins President of Baseball Operations, Mike Hill and CEO, Derek Jeter stick to the motif they appear to have laid out.