Weaknesses and Quick Trade Fixes for Miami Marlins
After losing 100 games, many would think the Miami Marlins would have weaknesses throughout its roster.
Believe it or not, the Marlins don't have as many holes as Swiss cheese.
Jose Fernandez, the 21-year-old phenom who won the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year award, is the ace of the Marlins young starting rotation. Following Fernandez (12-6 record, 2.19 ERA) are Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner. Moreover, the Marlins have Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley, Jose Urena, Brian Flynn and Anthony DeSclafani as prospects who could receive a promotion in the near future or be used as trade chips.
In the bullpen, Steve Cishek saved 34 games and had a 2.33 ERA as the team's closer. Bridging the gap between the Marlins starting pitchers to Cishek are Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb and A.J. Ramos. According to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, the Marlins have expressed an interest in re-signing reliever Chad Qualls (5-2 record, 2.61 ERA), but Qualls is weighing his options.
Although the Marlins desperately need more offense, the corner outfield spots should be locked up, as Christian Yelich will take over left field full-time while Giancarlo Stanton should man right field if he is not traded. Center field will go to Marcell Ozuna, who had a slash line of .265/.303/.389 with three home runs and 32 RBI in 275 at-bats before undergoing surgery in July to repair a ligament tear and avulsion fracture in his left thumb, or Jake Marisnick.
The Marlins' weaknesses are relegated to all five infield positions. If the Marlins could shore up those glaring holes, they could make a run at a .500 season in 2014. If nothing else, fixing those areas should help with the rebuilding program.
Baseball president of operations Michael Hill recently told the Miami Herald he's willing to trade the franchise's young starting pitchers for young hitters of equal talent. Hill's preference would be to acquire a hitter with proven major-league experience but also whom the team can control contractually for three or more years before the onset of free agency hits.
For today's exercise, we will look at who the Marlins can target, in order of the team's biggest weakness based on the projected starting player's 2013 WAR (wins above replacement), and what kind of trade the Marlins can make to quickly fix the issue.
Ask any Marlins fan what player from the 2013 Marlins infield the team can build on, and many will probably answer shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
The issue, however, is Hechavarria was probably the worst everyday player in the majors last year.
Hechavarria had a hideous slash line of .227/.267/.298 with three home runs and 42 RBI in 578 plate appearances in 2013, and his WAR was -2.1, tied with the Chicago White Sox's Jeff Keppinger for worst in the majors. Now, some might say Hechavarria's value is in his defense, but his WAR defensively was a miniscule 0.4, which was tied with the Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond for 14th out of 20 qualifying shortstops.
The Angels are desperate for pitching, and according to cbssports.com's Jon Heyman, Aybar is one of the players for whom the Angels are receiving trade inquiries.
Aybar doesn't completely fit what the Marlins need because of his age (he will be 30 when the 2014 season begins) and salary ($25.5 million owed over the next three seasons), but he will be a clear upgrade over Hechavarria.
Aybar's slash line last year was .271/.301/.382 with six home runs and 54 RBI in 589 plate appearances, but that was his worst season since 2010. In 2011 and 2012, Aybar combined to post a .284/.323/.418 slash line with 18 home runs and 104 RBI. In other words, Aybar is not a black hole offensively.
Defensively, Aybar finished behind Hechavarria and Desmond in WAR, but Aybar did win a Gold Glove in 2011.
When the Cardinals and Angels completed the David Freese for Peter Bourjos four-player trade last week, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweeted that Aybar was discussed as part of a larger deal. At the end of the day, though, the Cardinals knew that even if they took on all of Aybar's salary, the Angels still wanted young premium starting pitching.
In step the Marlins.
With such a large inventory of starting pitching, the Marlins could tell the Angels they could choose any pitcher they want, as long as it isn't Fernandez or Eovaldi, two players the Marlins don't consider as trade options, and as long as the Angels eat some of Aybar's $8.5 million annual salary. The Angels have deep pockets, and the Marlins are frugal, so a deal could be made if the Angels are willing to pay anywhere from $3 million to $10.5 million of Aybar's contract.
Marlins fans have waited for years, but because of his balky knees, they have yet to see Logan Morrison reach his potential.
In his four-year career, Morrison has posted a .249/.337/.427 slash line with 42 home runs while playing left field and first base, two corner positions where offense should be a premium.
When owner Jeffrey Loria told Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson that he plans to acquire hitters, Dawson told Loria one of the three priorities is first base, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. The good news for the Marlins is there are a number of solid options, such as Mark Trumbo, Daniel Nava and Adam Lind, on the trade market.
With each player comes different situations.
Trumbo might best fit what the Marlins need because he's relatively young (28), in his first year of arbitration, and supplies an abundance of power. The All-Star has hit 95 home runs in his first three seasons, although he has a slash line of .250/.299/.469.
Frisaro said it might take one or more of Miami's starting pitchers, or maybe even closer Steve Cishek to land Trumbo. The big question is if and when the Angels ask for Eovaldi in a Trumbo deal, which team will blink first since the Marlins don't want to trade Eovaldi and the Angels don't want to trade Trumbo?
Nava might be the hardest to obtain of the three.
He's not as young as Trumbo, as he turns 31 before the 2014 season begins, but he won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season, which means he's still under team control for four more years. What makes Nava, who had a slash line of .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs and 66 RBI for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, difficult to acquire is his versatility.
For instance, let's say the Red Sox target Carlos Beltran to replace Jacoby Ellsbury. In that scenario, as outlined by WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, Shane Victorino would move to center field, while Beltran and Nava would man the corner outfield positions. If the Red Sox need a leadoff hitter, Nava has batted in every spot of the batting order except for clean-up.
Another scenario might be if the Red Sox enter a bidding war to re-sign first baseman Mike Napoli. Nava would then come in handy, as he played first base for the first time since junior college, totaling eighty-six and two-thirds innings in 2013.
What also makes a trade for Nava difficult is the Red Sox and the Marlins have a similar wish list this offseason. Both teams are looking for a catcher and first baseman to some degree, and although the Red Sox are also looking for an outfielder, the only player who might interest the Red Sox is Giancarlo Stanton, whom the Marlins refuse to trade. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo did tweet the Red Sox are looking for a right-handed set-up man. Perhaps the Marlins could trade Cishek or Webb as the centerpiece for a Nava deal.
Of the three, Lind might be the best hitter of them all.
Lind has a career .269/.322/.465 slash line and has smashed 118 home runs in the last five seasons. Unlike Trumbo and Nava, Lind's contract is more extravagant but not completely out of the Marlins budget. The Blue Jays picked up Lind's $7 million option for 2014, and Lind's contract has team options for 2015 ($7.5 million with $1 million buyout) and 2016 ($8 million with $500,000 buyout).
What makes Lind available, according to Cafardo, is some in the organization feel Lind doesn’t fit what the Blue Jays are trying to build in terms of attitude. According to SportsNet.ca's Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays are in the market for two starting pitchers (as well as a catcher, second baseman and possibly an outfielder since they inquired about the Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp), which the Marlins have in abundance. ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine tweeted that the Blue Jays are putting together a package of young players for the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija.
Deep down inside, the Marlins know Jeff Mathis isn't an everyday catcher. Although Mathis can handle a pitching staff, he has a career slash line of .195/.255/.310.
It's this very reason why the Marlins are looking for an offensively gifted catcher to complement the defensively skilled Mathis, according to Jackson, thus the Marlins interest in signing free agent Dioner Navarro. In 2013, Navarro had a slash line of .300/.365/.492 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI with the Chicago Cubs.
If Navarro signs elsewhere, there is a pair of options to which the Marlins could turn.
The quick fix: A couple of starting pitchers to the Angels for Chris Iannetta and the aforementioned Trumbo or Aybar, or to the Toronto Blue Jays for J.P. Arencibia and Lind.
In either scenario, the Marlins will be dealing from a position of strength as long as they are not trading Fernandez and Eovaldi, and they would kill two birds with one stone.
The Angels would be a better match since Iannetta is the better player. Iannetta is a career .234 hitter, but he draws plenty of walks, as his on-base percentage is .355, a staggering 121 points better than his batting average. Iannetta also has some pop, as he's hit nine or more home runs for six consecutive years.
The only issue is Iannetta's contract, which has two years left at $10.5 million.
Arencibia would be the backup plan if a deal involving Iannetta can't be consummated.
Consider Arencibia a more powerful but less defensively skilled Mathis. Arencibia has a career .212 batting average and is allergic to drawing a walk, as he's had just 72 in the last three seasons; however, Arencibia has hit 62 home runs during the same span and is more affordable, as he's entering arbitration for the first time this offseason.
The Blue Jays want to improve this position by either acquiring someone to complement Arencibia or replacing him altogether, Davidi reported.
According to the Toronto Sun's Bob Elliott, the Blue Jays are interested in the Angels' Hank Conger and Iannetta. If the Blue Jays nab either player, the Marlins could then turn around and get Arencibia from the Blue Jays.
It seems, however, that Frisaro prefers Iannetta over Arencibia, or at least he considers Iannetta the more realistic option.
This is the only position in the Marlins infield where the team has a couple of internal options.
Donovan Solano could keep the job as he provides a solid, albeit light-hitting bat (.249/.305/.316) and solid defense or they could hand the job to Derek Dietrich, who has more pop as he hit nine home runs, which was third on the team despite playing in just 57 games.
Neither player inspires much confidence, although Dietrich has a higher upside, which is why an upgrade is needed.
The quick fix: Acquire the Los Angeles Angels' Howie Kendrick for a starting pitcher not named Fernandez or Eovaldi; get Kendrick in a package with the aforementioned Angels (Aybar, Trumbo and Iannetta); or trade Mike Dunn or a starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals' Danny Espinosa.
We have spoken about the Angels need for starting pitching ad nauseum. Of the position players the Angels are willing to deal, though, Kendrick seems the most likely to be traded because he might have the most value, and the Angels are relatively deep at the position with Grant Green and Taylor Lindsey behind Kendrick, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Kendrick has never hit below .279, and he has a career slash line of .292/.329/.429 with 71 career home runs; however, the All-Star is signed for a combined $18.85 million for the next two seasons and has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 12 clubs in 2013, six in 2014 and four in 2015. It's unknown if the Marlins are on the list of teams to which Kendrick can block a trade.
A look at what it might take to acquire Kendrick is a trade the Angels nearly pulled off at last July's trade deadline. Rosenthal reported that the Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers nearly completed a deal involving Kendrick and one of the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects, Double-A right-hander Zach Lee.
If Kendrick isn't coming to Miami, then the Marlins could call the Washington Nationals about Espinosa's availability.
Espinosa hit 38 home runs in his first two major league seasons, but he was demoted to the minors last June because of hitting issues (.158/.193/.272 in 2013). MLB.com's Bill Ladson thinks Espinosa, who is arbitration eligible for the first time, is a possible trade chip.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, however, believes that if he trades Espinosa, he would be selling low, according to the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. Everyone has a price though.
Kilgore reported that the Nationals are looking for a left-handed reliever, such as Oliver Perez, Boone Logan, Manny Parra or J.P. Howell, as well as starting pitching. If it's starting pitching, Kilgore reported that the Nationals could replicate their Gio Gonzalez trade and deal for a starter with several seasons of team control, which in the Marlins' case could be Turner or Alvarez, if they can't acquire a big-time free agent given their win-now status.
Third base has been a black hole for the Marlins for years.
The only credible third baseman in the free agent market is Juan Uribe. Unless the Marlins want to pony up the big bucks for a a 34-year-old infielder who is seeking a three-year deal, Heyman tweeted, the Marlins need to scour the trade market for help. Unfortunately, there's not much there either.
The quick fix: Trade Ryan Webb to the Boston Red Sox for Will Middlebrooks.
With Freese traded to the Angels, the trade market for third base help got thinner.
If the Marlins can acquire Middlebrooks, he could be the team's third baseman of the future if Moran doesn't pan out. If Moran pans out, Middlebrooks can slide to first base.
Middlebrooks struggled in 2013, posting a .227/.271/.425 slash line with 17 home runs and 49 RBI before he was demoted to the minors. Middlebrooks returned in August to help the Red Sox win the World Series. The year before, Middlebrooks' rookie season, he hit 15 home runs with a slash line of .288/.325/.509.
Middlebrooks won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season and won't be a free agent until after the 2017 season. During his struggles, Middlebrooks was nearly traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Francisco Rodriguez, according to cbssports.com's Danny Knobler.
The Marlins could trade Cishek, Webb or Ramos for Middlebrooks. The preference is Webb since he's under team control for only two more seasons, compared to the four for Cishek and five for Ramos.