Trades the Miami Marlins Should Already Be Thinking About
Many of us knew and expected the Miami Marlins to be better in 2014.
But many of us couldn't have predicted the Marlins to be five games over .500, have the best home record in the majors, the second-best run differential in the National League and be on top of the NL East division at this moment.
That's the good news. The bad news is as well as the Marlins have played, there are flaws on this team that need to be fixed. After all, the Marlins are one of a handful of dark horses who are trying to pry their way into the playoffs. And if they stick around for another two months, upgrades are going to be needed.
Season-altering trades aren't made until close to the July 31 trade deadline, but the groundwork for such deals usually begin around this time. Players are evaluated, intel is gathered and hypothetical trades are kicked around.
While the Marlins began the season with the second-lowest payroll in baseball at $47 million, owner Jeffrey Loria probably wouldn't be opposed to adding payroll if this team makes a serious push for a playoff berth. When the Marlins have been in contention, he has loosened the purse strings.
Consider the following:
- With the Marlins in fourth place in the NL East and 4.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the lone wild-card spot, the Marlins traded future All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and two other players to the Texas Rangers for closer Ugueth Urbina.
- A month later, on August 31, 2003, the Marlins traded a pair of minor leaguers to the Baltimore Orioles for Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine, hours before the deadline for adding players to the roster and having them eligible for the postseason. The Marlins needed to make this deal after third baseman Mike Lowell broke his left hand and was considered to miss the rest of the regular season. At the time, the Marlins caught the Phillies and were tied for the wild-card spot. As you may remember, the Marlins won the Wild Card by four games and went on to win the 2003 World Series.
- In 2004, in an attempt to defend their title, the Marlins traded for outfielder Juan Encarnacion, catcher Paul Lo Duca and reliever Guillermo Mota from the Los Angeles Dodgers a day before the trade deadline. Less than 24 hours later, the Marlins acquired reliever Rudy Seanez and starting pitcher Ismael Valdes in two separate trades. In total, the Marlins gave up Hee-Seop Choi, Bill Murphy, Brad Penny, Abraham Nunez and Travis Chick. At the time of the trade with the Dodgers, the Marlins were 4.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and five games behind the Padres for the lone wild-card spot.
- Four years later, the Marlins were back in contention as they sat 1.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East and two back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the wild-card spot. In a minor but effective deal, the Marlins dealt minor leaguer Gaby Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes, who went 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA in 25 appearances.
- In 2009, the Marlins were just two games back of the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants for the wild-card spot. Trying to bolster their offense, the Marlins traded Aaron Thompson to the Washington Nationals for Nick Johnson.
Now that the Marlins look to be on their way back, they might not be afraid to pull off another trade to mask their flaws. It's our job to figure out what they need and what kind of trades they should start considering.
Without further ado, from most important to least important, here are four areas where the Marlins should already be thinking about making a trade.
For years, third base was considered a black hole in the Marlins organization.
But in 2014, the black hole seems to have shifted to second base.
On April 25, Furcal was removed from a rehab-assignment game with Double-A Jacksonville because of a right groin strain. He was injured going from first to third on a double. After the Marlins deemed Furcal healthy enough to continue his rehab, Furcal left last Friday's game when he re-aggravated the groin injury.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond told the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro that Furcal isn’t playing in any games yet, and, “as of right now there’s no timetable for him to come back.”
Thus far, the Marlins have filled Furcal's shoes with the combination of Jeff Baker, Derek Dietrich, Ed Lucas and Donovan Solano. Offensively, this quartet has been adequate.
Defensively, it's been a mess, as they've committed the second most errors as a group. The biggest culprit has been Dietrich, who has committed five of the six errors.
"I played great defense for this team last year and I'm confident really on the defensive side," Dietrich told the Miami Herald. "I know I'm helping the team offensively. I'm just looking every day to help this team win. Whether it's off the bench or playing everyday at second -- you know you want to play every day and have a chance. I think I'm doing that.
If Furcal doesn't return, or if he performs inadequately once he's healthy, one name the Marlins should keep an eye on is Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist.
The versatile 32-year-old is having another solid season, producing a slash line of .265/.361/.371 with three home runs and nine RBI. Besides having a reliable bat, Zobrist also plays stellar defense and can run the bases well. Since becoming a full-time player in 2009, Zobrist has recorded at least 11 steals and posted a positive defensive WAR (wins above replacement) every season.
Moreover, Zobrist has a team-friendly contract. When he signed a four-year, $18 million extension in 2010, the deal included a $7.5 million club option in 2015. If the club declines to pick up the option, then there's a $500,000 buyout.
Now, we're not saying Zobrist is on the trade market or the Rays have made him available. However, the Rays are in last place in an up-for-grabs American League East and they have suffered a rash of injuries (Alex Cobb and Matt Moore) to their pitching rotation.
Furthermore, it isn't like the Rays are teeming with prospects ready to make the jump to the majors—ESPN.com's Keith Law (subscription required) ranks the Rays 23rd out of 30 teams in his farm-system rankings—whereas seven of the Marlins' top-10 prospects, according to MLB.com, are pitchers.
What we are saying is if the Marlins still have playoff aspirations and the Rays look like they are out of it two months from now, it would behoove the Marlins to call the Rays and see if Zobrist is available and at what price.
5th Starting Pitcher
When Marlins starting pitchers Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Tom Koehler take the mound, they have combined for an 11-6 record and a 2.27 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and 168 strikeouts in 182 innings (28 starts).
But when the Marlins send Jacob Turner, Brad Hand or Kevin Slowey to toe the rubber, they have a combined 0-1 record and a 7.76 ERA with a 1.66 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 31.1 innings (seven starts).
The difference is night and day.
While a No. 5 starting pitcher won't matter in the playoffs—because teams usually go with their top three or four hurlers—depending on schedule and circumstances, the Marlins can't continue to trot out mediocre pitching once every five days during the regular season, no matter how well Fernandez, Eovaldi, Alvarez and Koehler pitch. Heck, at the rate that fabulous quartet is going, some can only wonder when regression to the mean will take place.
Hand and Slowey probably aren't the long-term solution anyways as starting pitchers. That means Turner needs to take the reins. In the past, the issue with Turner has been inconsistency. This season, an injury has knocked him off his game.
Turner sustained a right shoulder sprain and was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 9. According to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, the day before Turner was set to pitch against the Washington Nationals, he took batting practice in the cages with fellow pitchers. During one round, he felt discomfort in the back of his throwing shoulder after taking a swing. Turner made two rehab starts with advanced Single-A Jupiter.
But in his return to the big leagues, Turner gave up six earned runs on nine hits with one walk and three strikeouts in four innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He needs some innings," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia told MLB.com. "Right now, he's behind the eight ball [compared to] the other guys because they've had a few more starts than him, so they're back in the routine.
If Turner continues to struggle, then the Marlins have various ways to fill his spot.
First, they could try Hand or Slowey again. But if they want to make the playoffs, that might not be the best way to go.
Second, they could promote Andrew Heaney. The 22-year-old left-hander is considered to be the Marlins' top prospect and one of the top prospects in baseball. He currently has a 3-1 record with a 2.31 ERA and has 37 strikeouts in 39 innings in Double-A Jacksonville.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal lists Heaney as one of 13 prospects whom fans should and need to see in the majors by season's end. The problem with that is Heaney could be called up in June...or September.
If it's the latter, the Marlins could dangle their surplus of organizational starting pitching depth in exchange for a quality veteran.
Just looking at the landscape right now, here are two Chicago Cubs pitchers the Marlins should inquire about:
The Cubs ace would slot in very nicely between Fernandez and Eovaldi in the rotation. Samardzija is winless in seven starts, but he's off to a great start as his 1.62 ERA can attest. Samardzija won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season, and as ESPNChicago's Jesse Rogers reports, "There hasn't been any progress in contract discussions" between the pitcher and the Cubs.
If the Marlins trade for Samardzija, the rebuilding Cubs will probably want young quality pitching since five of their top six prospects are position players. Moreover, the Marlins will have to pay Samardzija next year in his last year of arbitration. This year, he'll earn $5.345 million.
The other effective Cubs starting pitcher (4-1, 2.43 ERA) would cost much less for the Marlins to obtain. At best, he would slot in between Eovaldi and Alvarez. At worst, he'll go into the bullpen if the Marlins somehow make the playoffs. Hammel signed a one-year, $6 million contract this past offseason.
The Marlins don't need a third baseman. But if they believe Casey McGehee can continue his torrid pace, then there's a house in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean we would like to sell them.
The 31-year-old veteran signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract to join the Marlins after spending last season in Japan. McGehee's current slash line is .308/.380/.391 with 23 RBI in 133 at-bats. Oh, and did we mention McGehee has yet to hit a home run?
The revelation with McGehee is his ability to hit with ducks on the pond.
With runners on base, McGehee's slash line is .426/.500/.541 in 61 at-bats. With runners in scoring position, McGehee's slash line is .441/.524/.500 with 20 of his 23 RBI in just 34 at-bats. And with runners in scoring position with two outs, McGehee's slash line is .474/.565/.526 with 11 RBI in 19 at-bats.
The numbers just get better as the situation gets harder. That said, this type of production combined with the lack of power is unsustainable.
In fact, McGehee's teammates playfully teased him recently for failing to hit a homer by placing a set of weights inside his locker, according to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald. That said, Redmond doesn't want McGehee to change his approach.
We’ve talked to him about it a little bit, don’t get caught up in the home runs, just keep driving in the runs. We talked about him hitting behind Stanton and there are going to be RBI situatoins. We just need those guys to get driven in. It doesn’t matter how. I don’t think anybody is asking him to hit home runs or be a power hitter. We just want him to drive those runs in and that’s what he's been able to do.
McGehee has done just a swell job of that the majority of the time, he's been tabbed as Giancarlo Stanton's protection in the lineup by batting cleanup in 22 of the team's 35 games. It also helped McGehee that he's had experience in such situations at one of his previous stops.
"I think my time in Milwaukee definitely helped me being in those situations, hitting behind Prince [Fielder] all those years," McGehee told Craig Davis of the Sun-Sentinel. "Taking the personal part of it and then understanding what's going on and not try to do much. Slow down and have a good at-bat is all you can really do right there."
The other issue is the lack of upgrades at third base who are or could potentially be available.
Among third basemen who will be free agents at the end of the season, none of the rentals represents a clear upgrade. And among third basemen who are among the top 40 in WAR, via ESPN.com, two play for contenders (Josh Donaldson and Juan Uribe), two others play for a team with playoff aspirations (Nolan Arenado and Todd Frazier) and Jose Bautista would have to make the switch back to the position, which he hasn't played full-time since 2008.
In other words, the market on the hot corner seems ice cold.
1 More Power Relief Pitcher
Marlins closer Steve Cishek has been the very definition of reliable, posting a 3-1 record with 1.80 ERA while recording a save in seven of his eight opportunities. In fact, when Cishek gave up two runs to blow the save in a 4-3 loss to the New York Mets on April 25, it snapped a string of 33 consecutive saves, and it was his first blown save since June 4, 2013.
"Honestly, I could care less about the streak," Cishek told MLB.com. "I just care about winning. I care nothing about individual statistics. All I want to do is win. That's the bottom line.
Outside of Cishek, there isn't much the Marlins can rely on.
Second-year reliever A.J. Ramos has been the most impressive of the group, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.20 ERA and four holds. And sure, Carter Capps, Dan Jennings and Hand all have ERAs under 4.00 as relievers, but Capps was just promoted two weeks ago in place of a struggling Arquimedes Caminero, Jennings was sent to the minors so the Marlins could activate Turner off the disabled list and Hand is a long reliever.
On the other hand, primary left-handed reliever Mike Dunn is 3-3 with a 5.02 ERA and veteran Carlos Marmol is 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA. In other words, two of the three relievers who are expected to log most of the high-leverage eighth-inning relief work have been mediocre.
While some individual numbers have been ugly, some results have been worse. Besides Cishek's blown save, Caminero was sent back to the minors after he surrendered a walk-off two-run home run to Evan Gattis in the 10th inning of a 4-2 Braves victory.
During a five-day stretch last month, Marmol gave up a grand slam to Jayson Werth to turn a one-run lead into a 10-7 loss, Jennings allowed a two-out, walk-off shot to Jimmy Rollins in the 10th inning and Dunn delivered a two-out home run to Chase Utley in the eighth inning that broke a 3-3 tie.
Now, the good news is despite the bullpen's shortcomings, the Marlins are 11th in the majors in bullpen ERA at 3.51. Moreover, the Marlins are just one acquisition and a couple of internal improvements away from fixing the bullpen.
We know Cishek and Ramos are the go-to guys at the moment. Since Marmol, Caminero and Capps are power pitchers, the Marlins just need one of them to step up to help Ramos. Internally, the key is Dunn. If Dunn rights the ship, then the Marlins have Marmol/Caminero/Capps, Dunn and Ramos to bridge the gap from the starting pitchers to Cishek. If Dunn continues to struggle, then the Marlins might have to recall the soft-tossing Jennings to fill in Dunn's role.
Regardless of how Dunn performs, the Marlins need one more power reliever, preferably one who is left-handed. That way, if Dunn struggles, the Marlins have another power lefty who can slide right in. If Dunn excels, the Marlins have the luxury of having two power left-handers coming out of the bullpen.
One left-handed reliever the Marlins should look at is the Boston Red Sox's Andrew Miller. The former Marlin is currently 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA, and in his last three years as a reliever, Miller has found his niche after failing as a starting pitcher, posting a 2.84 ERA while averaging 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings. According to Fangraphs, Miller's average fastball velocity this season is at 94 miles per hour and he mixes that up with an 85 mph slider.
Other left-handers the Marlins could inquire about are Phil Coke and Franklin Morales. However, Coke is currently struggling with the Detroit Tigers, while Morales has been working mostly as a starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies this season. Miller, Coke and Morales are free agents after the season.
If the Marlins want to go with a right-hander, they are usually abundant since most pitchers are righties. So we'll just let that muddled market clear up before targeting specific players.