In what appears to be a strategy of business 101, the Marlins picked up a reliever off of the scrap heap, inflated his value, and flipped him for a very promising return.
This is how you run a sports franchise. This is why in the 16 seasons the Marlins have been in existence, they have managed to win two Major League Baseball World Series championships, all the while having a penny-pinching low payroll.
The club hasn't wasted its time building a brand new ballpark or impressing fans. Instead, the club has put together a cast of players to win a championship, then sold those players off for new players that could be used for the next championship run.
The latest deal appears in the form of a closer who was acquired in an under-the-radar-type of deal. The Florida Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for an explosively talented relief prospect in Jose Ceda. Without even getting into the analysis, the Marlins won this deal hands down
But let's look a little further, to see exactly how foolish the Cubs were in this move.
Kevin Gregg is nothing special. When news broke that the Marlins were looking to unload Gregg, as a fan of the Indians, a team in need of relief hope, I simply shuddered at the idea of giving away anything of value for the still-powerful 30-year-old reliever.
Gregg owns a nice, but unspectacular strikeout rate. Couple that with a poor walk rate, and you have the makings of an okay reliever.
Gregg's move from a ballpark that greatly deflates home runs (as noted by Gregg's home run per fly ball rate of 5.15 percent as a Florida Marlin) to a ballpark that inflates them, will give him a considerable step back in value.
It is a positive that Gregg has improved his fly ball statistics, but we're still talking about a guy who was extremely fortunate to be playing in Dolphin Stadium.
We are also talking about a reliever that is coming off of an injury and is entering the back end of his career.
Jim Hendry and the Chicago Cubs must have decided that it was wise to acquire a cheap plan-B closer, then go into the season with Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija, and company—not a terrible idea, however a poorly executed one.
After coming off of a season in which Gregg made $2.5 million in his second season as a closer, there is no reason to believe that Gregg's arbitration figure will not head north of $4 million and stick to at least that number for 2009.
As a "reliable" closer, that is a fair price tag. However, there is little reason to believe that he will be closing in 2009 and there is even less of a change that he will be doing so in 2010.
Wouldn't it then have been equally as efficient to bring aboard a pitcher like Kyle Farnsworth? Farnsworth has some experience as a closer and wouldn't cost a top pitching prospect—arguably baseball's best relief prospect. If the Cubs wanted to, they could have upped the ante slightly and gone hard after Brandon Lyon.
Both angles would have brought aboard a reliever with similar talents, as well as landing one with closing experience if Marmol didn't work out. The dollar and year commitments might have been slightly higher, but not by enough to dissuade one from making such moves.
We aren't talking about some run of the mill prospect. We aren't talking about a failed starter who happened to catch on as a reliever. We're talking about a legitimate relief prospect. If one were to make odds about what current minor league player would become a closer, and a great one at that, Jose Ceda would be at the top of the list.
The soon to be 22-year-old right-handed fireball reliever has been absolutely dominant in the minors. Three years as a starter (to get in work) and the reliever has come a long way in building Ceda's stock, to the point where he was considered as the likely closer-of-the-future in a Chicago organization that consists of Carlos Marmol.
According to MLB.com,
He throws plenty hard, with a fastball that sits comfortably in the upper 90s and has hit triple digits in the past. His slider has sharpened considerably since he began working in relief in 2007.
The only real blip on Ceda's radar came in '07, when he missed some time with a sore shoulder. When he returned, he finished off the season with 23-and-one-third consecutive hitless innings.
Really, 23-and-one-third consecutive HITLESS innings?! If that doesn't sell you, I'm not sure what will. Although, I'll keep trying.
Entering the 2008 season, here are a list of highlights from around the web:
- Baseball America rated Ceda's fastball as the best in the Cubs system.
- John Sickels rated Ceda as a B- prospect, one of the best relievers in the game.
- Kevin Goldstein rated Ceda as a three-star prospect, stating, "fastballs that sit in the 94-97 mph range, and he has hit triple-digits on occasion. His slider is also a plus offering that features heavy two-plane break."
Goldstein even increased his praise of Ceda after the 2008 season, bumping him up to a four-star prospect. Further, Goldstein asserts that there is little doubt Ceda will be pitching late in games sooner rather than later. He cites members of the Cubs organization who believe Ceda is very close to being ready for Major League action right now.
This is a substantial gain from where Ceda was to start the 2007 season, when Sickels suggested Ceda was a long ways away.
While nobody will suggest that the Cubs shot themselves in the foot here, there is very little reason to believe they improved their club from an angle they couldn't have attacked via free agency.
Ceda's value, while an understandable luxury for a club with Marmol, Samardjiza, and Donald Veal, has got to be substantially higher than what the Cubs received for him.
That is, as I mentioned, would the Cubs be worse off with Farnsworth or Lyon for the next two or three years instead of Gregg? If so, by how much? I think it is reasonable to suggest that Ceda would more than make up for any possible deviation noted there.