Tendering Juan Carlos Oviedo is Nonsense for Marlins

As reported last night, the Miami Marlins traded away Burke Badenhop to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league catcher Jake Jeffries. Yesterday evening was the non-tender deadline, before which teams must decide whether to offer arbitration to eligible players or allow them to walk as free agents. The Marlins needed room in the 40-man roster for the additions of Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes and decided Badenhop and Clay Hensley, who was non-tendered as well, were expendable pieces who could be let go for roster space.

The Marlins tendered offers to five players, including incumbent closer and currently embattled reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez. The reason why this is noteworthy is that, among the five players that were offered deals in order to prevent them from entering free agency, only Oviedo's inclusion was completely illogical. Three of the other players (Emilio Bonifacio, Edward Mujica, and Anibal Sanchez) were locks to receive contracts from the Marlins, while Chris Volstad was likely to be tendered considering the Marlins' lack of interest in free agent starting pitcher options.

Only Oviedo, who is currently in the Dominican Republic attempting to sort out his visa issues in order to return to the United States under his real name, makes little sense for the Marlins. In fact, he makes so little sense that one has to question why the Marlins are working so hard to accommodate a player who right now appears to be nothing but a mediocre, unspectacular reliever.

The Numbers Versus the Money

Let us revisit Oviedo's numbers since coming to Miami in 2009.

Oviedo, Year IP K% BB% ERA FIP Avg WAR
2011 64 1/3 20.5 7.8 4.06 3.98 0.4
2010 65 26.3 7.8 3.46 2.86 1.3
2009 68 2/3 20.5 9.5 4.06 5.17 -0.1
2009-2011 198 22.4 8.3 3.86 4.02 0.5

Like Badenhop before him, Oviedo is not much of a pitcher, but he is still decent. He had one very good year in 2010, but that was in between two bad seasons. Included in those bad years was an atrocious 2009 season that had many Marlins fans wondering why he was still the closer. His 2010, was excellent, but the only major change between the 2010 and 2009 seasons was his increased use of the changeup in 2010, and the Marlins scrapped that plan in 2011 and saw Oviedo regress.

All in all, one would not think much of Oviedo had he pitched in the seventh or eighth innings. Unfortunately, the Marlins had him pitching in the ninth inning, so despite a performance that was not all that different from Badenhop's, Oviedo accrued 92 saves in three seasons as closer and subsequently earned a lot of money for himself. Despite his reputation as "the Leocoaster," he gained the vaunted "proven closer" reputation that has made multi-millionaires out of mediocre relievers for years. Those saves were set to earn him an estimated $6 million in arbitration this season.

That sort of money simply does not make sense for a reliever of Oviedo's caliber. If one looks at the top ten relievers in saves over the last three sesaons, Oviedo lands eighth on that list. He sits behind six legitimate closers, including the recently-signed Heath Bell, and one awful name in Francisco Cordero. Behind him in the saves department are such names as Carlos Marmol, Matt Capps, and Brian Fuentes, and Oviedo has much more in common with those guys than with the elite relievers above him.

These names are especially telling because teams with front offices that have been traditionally "behind the times" in terms of analysis have signed these guys to expensive deals. Marmol signed a three-year, $20 million extension that is set to pay him $7 million in his final arbitration year. Capps signed with the Minnesota Twins last year for $7 million in what was his final arbitration year, and he promptly had the worse season of his career. This prompted the Twins to re-sign him this season for $4 million. Brian Fuentes signed a two-year pact in 2009 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and he was promptly replaced at closer by Fernando Rodney in 2010.

Organizational Flaw

The similarity between those past deals and the one that Oviedo will likely receive is concerning enough to show a general backwards trend that the Marlins front office had not displayed until last season. In the past, the Marlins have skimped on relief pitching, presumably on the knowledge that with little payroll flexibility, the team would not have the room to afford minor bullpen upgrades. But over the last two seasons, the team has made a series of moves which have built the appearance of a team with a penchant towards overvaluing relievers.

- The Marlins traded former prospect Cameron Maybin for a pair of relievers in Mujica and Ryan Webb, one of whom was already entering his first arbitration season.

- The Marlins acquired Mike Dunn as the "young prospect" aspect of the Dan Uggla trade.

- The Marlins inexplicably retained Oviedo before the trade deadline despite his looming arbitration payday in 2012 and his struggles in 2011.

- The Marlins committed $27 million over three years with a fourth option year to snag Bell.

Now, there may yet be an argument that supposedly elite relievers like Bell pay off more than common sabermetric wisdom states; after all, the Marlins are not the only team "overvaluing" such players, and perhaps MLB teams have more information on the value of closers than we do. And perhaps the return the Marlins received for Maybin was all they could muster given his struggles, though after Maybin's successful 2011, it appears the team simply undervalued his production since 2008.

However, there is simply no argument for the Oviedo blunder, even without the retrospective knowledge of his legal problems. There should be no reason that the Marlins are interested in retaining Oviedo for 2012. As a solid but unspectacular reliever, he should not be earning anywhere close to what he would have earned as a "closer." And when the Marlins signed Bell, it should have ended any reason for the Marlins to require Oviedo's "proven closer" credentials. Yet the Marlins tendered an offer to him last night, assuring that he would either stay with the team in 2012 or be traded.

Trade Value All But Gone

The problem with this idea is that the Marlins should know that Oviedo has no trade value as of right now. No team would be interested in acquiring him until his visa issue clears up. Presumably the Marlins would have some time to find a trade partner, but at some point they will have to either offer him a contract or go to arbitration hearings with him, and the team would likely have to make a deal before then in order to prevent his salary from becoming a detriment in a deal. Either way, the race is on for the Fish to find a trade partner, and Oviedo's legal problems leave the team a step behind to begin.

A deal could still happen, as there are teams that are willing to overpay for pitchers with saves under their belt. But why would the Marlins risk that with Oviedo, whose legal issues could delay him having any trade value at all? The only other reasoning is that the Marlins are not in a hurry to deal Oviedo and would not mind paying him anywhere between $4 and $6 million to be an eighth inning reliever. If that is the case, it represents a clear sign that the organization has failed to properly evaluate relief pitching. It is one thing overpay for a good closer, as the closer can still be good. It is another thing to overpay for a mediocre reliever who will not be closing and thus will have less value from the leverage he will be facing. If the Marlins are tagged with the bill for Oviedo in 2012, it shows that the team's front office is merely using saves as a measure of quality for relievers and thus is simply clueless when it comes to valuing relief pitching.

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