When the Miami Marlins first made a series of midseason trades, beginning with the Anibal Sanchez trade that netted the team Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly among others and continuing with the Hanley Ramirez trade that brought in Nathan Eovaldi, the thought process was that the Marlins were punting the rest of 2012 and re-focusing their efforts, and more importantly their money, in trying to compete in 2013. The team was decimated by injuries following those trades, so the club looked a lot worse than it probably was for the remainder of that season. With a smart signing, you had to figure the Marlins would at least be a passable 75-win team or so, and with some wise trades looking towards the future, the team could even keep some of the players from 2012 like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and still pick up future pieces for a true contending team in 2014 or 2015.
But after the mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, it seemed clear that the Marlins scrapped any hopes of that type of long-term plan and decided to reset the roster entirely. One 69-win season can influence an owner like Jeffrey Loria very strongly, it seems. But as we noted at the end of this season in our season review, the Marlins really under-performed their projections, and one figures that, with those kind of struggles, the team would at least be expected to rebound a decent amount just from regression.
Unfortunately, in retrospect the team's moves make it seem as though the club had already given up on the 2012 core by the trade deadline, as the team had begun shopping everyone but Giancarlo Stanton in the offseason and eventually traded the entire core away. That means that there is a very good chance that Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins front office gave up on the team they thought was a contender in just three months. Should this team have been given more time?
Reviewing the Trades
The Marlins traded their core in part because they figured that the group could not perform up to snuff. But you have to figure that the team liked some of the players that were involved in these trades and were not fans of others. The Marlins sent away numerous players, but some had extenuating circumstances.
Anibal Sanchez: The Marlins only had half a season left of Sanchez before he was going to become a free agent, so with a losing season on the way, it seemed like a guarantee that he would be traded.
Hanley Ramirez: Ramirez and the Marlins had a shaky relationship as it stood, and with his struggles continuing from 2011, it was not surprising to see the team think he was not a three-win player going forward. That trade was justifiable if the club was planning on using at least part of Ramirez's freed salary to reinvest into wins for the team.
Josh Johnson: Johnson was dealt with only one season remaining, and his 2012 year was questionable in terms of his level of performance. With the team not going anywhere in 2013 and Johnson unlikely to receive an extension, a trade seemed like the wisest move.
Heath Bell: Bell had such a terrible season that he was bound to leave for the first team that would pay half of his salary.
John Buck: The reason for Bell was the same for Buck.
The five above players, along with the relievers in Randy Choate and Edward Mujica, had legitimate reasons to be dealt. Each guy was either on his way out soon for a team that was not going to compete or was being paid too much money. The Marlins could have turned these six players into assets that could have helped the team starting in 2013, and the club indeed did do that with at least the Ramirez deal.
However, the other players had legitimate reasons to stay with the Marlins in 2013. Omar Infante was being paid a pittance and was performing well. Jose Reyes fell short of expectations for his first season, but his performance throughout all of the year but April indicated that he was not far away from matching his expected play. Buehrle had a similar situation as Reyes. There is an argument that the Marlins traded and gave up on Gaby Sanchez too early.
Imagine if the Marlins traded Johnson, Sanchez, and Ramirez along with the other easy sells for a package essentially akin to Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Rob Brantly. Such a set of moves is not difficult to imagine and would not have significantly affected the Marlins' core for 2013, as Sanchez was already on his way out and Ramirez seemed to have worn out his welcome. Given that, in the most recent SB Nation Winter Meetings simulation, I was able to trade Johnson for two well-regarded prospects, it seems likely that a Sanchez / Johnson / Ramirez combo could net that sort of return.
A return like Turner, Eovaldi, and Brantly would give the Marlins perhaps 5.5 wins in 2013. The players traded away would be worth closer to 10.5 wins, but they would also be worth $48 million more, and that is if you do not count Bell's salary in the mix. With one signing at around $10 million to $15 million, the Marlins could have picked up an Angel Pagan to make up 3.5 of those wins while still shaving close to $23 million off of the payroll in 2013. The club could even go one further and add another $10 million per year average player and essentially make up all of the difference between the two packages.
Such a trade-off would have kept the Marlins even with their likely 2012 regressed counterparts while saving money and building towards a future team. The organization would have also kept a number of other players like Omar Infante, Emilio Bonifacio, and Gaby Sanchez to fill holes that the team would have otherwise left open.
Would a roster with Bonifacio at third base instead of Ramirez and a free agent center fielder and Rob Brantly at catcher, with the rest of the 2012 starting lineup intact, been a competitive group in 2013? One has to figure they would at least be even with the 2012 core, and that 2012 core could not be too much worse than a mid-70's win team. Such a starting lineup would have cost the Marlins just $33 million in payroll in 2013.
A Lack of Patience
The core of the 2012 team itself would have done a similar job in 2013 at a slightly higher payroll. But even that should not have scared the Marlins off that quickly. With the influx of some high-level prospects coming in 2014, the Marlins would have had cavalry assist this team and allow them to recuperate from the losses of players like Johnson and Nolasco in future seasons. But yes, a set of strategic trades would have likely made more sense for the Fish at the time, given the colossal struggle of the team in 2012.
It seemed the Marlins were doing that when they did make their deals, but the front office and ownership lost their patience and once again failed to see a middle ground. I think the Marlins were right to make those midseason trades, but I think a compromise between keeping the entirety of the 2012 core that struggled and selling them all off should have been made. There were parts that could have stayed on the roster and done well and there were other players who should have been traded.
But you get the feeling that Loria and company only saw that the Marlins won fewer than 70 games with a $100 million-plus payroll and decided that paying money was a mistake. And that is why the Marlins may continue to struggle as the years progress, whether the team's trades work out or not. The Marlins lack patience and long-term planning, so when disaster strikes, the organization panics. A reasoned plan could have kept the best of both worlds, of 2012 and of the future, on the Marlins. But the club saw failure and resorted to its old ways once again.