The Miami Marlins have done a lot of wheeling and dealing in this offseason heading into 2013, and much of it has been met with negative results. The Marlins have dealt numerous players whom the team previously noted were "cornerstone" pieces of the new-look Marlins organization, most notably Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. The club has also dealt players who once were the faces of the franchise, such as Hanley Ramirez during the 2012 season and Josh Johnson afterwards.
The only face remaining from the long-gone 2006 era of the team is Ricky Nolasco, who is currently slated to open the 2013 season as the Marlins' "ace." Nolasco is the only player left on this team who went through that surprising 2006 season, and he is the only player to have arrived in a Marlins uniform before Giancarlo Stanton donned a Fish jersey. For the Fish, he appears to be the last vestige of a bygone era, the final tie to the now-distant past of this organization.
But there is a question as to why this is even the case. Nolasco seems to have all but requested a trade from the Marlins. He is owed $11.5 million in 2013, which is the final season of his three-year extension. The Marlins clearly have no interest in signing Nolasco to a long-term deal following this season. Despite serious issues with his play, some teams would likely have some interest in Nolasco, otherwise the Marlins would not have issued signals that they were not interested in trading him.
With all of that going against the Marlins keeping Nolasco for 2013, why are they so insistent on not trading him?
2013 Is Lost
The Marlins can pretend that their moves of this offseason have improved the team for the 2013 season, but it is clear to just about every fan that the team has punted 2013. Removing a number of positive contributors like Reyes, Buehrle, and Johnson from the team is bound to hit the Fish in the wins column, and replacing them with young players like Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hechavarria is not going to help matters. There is essentially zero chance that the Marlins improve on their 2012 campaign outside of simple regression to the mean, and there is a very good chance the team is facing down a 100-loss season this year.
With the odds firmly against the Marlins, why is Nolasco wasting a season with a losing team? The Marlins are not going anywhere in 2013, so the team has no incentive to hold onto Nolasco's final year worth of wins. Those 1.5 wins for the Fish are meaningless when it yields the difference between a 64- and 65-win ball club. If any teams are interested in Nolasco and what is left of him, the Marlins should be excited to jettison additional current wins and salary for a potential future piece, especially since the current piece has no future with the organization.
Regaining Trade Value
The only logical explanation for the Marlins to hold onto Nolasco in this lost season is that they want him to gain trade value with a good first-half performance and send him away to a desperate team at the trade deadline. This is at least a reasonable ploy by the Fish; after all, Nolasco is coming off of a 4.48 ERA season, and his 3.87 FIP suggests that he could be a better pitcher with some regression. Even with his falling strikeouts, it seems he has turned himself into more of a ground ball pitcher and reduced his home run per fly ball (HR/FB) issues.
This would be a reasonable argument for a guy like Nolasco if this was a blip in an otherwise solid resume, but he has constantly and consistently under-performed his peripherals. Since 2009, Nolasco's 3.65 FIP looks excellent and on par with good pitchers like Yovani Gallarado and Gio Gonzalez, but his 4.68 ERA puts him closer to journeyman range. In fact, since 2009, Nolasco has the largest difference between runs allowed Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs and fWAR, the FanGrpahs WAR metric based on FIP. By runs allowed, Nolasco has compiled fewer than five wins above replacement, while he has racked up 13.0 fWAR in that same period, good for 27th-best in baseball.
There is a possibility that, with a better defense behind him besides the porous Marlins fielding crew, Nolasco may be closer to what his FIP showed. FanGraphs calculates that he lost close to five wins on balls in play compared to a team with an average defense. But even with Nolasco's poor defense behind him, he also lost three wins on performance with runners on base, and as we have seen in the past, Nolasco does seem to have a problem with his changing repertoire with runners on. And consider that this performance is with four seasons of data behind it rather than just one or two years; in that time period, Nolasco put up a .325 BABIP in 2373 balls in play.
If that is the case, it is very possible Nolasco will never recover the sort of form he saw in 2008, though he will almost certainly improve just from being surrounded by a better defense. But how much value will he gain to offset the fact that the acquiring team would receive only half a season or less with him? Nolasco would likely have to return to his 2008 version, and the odds of that are slim after four years of evidence to the contrary. With only slight improvement, the Marlins are unlikely to be able to dupe a team into paying a better price than what they may be able to get now.
Of course, if the Marlins are planning on holding onto Nolasco for the entire season, then the team's management needs to take reality into account and do what is best for the future Marlins rather than placate any current desires to keep the team slightly more competitive. Trade Ricky Nolasco as soon as possible.