The Miami Marlins, Anibal Sanchez, and the Trade Deadline Dilemma

July 8, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) throws to a St. Louis Cardinals batter in the first inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Marlins fell again last night to the Washington Nationals, this time with a score of 4-0. The Fish stand at 42-46 and are tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks at seven games behind the Wild Card leaders, the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds. The Fish have not performed well for much of the year, and the toll of losing is getting to be quite a handful for the fan base and what is certainly a frustrated front office and ownership.

Amid all of that is the coming trade deadline. The Marlins have already shown with their acquisition of first baseman Carlos Lee that they intend to contend, whether or not they can actually reach contention with this squad. It is understandable, since the Marlins are attempting to appease a fan base that has not felt like the team has put in effort towards a winning ballclub in years.

But the Marlins have to consider the future as well, especially their immediate future in 2013 and 2014. And one important aspect of that future is Anibal Sanchez, the team's biggest upcoming free agent. Sanchez is in his final year of team control and there has been no information about a possible new contract following the 2012 season. Yes, the Marlins are now apparently flush with money to be able to re-sign Sanchez, but with the team struggling and Sanchez's poor June dragging some of his numbers down, should the Marlins consider turning into sellers with Sanchez in mind?

Contention Far Away

Various sources in baseball have the Marlins currently as long shots for the Wild Card, let alone a division crown or World Series victory. Indeed, no one ever knows what could happen, but the odds are certainly against the team due to the hole into which they have dug themselves at various points in the season. Coolstandings has the Marlins at a 1.5 percent chance of earning a playoff spot. Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report projects a 7.5 percent chance for the Marlins to make the playoffs. During the All-Star break, Bovada had the Marlins at 16:1 odds to win the NL pennant and 12:1 odds to win the division.

Of those sources, the Vegas odds still have us fairly high (6.2 percent chance of winning the NL pennant), but the other sources all have us at appropriately low levels for contention. There may very well be a lot of season left, and as we saw last year, anything can happen in the month of September. Still, counting on an epic collapse by one of the Wild Card leaders is at best a pipe dream, and teams need to worry about contending in future seasons as well as the now. The Fish cannot sell out a potentially worthy future investment for a slightly smaller chance at winning a chance at the playoffs in 2012.

Sanchez's Perceived Struggles

Sanchez's ERA went up to 4.12 in his starts in June and early July, but his overall peripheral numbers still look pretty good. His 21.4 percent strikeout rate for the year almost perfectly matches his mark from 2009 to 2011 of 20.9 percent, meaning that he is more or less playing to his supposed skill level. He has decreased his walk rate as well and continues to allow a below average number of home runs, leading to a FIP of 3.43. That 3.43 FIP is not all that far away from his 2009 to 2011 mark of 3.56.

That is a good thing for Sanchez's performance going forward, but it ironically does not help the team in terms of earning trade value for Sanchez. His recent struggles, whether fair or not, are what are most evident in the minds of talent evaluators scouting Sanchez for a potential deadline deal. If those evaluators see Sanchez's recent struggles and 4.12 ERA, they are going to be more reminded of those numbers than of the underlying statistics that still indicate strong performance for the future. That may cause some evaluators to undervalue Sanchez and thus not yield a proper return in a trade.

A Proper Return?

What is a proper return for Sanchez this offseason? In order to find out, we would have to project him going forward for the rest of the year. ZiPS projects a 3.73 ERA and 3.44 FIP through the rest of 2012. This matches up decently with his 3.66 ERA and 3.56 FIP from 2009 to 2011 as well, meaning that Sanchez has not ultimately changed any perceptions with his 2012 performance. ZiPS expects Sanchez to make 14 more starts and pitch 82 more innings; both of these numbers also seem fair.

What do those numbers ultimately yield? Through the rest of 2012, we expect Anibal Sanchez to contribute between 1.3 and 1.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). If you have the value of a win this season at $4.8 million, for example, that is worth $7.2 million in value the rest of the way. Sanchez is maybe owned $3.2 million for the rest of the year, meaning that, as a trade asset, he is worth about $4 million.

What is that worth? Not much, when you look into it. According to this 2009 piece by Sky Kalkman based on research done by The Hardball Times's Victor Wang, $4 million in trade value would not bring in a Grade B hitting prospect under Minor League Ball's John Sickels's grading system. And those numbers were valued in 2009, when the market for wins was just a little cheaper than it probably is now.

No Draft Picks

There is another thing to consider now when you talk about trading players like Sanchez. With this being Sanchez's walk year, the Marlins would certainly draft pick compensation should he depart from the team in the offseason. Under the new CBA rules, teams can offer "qualifying offers" for free agents in an effort to retain them; this is in place of the "arbitration" offering system to free agents, but is ultimately similar. Teams offer a one-year contract worth the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, estimated to be worth $12.5 million this offseason. The player may accept the one-year tender or decline. Once another team signs that player, that team surrenders their first-round draft pick or, in the case of top-ten selections, their next highest selection.

The one hitch in the trade deadline aspect of this situation is that trade partners that acquire free agents will not be able to tender qualifying offers and receive draft picks. Players must be on a team for at least one season before they can be offered qualifying deals. Thus, the Marlins can receive a compensatory first-round pick from Sanchez leaving, but a trade partner cannot.

What is one of these draft picks worth? In the linked Kalkman piece, research done by Sky Andrecheck showed that a late first-round pick is worth $5.2 million in value, and that could only go up a bit now. That is more than we would expect to receive in return for Sanchez's trade value.

Conclusion

After consideration of Sanchez's future performance and trade value along with the idea of a draft pick compensation, it should be noted that the Marlins should not trade Anibal Sanchez at the deadline. The club is unlikely to receive a fair return since Sanchez has struggled in preventing runs recently, and even his fair value is worth less than the draft pick the Marlins would have received. Furthermore, the inability for other teams to cash in a draft pick further drops the trade value of departing free agents like Sanchez.

The Fish are better off holding onto Sanchez and hoping his play can help spark a playoff rally. If not, the team can decide his fate then. If he is to leave, the Marlins will gladly take a first-round draft pick to restock their barren farm system. If he extends, then the argument for trading him would have been moot, as the Fish would have succeeded in locking up a good pitcher for a decent while.

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