Yesterday, I mentioned the possible difficulty of the Miami Marlins trading Hanley Ramirez despite their desire to do so. Well, it turns out either I was wrong or the Fish were very persuasive, because after about a week of swirling rumors about the Marlins trading players, the Marlins finally dealt Ramirez along with lefty specialist Randy Choate to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospects Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough.
The Marlins accomplished a few things in this deal. They were able to receive a prospect that was at least somewhat valuable in a deal involving Ramirez. Nathan Eovaldi is no great shakes, but he has 91 innings in the majors with a 3.63 ERA and 4.18 FIP, so that is no small accomplishment either. The other aspect, perhaps more importantly for the Marlins, is that they sent no additional money to the Dodgers to acquire Eovaldi and McGough. The Fish are now clear of the remaining $38.5 million of Ramirez's six-year, $72 million extension. This saves the Fish a ton of money that can be used in the future without committing to other contracts like in the rumored Carl Crawford deal.
The Trade Value
Yesterday, we discussed Hanley Ramirez's trade value.
Hanley Ramirez is set to make $31.5 million over the next two seasons in the final years of his six-year, $72 million extension. Right now, he is projected to produce 1.4 Wins Above Replacement for the rest of the season (243 PA). For a full year, you would expect Ramirez to put up 3.8 WAR, but let us take a little more off of Ramirez because of defensive concerns. Assuming 3.5 WAR projected for 2013 and 2014, he would produce $41.7 million in free agent value while being paid $36.5 million for the remaining seasons. That yields a trade value of just over $5 million.
With just over $5 million of trade value, the Marlins could not have expected to get anything good out of Ramirez's deal. Admittedly, there was likely to be some added value with the "seller's market" due to a scarcity of available bats in the trade market, but that could not have pushed it up too far. Ramirez's contract was saddling the Fish's ability to trade him, because at this stage, he was being projected to be worth a little more than his contract was paying him. Players like that rarely get dealt for legitimate pieces.
Choate is a reliever, and he's a lefty specialist at that. With so little value already in terms of Wins Above Replacement, it is best to simply assume Choate brings somewhere along the lines of $1 million in trade value simply because of the use of a LOOGY in a potential stretch run. Given his contract, we're not talking much here.
What were these prospects coming in return worth?Eovaldi can be looked at as a prospect pitcher or as a major leaguer who has already begun pitching, as he has almost 100 innings in the majors. He was the third best prospect on the Dodgers system and the 96th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, so he does come with some pedigree. He is young, but has performed decently so far in the big leagues. In those 91 innings, he has a below average 14.7 percent strikeout rate and 10.3 percent walk rate, but he has also allowed just seven home runs. All told, his career ERA of 3.96 is only a little lower than his 4.18 FIP, but the other ERA retrodictors that regress home run rates have him pitching far worse.
Truthfully, these numbers match Eovaldi's minor league performance thus far. He was drafted in 2008 and immediately climbed the ranks despite not showing much to deserve the honors. He posted a solid 2009 season in Single-A (96 1/3 innings, 3.27 ERA, 3.46 FIP), but that was on the back of preventing home runs and not an impressive strikeout or walk rate. He did post ground ball rates at or above 50 percent in each of his minor league seasons, and that sort of performance became the norm for Eovaldi. He broke through in 2011, posting a 2.65 ERA and 3.05 FIP with a career high strikeout rate (and walk rate) and just three home runs allowed in 103 innings. He had a decent repeat performance in Double-A so far this year, and shortly thereafter he was promoted to the majors again.
ZiPS projects Eovaldi for a 4.30 ERA and 4.15 FIP through the rest of the season. If we were to extend just those numbers for the next six years, that would be worth 1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) each season over the next six years. With some modest guesses at free agent value and no improvement on Eovaldi's play (a concession to the unknown of prospects), he could be worth $33.5 million in trade value.
That sounds like a lot, especially for a mediocre pitcher. But, because we do not know enough about him, I do not feel comfortable saying he has that much trade value. Therefore, we will go with the table for evaluating trade return.
Top 10 hitting prospects $36.5M Top 11-25 hitters $25.1 Top 26-50 hitters $23.4 Top 51-75 hitters $14.2 Top 76-100 hitters $12.5 Top 10 pitching prospects $15.2 Top 11-25 pitchers $15.9 Top 26-50 pitchers $15.9 Top 51-75 pitchers $12.1 Top 76-100 pitchers $9.8 Grade B pitchers (as graded by Sickels)
$7.3 Grade B hitters $5.5 Grade C pitchers 22 or younger $2.1 Grade C pitchers 23 or older $1.5 Grade C hitters 22 or younger $0.7 Grade C hitters 23 or older $0.5
Eovaldi ranked in the bottom of the top 100, so his value is pegged here at $9.8 million. Inflate that a bit more based on current win values and we're looking at the Marlins already getting away with more than $5 million in bonus value from Ramirez's trade.
McGough was unranked by Minor League Ball's John Sickels in his preseason top 20 Dodgers prospects list (it is worth mentioning that Eovaldi was rated as a B / borderline B+). We assume here that he adds little to no value, and Sickels's reaction to the trade seems to assume that much as well. Sickels calls McGough a "fungible talent" as a minor league reliever, and I tend to agree.
So what does the final tally look like? The Marlins may have given up somewhere between $6 million and $9 million depending on how much value you place on Ramirez's current talent relative to the availability of other bats. They got somewhere around $10 million based on the lone valuable prospect coming back to them. All things considered, the Marlins actually got more than they should have expected, which sounds strange given the perceived lack of return. Eovaldi seems to be a decent prospect, and he's handled himself in the majors thus far, and pitchers like that do not grow on trees. Despite the lack of a flashy prospect name, the Marlins seemed to have gotten a good deal for themselves.
Paying the Contract
The question on everyone's mind is why the Marlins did not offer to pay part of Ramirez's salary to buy more value in the trade. The Dodgers had a number of B-ranked pitching prospects remaining in the minors, including names like Allen Webster (76th ranked in Baseball America), Garret Gould, Alfredo Silviero, and Chris Reed. If the Fish had offered an additional $10 million in contract savings (a little more than a quarter of the remaining money), the Marlins could have acquired any one of these pitchers and made the return look more attractive.
In this case, I think the Fish decided that none of these available players were worth the extra money, and that the team wanted to turn that money into something productive in the 2013 offseason. The savings the Marlins are getting by shedding Ramirez's contract are big, and if the team suspects that Ramirez will continue on his downfall rather than bounce back up to his projection, then they are trading a bad contract and shedding salary to buy wins at a more appropriate rate. For that to happen, the Marlins would want every bit of the $38.5 million saved over the next two seasons and change.
Given that the Marlins invested no extra money in sending Ramirez away, they should actually be pretty happy with the return. A top 100 Baseball America prospect is nothing to sneeze at, and Eovaldi's relative success in the majors thus far means that he is another piece that could need only a little seasoning in Triple-A to be ready to insert into the rotation. For the honor of giving away Ramirez's future performance and contract, the Marlins received yet another potential 2013 starting rotation arm to fill the holes undoubtedly made by the departures of Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano. Not bad at all.