As per ESPN's Buster Olney, the Miami Marlins are apparently ready to acquire first baseman Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros in return for minor leaguers third baseman Matt Dominguez and lefty starter Rob Rasmussen.
Sources: The Marlins are trading Matt Dominguez and P Rob Rasmussen for Carlos Lee.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 4, 2012
The deal will likely come with Houston paying off the majority of what is left of Lee's final season in his contract. Lee has $9 million remaining in his salary this season, and the Marlins would not likely send two meager prospects for the right to pay Lee's contract. Chances are the Marlins will pay only the prorated league minimum for Lee's services, making it strictly about his future performance.
The problem is that his future performance is not all that great. Lee is currently hitting .286/.336/.412 (.325 wOBA) and has hit just .265/.320/.428 (.324 wOBA) the last three seasons. ZiPS is projecting a very similar .277/.326/.431 (.325 wOBA) line for the rest of the season. All in all, it basically points to Lee being a guy who is just a little better than the league average at the plate. First basemen are supposed to be significantly better than league average to be worth your time, and there does not seem to be any sign of improvement on Lee's side.
Of course, the Marlins as a whole have gotten a .206/.261/.304 line from their first basemen, so it is understandable why even Lee's bat would be a significant upgrade. But that confuses past performance as true talent; even with the problems that Gaby Sanchez have had, we do not expect him to continue to hit .194/.240/.283 going forward. ZiPS projects Sanchez to hit .254/.328/.398 (.320 wOBA) going forward. Even if you think he is a bit worse than that projection, you are not looking at much of an improvement over Sanchez with Lee at first.There are a few other issues to discuss here as well. Emilio Bonifacio has already begun doing some swinging and should be back after the All-Star break. Once he returns, one of the options available to the Marlins in their lineup adjustment was to shift Justin Ruggiano, who is hitting a red-hot.403/.479/.790 (.501 wOBA) with three homers so far this season, to left field on a semi-permanent basis and move Logan Morrison to first base. This would provide a dual advantage of having Bonifacio return to the lineup and take away Morrison's terrible outfield glove.
With the move to acquire Carlos Lee, this appears to be on the backburner. Lee is incapable of playing the outfield effectively anymore (and one could say he never had the ability in the first place), so he would permanently take up the first base position for the Marlins. This would force Morrison to stay in left field and force a difficult situation with Bonifacio's return and Ruggiano's stellar initial play. Ruggiano returning to the bench is not a bad idea, especially since you do not expect him to hit this well going forward, but he should get more than the average fourth outfielder's worth of playing time at this point. If that is the case, who would see more bench time between Morrison or Lee?
The prospects going from the Marlins represent two potential trade pieces, but it seems that this was all they could get. Dominguez was having a terrible season at Triple-A and most of his prospect luster had wilted, so it is not surprising that he is a tack-on to a midseason deal with only one season of ramifications. In the end, Dominguez just lost too much trade value. Rasmussen was a fringe Marlins prospect heading into this season; he ranked 11th according to Marc Hulet of FanGraphs and sixth according to Minor League Ball's John Sickels. He had been doing fairly in High-A this season, posting a 3.90 ERA and 3.64 FIP. Most prospect guys had him as a possible third or fourth starter, but that was no guarantee. Rasmussen was heading to Double-A to make his debut start tonight, but as of publishing he had not been pulled from his start.
This is a puzzling move for the Marlins. It makes sense because the team is interested in improving at first base without committing long term to an option, but the projected improvement with Carlos Lee just does not seem to warrant the move. Lee is well on his decline phase and it is almost as if the Marlins were working primarily on name value. The prospects were underwhelming but still potentially useful, but the return just seems pointless even given the team's concerns at first base.