Miami Marlins trade target: Cubs prospect swap

Could players like Jorge Soler (left) and Javier Baez (right) be the return in a prospect swap between the Marlins and Cubs? - Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are intent on acquiring cost-controlled, young talent. Could a prospect swap with the Chicago Cubs be a ticket to that acquisition?

This offseason, the Miami Marlins have a dedicated, but not necessary, goal to acquire cost-controlled, young talent for various position players spots. You see, the Marlins have a very clear need for hitters given that their position player cupboard is running bare. One of Miami's top prospects at this moment is outfielder Jake Marisnick, but the set of players that occupies the top prospect lists with him is a slew of pitchers beginning Andrew Heaney and extending through Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley, Brian Flynn, Anthony DeSclafani, and Jose Urena. The Marlins would consider trading from their significant pitching depth to help the franchise build up a stockpile of future hitting prospects, as the team has very few impact bats beyond Marisnick and 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran.

It just so happens that the Chicago Cubs have the opposite situation in their farm, with a number of great position player prospects in Javier Baez, Albert Almora, 2013 first-rounder Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all occupying spots in the current incarnation of MLB.com's top 100 prospects. Last week, Jon Heyman of CBSSports connected those two dots and put things together into this speculative tidbit.

Officials from the Cubs and Marlins both agree they may have something to talk about.

The Cubs have a stockpile of high-end position prospects and the Marlins have a long list of fine young pitchers. Prospect-for-prospect deals are rare because they require a strong stomach. Needless to say, such trades carry a big risk.

Heyman suggested that Miami and Chicago could engage in a trade of prospects in their farm, with the Marlins sending parts of their pitching depth in return for a premium hitting prospect among the set of four. The Marlins would be interested in any of these players, and the Cubs would likewise love to stockpile their system with better pitching talent in their rebuilding project.

But this would be the rare prospect-for-prospect trade, trading lottery tickets for other lottery tickets. Would it be a good idea for either club?

Position Players Wanted

The Marlins are in dire need of position player help, particularly up the middle at catcher, shortstop, and second base. The highest-rated prospect in any of those three positions in Miami is Avery Romero, and he is far away from being ready. Adeiny Hechavarria, Donovan Solano, and Derek Dietrich each have significant milestones to jump before they can be considered regular Major Leaguers. It would make sense that the franchise would first look in that direction.

The Cubs would have a fit in Javier Baez, whom MLB.com ranks as the seventh-best prospect in baseball. Baez dominated two different levels last season and could have easily stumbled into a Major League job on any other team. He hit a combined .282/.341/.578 (.409 wOBA) in between High-A and Double-A, and that includes doing better in the 240 plate appearances at the higher level. He hit 20 home runs and batted .294/.346/.638 (.435 wOBA) at the tail end of 2013. In comparison, Giancarlo Stanton hit 21 homers in 240 plate appearances in his second extended stint in Double-A before being promoted to the big leagues in mid-2010.

Baez has also proven himself a worthy defender at shortstop and has shaken questions of work ethic and become a complete prospect at just under 21 years of age. The Marlins would relish the kind of power he could provide in the future and would dream of playing him instead of or at least alongside Hechavarria in a good defensive infield. But unsurprisingly, it would take a hefty amount to pry the top Cubs prospect away.

The Marlins may try their hand at other players, but they might find some difficulty. Kris Bryant is the reigning Arizona Fall League MVP and was just drafted second overall last season. He cannot be traded until June of 2014, but if he could be dealt, the Marlins would be very interested in his elite power tool as well, even at a position in third base that they theoretically have filled in the future. Albert Almora, a native Floridian, and Jorge Soler, a Cuban international signing, may also hold interest for the Fish even though they are outfielders. But all of three of these names are currently ranked in the top 40 among prospects according to MLB.com, with Bryan sitting lowest at 35th. Any of these players would require a significant prospect investment from the Marlins to acquire.

Hitters > Pitchers

It is at this point important to note that not all prospects are created equal, and hitting prospects are particularly valuable. In fact, according to research done by Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMicelli of Pirates Prospects in 2012, the value of hitters is still significantly higher than the value of pitchers, especially in the higher levels of prospect rankings.

Tier Pirates Prospects 2012 Wang 2008
Hitters 1-10 $42.20 M $36.5 M
Hitters 11-25 $33.36 M $25.1 M
Hitters 26-50 $18.12 M $23.4 M
Hitters 51-75 $10.20 M $14.2 M
Hitters 76-100 $10.43 M $12.5 M
Pitchers 1-10 $26.70 M $15.2 M
Pitchers 11-25 $18.89 M $15.9 M
Pitchers 26-50 $14.70 M $15.9 M
Pitchers 51-75 $7.50 M $12.1 M
Pitchers 76-100 $7.93 M $9.8 M

The table above shows the staggering difference in value. A top 10 pitcher is worth on average $16 million in surplus or trade value less than a top 10 hitter. That difference extends into the top 25 players as well. Only once you reach the top 50 or below talent do you see more of an equalization of value between hitters and pitchers.

One might initially think this is incorrect. After all, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said that young starting pitching is the toughest thing to find! But the reason it may be so difficult is because so many promising young starters fail. Remember the adage "TINSTAAPP." or "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect?" The research backs the assumption that pitching prospects are more volatile and prone to failure and thus less reliable than equivalent hitting prospects.

Value

This is important because, in a prospect swap scenario, the Marlins are trading from a position of weakness. Not only are the Fish dealing the lesser prospects, but they would also be trading the less reliable prospects. That means a package coming from Miami would have to be more substantive than previously imagined.

What would such a package look like? Let's presume we wanted to make a deal for Baez. If we assume equivalency in using MLB.com's top 100 list, Baez's top-10 status would be worth $42 million in surplus value. The Marlins boast a top 50 pitcher in Heaney and a pitcher in the mid-50's in Nicolino. Such a trade would yield a value of $23 million, which alone would not be enough to snag Baez under this value model.

That gives you a sense of how difficult it would be for the Marlins to trade for the Cubs' positional talent. Pitching prospects being fickle by nature, their lower value compared to hitters makes for a tough mountain to climb. The Fish would also have to deal two of their mid-tier pitching prospects to get close to the value level of a top-10 hitting prospect like Baez. The Marlins would almost assuredly say no to a deal that would eat all of their depth for no guarantees.

What about one of the lower-ranked players like Soler? The 25th-ranked prospect by MLB.com would be worth $33 million and change under this model. The Marlins could send Heaney, Nicolino, and one other pitching prospect for his services, and that again would be a deal Miami would decline. The same would go for pretty much any of the Cubs' top four prospects.

This model is based on data and FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, but it is also theoretical. Both teams have needs each other can fill, and that may convince the Cubs to bring down their price a little. But almost every trade would likely require both Heaney and Nicolino going the Cubs' way, and Miami is probably more interested in finding Major League talent if the cost is their two best pitching prospects. The cost of young hitting is extremely severe.

What do you Fish Stripers think? is there a match among this group of players? Can any other teams offer the type of hitting prospect Miami is looking for in return for their pitchers? Let us know in the comments.

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