Logan Morrison trade: Miami gets small return for flawed player

Mike Ehrmann

The Miami Marlins got a decent reliever in return for the disappointing career of Logan Morrison. Carter Capps has some tools to make the return at least acceptable given Morrison's poor performance.

The Miami Marlins wanted to be patient with the Logan Morrison trade situation, but they went ahead and pulled the trigger on a move to the Seattle Mariners with multiple teams apparently in the running. The initial thoughts on the return from the Morrison trade seem dismissive, as though Miami could have gotten a lot more for the embattled 26-year-old first baseman.

The truth is that Miami probably squeaked out a decent deal out of Morrison. It is totally within reason for the Fish to get a low-value, cost-controlled player such as a prospect reliever with five years of team control left for Morrison, who is already receiving arbitration payments and may struggle to stay in the majors for very long. While Marlins fans may not want to admit it, Logan Morrison was having a difficult enough time to consider him a major bust.

Morrison Trade Value

The Marlins traded what superficially appears to be a player in need of a change of scenery and a fresh start, and to a degree, this is true. Morrison and Miami were no longer a fit, and the Marlins were better off sending him elsewhere. But four years into his career, we have a good idea of who Morrison probably is.

He is a player with good plate discipline who struggles to put power into his swing, He is a big, lumbering first baseman who hits a few too many ground balls for his career. He has not displayed great skill at getting hits on balls in play, and that combines with his mediocre power to yield a low batting average despite an average strikeout rate. He has been oft-injured in his four years, and two knee surgeries that ate almost an entire year of Morrison's career highlight the injury concerns.

If you were to project what Morrison would do next season, you would probably guess somewhere in between what the Steamer and Oliver projection systems are guessing (as seen on his FanGraphs page). Steamer is suggesting a .249/.337/.421 batting line (.332 wOBA) that almost exactly matches his career mark. Oliver projects a better line at .259/.348/.440 (.344 wOBA), which looks a lot like the batting line I would have expected coming into this season. The problem is that, since 2011, he has hit .241/.325/.422, which more closely matches the former projection than the latter.

I would lean towards that line as a suggestion for next year, but let's average the two lines and get a baseline Wins Above Replacement projection for next year. If you take the average of the two rates, you might expect a 1.6-win player in 600 plate appearances in 2014. But with Morrison's troubling injury history, you can assume he probably will not reach that total. If he gets just 500 plate appearances, he could be a 1.3-win player next season, which would be worth a surplus value of $6 million.

Assuming he stays at that win total for the next three seasons, he could be worth a total of $12.5 million in surplus. You could, however, easily knock off some of that value from him coming with a bad reputation around the league. Let's assume he is worth an even $10 million. The value gets worse if the Mariners believe Morrison can man an outfield position for them, seeing as though his play in left field in 2011 was poor enough to render his offense null. That time came before two knee surgeries that probably ravaged his athleticism.

Capps Value

The Marlins are buying low on a player with significant strikeout talent who had one bad season in the home run department. Carter Capps is not an elite reliever yet, but he did come into the 2013 season as a top-10 organizational prospect with the Seattle Mariners. Here is what John Sickels of Minor League Ball said before the season.

10) Carter Capps, RHP, Grade B-: Always tough to know how to grade relievers. Former catcher hits 99 MPH and reached the majors within a year of being drafted. Needs command refinements, but definite closer upside.

Here is what Marc Hulet of FanGraphs said last year as well.

Capps was utterly dominating when he came out of the bullpen at the MLB level in 2012. He was hitting 98-99 mph with late movement in October. Along with his fastball, Capps also possesses an average slider and a changeup that he rarely throws. He has a strong, durable frame and throws with a three-quarter arm slot. There is not a ton of effort in his delivery when you consider how hard he throws.

Capps, 22, works up in the zone more than I’d like and he also gets hit rather hard at times — posting a line-drive rate of more than 27% in the majors — likely due to his lack of reliable secondary pitches. His control is currently better than his command.

Both of those reviews sound a lot like any number of other hard-throwing relief prospects who make the majors early in their careers. Essentially, Capps is your prototypical fireballing right-hander with command problems and "closer potential." Before the 2013 season, he was at least decently regarded as a nice prospect.

His 2013 season did not go well, at least on the surface. He threw 59 innings but posted a 5.49 ERA and 4.73 FIP. But, as reader stevieo2324 mentioned in yesterday's post, Capps's season was significantly better than those numbers. He struck out 24.4 percent of batters faced and walked just 8.5 percent. Only one Marlins reliever last season, Steve Cishek, pulled off that combination. Capps's issue was the home run, as he allowed 12 in 59 innings. But as we all know, relievers are a fickle bunch, and Capps is highly unlikely to repeat that performance.

The projections speak to the possibility of a strong comeback season. Steamer projects a 3.24 ERA and 3.49 FIP, while Oliver expects a 3.77 ERA and 3.58 FIP between 55 and 65 innings pitched. At that rate, they have him pegged for 0.6 WAR in 2014. Assuming he jumps to a one-win reliever in the next four years after that, and Miami might get good value from him, especially if he does not assume a closer's role in the next few years. It is difficult to identify the value of Capps in terms of surplus dollars because of the drastic changes in arbitration prices for normal relievers versus closers, but even Capps becomes a closer in the next two years, Miami should still get easily more than $10 million in surplus value.

Morrison's an Illusion?

How did this happen? How could a reliever, especially one coming off a "bad" season, match a former top prospect first baseman's value? Because so much of Morrison's perceived value comes from being a former well-regarded prospect. The truth is that Morrison's only offering is the hope and upside a 26-year-old player can provide. It is unlikely that he turns into anyone after this season, but teams can always hope.

Capps, on the other hand, has real upside, but it is in the least reliable form imaginable: a relief pitcher. He could turn into a Cishek or into a Taylor Tankersley, and it is difficult to tell at any stage which side he will eventually fall on. Capps is not likely to turn in many wins for the Fish, but Morrison was going to cost more money and Miami took the chance to upgrade its bullpen. Given the math, it was probably a fair return, but it only looks disappointing because of what we thought Morrison could be, but not what he is as of now.

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