Yesterday, the rumor spread that the Miami Marlins were close to an agreement with free agent reliever Jose Valverde. The one and only response I could think of that most Marlins fans probably had was "What? Why?" This is perfectly exemplified by Fish Stripes reader SilentNightPacifier:
There is certainly no reason to believe you are off the mark on this one at all, SilentNightPacifier. The interest in Valverde, much like the interest in Matt Capps before this, is a confusing contradiction when faced with the fact that the Marlins just shed millions and millions of dollars in salary in order to fit what the team deems a proper budget. You would think that, after the Marlins were so eager to cut costs in such a major way, they would not be suddenly so willing to throw money into a relatively fruitless endeavor like a free agent reliever. Have we not learned anything about the lesson of Heath Bell?
Yet, strangely enough, I am not entirely against this move. I am not entirely with this move either, but there is certainly an optimistic and pessimistic view of this move, and where you fall on the spectrum of thought regarding the Marlins likely determines what you think the team's angle is with this puzzling interest.
The Pessimist's View
The pessimist's view on a move like this seems really simple. The Miami Marlins are interested in Jose Valverde because he is a "proven closer" with ninth inning experience who can help mold incumbent closer Steve Cishek into the role. The team thinks this is an important enough position that handing money to a player who can fill it is important, even if that player is coming off of his worst season since his second year in the majors in 2004.
Blind to the fact that Valverde lost his closer job in 2012 to Phil Coke late in the season, the Marlins are willing to go along with Scott Boras's tricks and hand Valverde lower-tier closer money for a player who was never as good as his superficial numbers likely suggested (career 3.53 FIP versus career 3.11 ERA). Despite the falling strikeout rate at the advanced age of 34 (remind you of someone?), the Marlins value closers and bullpen pitchers irrationally and would be willing to pay for Valverde's services in the ninth inning.
This view is for folks who believe that the Marlins have yet to learn the lesson Heath Bell taught them when it comes to bullpen pitchers. If the Marlins truly still value bullpen pitchers too highly after a disastrous season with the worst free agent signing in team history, then perhaps all is lost for Larry Beinfest and company in the front office. Signing Valverde to significant money off of a down year is likely to produce a waste of money, just like it did with Bell.
The Optimist's View
The optimist's view on this potential deal can separate the Bell signing from this possible contract. Unlike Bell, Valverde is highly likely to receive only a one-year deal, especially given his status as a dethroned closer and his relatively poor season. Bell was coming off of another 40-save campaign in 2011, so even as his peripherals were struggling, hapless teams like the Marlins still saw a successful closer. No one, on the other hand, will confuse Valverde as a successful closer after his 2012 year.
Beyond that, there is no guarantee the Marlins will have to pony up significant money either. Francisco Cordero came off of a superficially successful year in which he recorded 37 saves with a 2.45 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds, but the Toronto Blue Jays were not fooled and gave him a one-year deal worth only $4.5 million. If the Marlins do something similar with the more-skilled Valverde, they would worst be paying the going rate for a likely one-win reliever.
If the Marlins do make the signing and Valverde gets off to a hot start as either a closer or a setup man, then the team can reap the benefits at midseason by trading him for a menial prospect. The gain in prospect value will be admittedly low, even for a former closer, but any players are better than no players at all.
But perhaps the most important part of this view is that the Marlins have money to spend. The team is under its projected $40 million budget and would probably like to use it on a flyer like a reliever. While relievers are the worst use of limited free agent funds, the alternative at this stage of the game is not spending it at all and not receiving any players to be named later in return by midseason. If the choice is between Valverde and simply choking on the money without any future benefit (you had better believe that any money saved in 2013 will not be rolled into future season budgets), the Marlins might as well spend the cash.
The final prognosis is still a questionable one, but one in which I would lean towards making the move at a low price. If the Marlins spent $7 million on Valverde in 2013, I would almost surely call it a waste. But throwing an otherwise unused $4 million at him could be worse, and if the Marlins can acquire a minor piece in the future for him, all the better to the team. Simply sitting on the 2013 cash brings no benefit to the team in the short- or long-term.