Editor's note: Today, we're beginning our official 2013 MLB trade deadline coverage with a series of articles discussing the Marlins' goals, targets, and needs for the 2013 season. Enjoy!
The Miami Marlins have a select few players available in this season's trade deadline, but no one has quite the reputation that starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco has. If it sounds as though we have spoke about Nolasco's availability in this year's trade deadline talks, you are right. He has been linked to several teams multiple times, with the Los Angeles Dodgers apparently having the advantage over the competition.
The biggest Fish in the trade pond is certainly Nolasco, but why is he available, who is truly after him, and what will it take to acquire him?
Nolasco is the most available player at this year's trade deadline because he should have been traded in the offseason. The Marlins cleared house in their November fire sale trade, but Nolasco somehow remained as the only veteran player left on the roster. Beyond Nolasco, the next most-tenured Marlins player is Giancarlo Stanton, which shows just how abandoned Nolasco was in terms of members of his 2006 era squad.
But the fact that Nolasco is 30 years old is not the only reason he is likely to leave. Nolasco is primarily on his way out because of his contract. The Marlins signed him to a three-year, $27 million deal in 2011, and at the time it was the right decision for a player coming off of two strong seasons in terms of peripherals but terrible years in terms of ERA. Since then, Nolasco has deteriorated and his contract began to be a larger burden than it should have been. With this being the final year of his deal, there was no chance the Marlins would bring him back beyond this season, and thus Nolasco finds himself the most eminently available player in baseball.
There has been no shortage of teams in the trade market for Nolasco. Every NL West team has knocked on the door regarding Nolasco. The New York Yankees, currently at the bottom of the AL East, and the Baltimore Orioles, currently at the top, have both apparently inquired about him as well.
This is not a surprise, since Nolasco is inexplicably one of the best pitchers on the trade market. Part of the reason is that there are not many pitchers available this season. Assuming the Philadelphia Phillies do not sell on someone like Cliff Lee, Nolasco remains one of the two or three best pitchers in the market. Most teams likely consider him worse than Matt Garza and maybe even or slightly worse than this season's version of Bud Norris. The market is pretty thin, and because the Marlins jumped into the trade market quickly in order to set the market, Nolasco became the prime target of most teams for the time being.
It helps that Nolasco has also pitched well over the course of the season, though not so well in the last two starts. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs examined him and determined that he is not so bad, and our own Pitch F/X profile said the same thing.
Which of those teams is most likely to nab the Marlins righty? The rumors initially swirled around the San Francisco Giants, as Nolasco had a chance to "audition" against them in San Francisco, but apparently the Giants are not yet interested in making deals. The Dodgers were apparently close to a deal, but that has yet to materialize. Because the Fish are apparently more interested in salary relief, smaller market teams like the Rockies have fallen off by the wayside. Right now, it appears the Dodgers and their expansive coffers appear to be the team most likely to snag Nolasco.
We already discussed a potential trade return from the Dodgers, but in general the Marlins should be looking for very little in return for Nolasco. Nolasco's salary is the primary thing holding back any return, as his $6 million or so remaining in his final contract year has deterred suitors from sending good players the Marlins' way. There have been rumors that the Fish would be willing to eat salary, but it now seems that Miami wants full salary relief (surprise!) and a decent prospect in return.
What kind of player can they expect? Nolasco may be worth one win going forward until the end of this season. At this year's market rate, that is worth $5 million. But you have to subtract his salary from that figure, meaning that right now Nolasco is being paid what he would earn. Theoretically, that would mean that no team should trade any asset to acquire Nolasco.
The truth is that his salary makes the prospect return negligible. We mentioned that if the Fish refuse to take on salary, they can expect a B-minus or C-ranked prospect in return. This has yet to change with Nolasco putting up mediocre starts in the last two outings. If the Fish continue to expect full salary relief, they can kiss their chances at a higher-level prospect goodbye.
All of the teams most heavily involved with the Nolasco talks have players the Marlins would not mind picking up. Expect every team to stay mostly reasonable with their offers, with only a slight chance that the Dodgers will overpay thanks to their large piles of money.
Ricky Nolasco is bound to be dealt in the coming week, as the Marlins have lined up his replacement in Henderson Alvarez. Both parties should be ready for a departure before Nolasco's scheduled Wednesday start, though there is no guarantee that is going to happen. The Dodgers are the frontrunner, and the Marlins are not expected to get a lot back in return. In this case, despite Nolasco improving his stock somewhat, the team is still looking at what is primarily a payroll dump move.