The Miami Marlins have finally pulled the trigger on the Ricky Nolasco trade, sending him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospects Steven Ames, Josh Wall, and Angel Sanchez (first confirmed by MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo). The Marlins held out for a long period of time in an attempt to find the best match for the team that would still take on the remainder of Nolasco's $5.5 million in salary, but based on the look of the return for the Fish, the salary situation pulled a lot of value out of the deal.
Remember what we said in Nolasco's trade profile?
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.
This is an important premise when you consider the players coming the Marlins' way. If the Marlins were adamant that they would not pay for Nolasco's salary, then they should have expected to get very little in return because Nolasco's salary more or less matched his expected performance. Even with the relatively strong first half of the season, it would have been difficult to ask team to value Nolasco more than a 3.80 or 4.00 ERA pitcher going forward, simply because of his history of failing to match up with his strikeout and walk numbers. For that reason, you would have expected to pay $5 million for Nolasco's services were he a free agent.
With that said, why would a team trade assets with bonus value for a guy who is being paid his worth? That is the dilemma the Marlins had to work past and the Dodgers had to swallow. Almost any return for Nolasco would have been too much. The only real value Nolasco held is the scarcity factor: while he may be earning a free agent salary equivalent to his performance, there are no available free agents of Ricky Nolasco's capabilities. As a result, while a team that needs a pitcher theoretically should not trade value for Nolasco's services, the fact that there are no freely available Nolascos to pick up in the free agent market means he holds some value as a pitcher of his caliber.
Ultimately though, that means that the Fish would have received very little in return to make up for the fact that they owned one of the few available starting pitchers in the market. The salary prevented Miami from getting any more of a return than that.
That brings us to the next point: the somewhat disappointing appearance of the trade return. The Marlins are receiving three pitching "prospects," but only one of those three players has shown up in multiple top 20 prospects lists. Steven Ames is a former 17th-round draft pick in 2009 out of Gonzaga University, and his primary role is as a reliever. Ames has spectacular minor league numbers, but he is 25 years old and consistently old for his level in terms of prospect evaluation. His ceiling is that of a late-inning reliever, but he reportedly does not have the spectacular stuff expected out of most players of that kind.
Ames showed up in both the Minor League Ball top 20 prospects list and the True Blue LA preseason top 30 list, but his advanced age makes him more of an immediate bullpen contributor rather than a prospect.
The other two pitchers have varying levels of interest. True Blue LA named him the team's 19th best prospect, ahead of Ames, before the season began. Wall is a former second-round pick but a converted starter, and numbers-wise he has struggled throughout his minor league career. In most other trades, he probably would have served as filler.
Angel Sanchez is perhaps the wild card, He had a strong 2011 start, a horrific 2012 season, and is trying to recover in High-A right now. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo ranked him eighth in the organization before the season began, but he is nowhere to be found anywhere else and has struggled in his most recent seasons. Then again, he is the youngest of the bunch at age 23.
All of these players add up to a relative poo-poo platter of names. While Ames could contribute right away to the Marlins' bullpen, and Wall has been sitting in Triple-A and close to the majors (and struggling) for a while, In terms of trade value, very few of them hold much of it. If we turn to this 2009 article to determine the trade value of prospects, we can see that C-ranked pitchers age 23 or older are valued at around $1.5 million each. Ames is fairly assured as a C-ranked prospect, but the other two players are difficult to evaluate, depending on what sources you ask. If you split the difference and determine that each is worth half of that value, then the total trade value coming back to the Marlins is $3 million in assets.
Is that a good offer for Miami? Given that Nolasco is being paid his worth and holds little to no actual trade value, this is a fair trade for the Marlins. They should not have expected to receive much in return if they did not want to pay his salary. With the salary being stuck on the Dodgers, the team should be happy it received a C+ prospect, even if it was a lesser one like Ames.
My initial guess was that Chris Withrow would be the candidate to be sent, as he was higher up on most lists and a more guaranteed C+ prospect. But Ames is of similar caliber, as a guy who is only a reliever but one who has put up spectacular minor league numbers. The additional players turned out to be not additional C-ranked prospects but players more off-the-radar who serve as filler for the deal.
Paying for the Trade
Just like last season, when the Marlins got a little less from the Dodgers in return for Hanley Ramirez, the team could have gotten better prospects from the deal had they chipped in a little more money. But ultimately, the Fish sided with getting full salary relief rather than better players. That is the same decision they have made for the last few trades thanks to their supposed losses, and this is no different. With the team's attendance floundering and the Marlins failing in 2012, Jeffrey Loria and company are saving cash for another time (or for themselves).
The Marlins got what they paid for, which is nothing for the remainder of Nolasco's 2013 season. The return for Nolasco was appropriate given that he held no surplus value beyond being available to trade suitors, so the team got close to that in terms of prospects in return. At least one of these players could immediately contribute for the Marlins, but none of them have bright futures ahead. It might seem like too little for the team's leader in many pitching categories, but that is what happens when you pay too much for a pitcher who turned out to be a back-end starter.