With the 2014 MLB All-Star Game approaching, the next big deadline of course is the July 31 trade deadline that may determine the futures of many teams in the league. One of those teams trying to decide its fate is the Miami Marlins, who are sitting a hefty six games back of the division in the National League East following a difficult month of June. With July just starting, the Fish are facing a serious uphill climb, meaning Miami needs to make a fast decision about whether it wants to be a buyer or a seller this season at the deadline.
The Case for Buying
While the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals have begun to pull away as expected with the division, you cannot blame the Fish for believing the team could capitalize on their early-season weakness. Neither club looked great as late as June, and neither team has still truly pulled away with the division. Admittedly, the Marlins' odds at a division title are slim, with two teams in front of them, but both clubs have enough weaknesses that a stretch of good baseball could get the Fish back in this thing.
That stretch of good baseball may need some help in a variety of departments, and the Marlins could acquire that help with a trade before the deadline. Miami is looking for starting pitching help first and foremost, so the club could look to options like Ian Kennedy and Jake Peavy if at all possible.
It helps that Miami has some decent prospect depth that could be dangled in a trade, though none of the prospects Miami would be willing to send are significant game-changers. Andrew Heaney remains out of reach despite his ugly start, and the other pitchers the team has are all projected as back-end starters at their best and most likely big-league role. The Marlins have no aces or elite position players available for sale, so they have to bargain-shop a little and go after worse starters, but if they throw enough pieces out, somebody might come back calling.
The back of the rotation is available for improvement, with Brad Hand and an empty roster spot currently holding the fourth and fifth starter spots and Tom Koehler precariously manning the third spot. If Miami does not trust its own depth, they could look to acquire a player for the stretch run. The team would probably prefer someone under control for 2015, but the likelihood of that at this point seems low.
The Case for Selling
The Marlins could go the other direction and sell at the deadline. The Fish acquired a few veteran stopgap players, and some of them are having decent seasons at the plate. Casey McGehee has been a revelation so far, and a team looking for a third or first baseman might be interested in trying him out as a flyer. This would be the right time to fetch a great return on one of those ideal "low-key veteran signing" cases; McGehee's value cannot get any higher than now, and he would fetch a better return than ever expected for Miami.
The Fish could try similar things with other veteran pieces like Garrett Jones or Jeff Mathis, if markets for such players were available. Of course, there is always the looming threat of the Giancarlo Stanton trade as well. But McGehee appears to be the likely singular prize if the team sells. But Miami has already announced that both Stanton and McGehee are not available for trade, according to general manager Dan Jennings.
It should also be noted that, with increasing parity hitting the league and the allure of the second Wild Card spot available, teams are more interested in buying than selling this year, meaning sellers could make out like bandits at the deadline. Desperate clubs looking to appeal to their fanbases may make a move with high cost for a player like McGehee, so Miami could benefit from such an exchange.
So which is it? Should Miami be sellers in this year's deadline, or should the Fish push in their chips and go all-in?
As always, the decision is not so binary. Miami has more roster holes than they'd care to admit, and filling all of those spots with impact players is asking too much. And the odds of them catching the division leaders are still low, especially with two teams at the top and up to six teams competing for the two Wild Card spots in front of Miami. Competing this year, even with a nice addition to the back of the rotation, may be a longshot no matter what they do.
But you cannot deny that the start the team has had in 2014 has rejuvenated interest and excitement in the team, and trading away any good players from a club with a nice vibe like this one may not be wise. Stanton was never going to be dealt by this deadline, but even sending a fun player like #HitsMcGehee, someone who could even be an All-Star this year, might send the wrong message. With a lot of the team still under team control in 2015, the Marlins could return a relatively successful squad next season without making any moves.
So the Fish may take a third option: they may stand pat. Miami may look to hold onto the group they have and see what it can accomplish and work to improve from within. The question is whether a deal can come around that can either improve Miami for next season or provide them good value for a more short-term asset. It would seem hard-pressed for Miami to find something like either situation, but we will dig around in the next few weeks to find such an opportunity in our 2014 MLB trade deadline coverage.