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Marlins Did Not Have Pieces for Gio Gonzalez

WIth the Gio Gonzalez trade to the Washington Nationals completed, the Marlins are down one more player that they could have acquired for their rotation. Of course, earlier this week I mentioned that the Marlins would have had a difficult time acquiring a pitcher like Gonzalez anyway, given what the Oakland Athletics were looking for in a return package. The return that they got from Washington only reaffirms this; according to Baseball America, the Nationals gave up their third, fourth, and ninth best prospects in addition to another decent player to acquire Gonzalez.

Consider the package the Nationals gave up versus what the Marlins have in their minor league contingent. John Sickels of SB Nation's fantastic baseball prospects blog Minor League Ball had a more in-depth take on the prospects that went over from Washington to Oakland. He graded all four prospects at least as a Grade B-, with top prospect A.J. Cole at a B+ and Brad Peacock as a "strong Grade B, almost a B+" in his words. In comparison, look at the grades Sickels gave to the Marlins' top 20 prospects. The Fish had only one Grade B+ prospect in Christian Yelich and only two Grade B prospects in Jose Fernandez and Marcell Ozuna. In order to match the sort of package the Nationals gave up, the Marlins would have had to surrender their top four prospects (the above mentioned plus Matt Dominguez or J.T. Realmuto) in order to pick up Gonzalez; such a haul would have devastated an already terrible minor-league system.

In addition, consider the considerable question marks surrounding Gio Gonzalez. Kevin Scobee of Bullpen Banter highlights the possible problems that come with the high prospect cost.

The Gonzalez meteoric rise from overrated to underrated seemingly happened overnight. (h/t @devilfingers) After being traded three times (how astonishing is that for an "ace" or even a left-hander?) before he stuck in the Oakland rotation two years ago, he was a ticking time-bomb set to either explode because of his walk rate, or implode because of his lack of mound composure. His 2010 and 2011 seasons statistically have been better, but not when you factor in the major difference in his home and road performance.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs says something similar regarding Gonzalez's possible comparable players.

However, with the exception of Jimenez, none of those guys had the same long track record of walking guys as Gonzalez does. He’s consistently run walk rates north of 10%, even dating back to the minor leagues. This isn’t a new problem for him, and one that he hasn’t shown any real signs of improving on, even as the rest of his game has gotten better.

So, while one could focus on the "what if" upside, it’s more practical to look at Gonzalez’s command problems as something that are going to stick with him, and ask how good Washington can expect him to be if what they’ve seen is what they’re going to get. That brings up a very different set of comparables – Burnett, Billingsley, Zambrano, Cabrera, Volquez, Sanchez, and de la Rosa. These are all good stuff guys who never really conquered their command problems, and had to rely on strikeouts and ground balls to overcome all the walks.

Both of these comments lead to the same basic premise: Gonzalez is not as good as his 2010 and 2011 ERA presume, and if the Nationals paid for those numbers, they may be sorely disappointed. There is an argument to be made that the trade package the Nationals gave up may have overpaid for Gonzalez, who may be a starter in between a second or third starter. Since 2009, Gonzalez had a 3.68 ERA and 3.86 FIP. In comparison, Anibal Sanchez had a 3.66 ERA and 3.58 FIP in that same time period. Would you have given up four decent prospects for four years of control of Anibal Sanchez? It is hard to say "yes" to that question.

So in some respects, the Marlins should be glad that they did not have the prospect haul that the A's were looking for. But now the Fish are down one fewer target, though I never considered Gonzalez much of a possibility after the Marlins essentially put Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton "off limits." But now who should the Marlins consider? Despite the idea that the Marlins are considering any and all pitchers that are available, the Fish should consider only certain names.

Free Agents: In terms of free agent pitchers, the Marlins need to look for upgrades over their current fifth starter option (Chris Volstad). This may sound elementary, but with news that the Fish are considering Joe Saunders, it does not necessarily seem like they understand this concept. Saunders. Since 2009, Saunders has a 4.24 ERA, but a 4.82 FIP indicates that he may be pitching at a lesser skill level than his ERA indicates. Over the past three seasons, Saunders has a total of 3.6 Wins Above Replacement when averaging three WAR metrics. That is an average of 1.2 WAR per season, which is a half-win upgrade over what Chris Volstad has done over the past three seasons. At this point, spending $7 million a year on what barely constitutes as an upgrade would be a mistake.

RIght now, the Marlins have two free agent options of interest. We already discussed Edwin Jackson and the good he might bring, but Roy Oswalt is also an interesting name. Oswalt is now interested in a one-year deal, and as Baseball Nation's Rob Neyer mentions, he would be a highly attractive option on such a low-risk deal. The Marlins would definitely be in play for a one-year contract that would help Oswalt reestablish his value much like Javier Vazquez did last season.

Trades: The trade options remain the same as when we discussed them earlier in the week. The two possible names available to the Fish are likely Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Zambrano. For Rodriguez, the issue is the balance between how much money the Marlins will have to take on for the rest of his three-year, $36 million deal, versus how much the Fish will have to give the Astros for his services. It is likely that the teams could come to some agreement middle-ground agreement and make a deal happen, but anything the Fish may do would probably be a bit of an overpay versus just signing Jackson.

In the case of Zambrano, the Marlins may look to him as a last resort. It would not be difficult to get the Chicago Cubs to agree to a deal for Zambrano that would involve them eating a good majority of his 2012 salary, and his addition to the rotation would be a pure upside look for the Fish. The Marlins would also likely have to give up little for Zambrano's services, meaning the worst-case scenario is very minimal for the team.

Who will the Fish go after? It is uncertain as of right now, but I like the idea of pursuing free agent starters, particularly Jackson and Oswalt, before turning to Rodriguez and, if necessary and viable, Zambrano. The Marlins can acquire someone if possible, but they need to make sure that the money and costs are right. The Nationals may have overpaid for a 2012 upgrade, but the Marlins need to make sure they do not do the same thing with a brash move.