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Cameron Maybin Making Marlins Regret Center Field Decision

News is out that the San Diego Padres are re-engaging in extension talks with former Marlins center fielder Cameron Maybin (H/T MLB Daily Dish). This made me think back to the initial trade that the Marlins committed, sending away Maybin for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb. Back then, I had my share of reaction to that trade over at Marlin Maniac last offseason, but with the extension discussion, the trade has wandered back into my mind. At the time of the deal, I mentioned that the Fish probably came up even in terms of pure performance, but this did not consider the very important financial ramifications of the deal. After the deal was discussed by others, I amended my opinion by stating that the Marlins' return of relief pitchers was likely too low, even given the questionable nature of Maybin's future performance.

Since that time, obviously Maybin has done a very good job. In his inaugural season with the Padres, he hit .264/.323/.393 for them with an average Wins Above Replacement (WAR) between three different WAR metrics of 3.6. Of course, this sort of production makes the Marlins' center field play look poor in comparison; Mike Cameron, Chris Coghlan, and Bryan Petersen added up to 1.8 average WAR in comparison in 2011, and only Petersen and Emilio Bonifacio are likely to log significant playing time in center field in 2012.

The idea of extending Cameron Maybin really makes the Marlins' 2011 plan in center field look significantly worse in comparison. While the Padres might be in line to keep a cost-controlled, league-average or better player for another four seasons, the Marlins are currently stuck trying out players with not nearly the pedigree that Maybin has.

Marlins Conceded Too Early

Once you look at Maybin's numbers through 2010, you wonder why the Marlins decided to make a move.

2010 322 .234 .302 .361 .299 0.9
2009 199 .250 .318 .409 .311 0.8
2008 36 .500 .543 .563 .518 0.9
2008-2010 557 .257 .323 .391 .317 2.6

Thanks in part to the contribution of defensive statistics and Maybin's significantly strong baserunning, he totaled 2.6 average WAR over the course of three separate seasons while batting a pretty acceptable .317 wOBA. In fact, through that time period, Maybin was only 10 percent worse than the league average on offense, not including his baserunning skill in non-stealing situations.

Note the number of PA that the Marlins gave Maybin as well. He received 557 PA over the course of three seasons to prove himself, and he did a decent enough job to earn an opportunity for playing time the next season. In comparison, Bonifacio received 710 PA over two seasons while hitting .252/.303/.318 with similar performances on the bases before he got a chance to shine in 2011. One has to wonder why Maybin was not afforded a similar opportunity.

The Fallacy of the Money Argument

Previously, I had figured the reason why the Fish were not interested in utilizing Maybin was because of his pending arbitration status. From a previous article on Marlin Maniac:

I think this is an important part that simply cannot be overlooked. The only advantages Maybin has going for him heading into 2011 are his tools (at his age) and his pre-arbitration status. Yes, the Marlins would have had to keep him up in the majors all year since he is out of options, but the Fish basically had one more pre-arbitration year to hold onto Maybin and see what they could get out of him. If he faltered but still qualified for Super Two status and entered arbitration, the Fish would have let him go via a trade akin to the one they pulled with Miller. The question had to be whether the Marlins thought they were going to get anything out of him this year that would be of similar value to the two relievers they received.

This would have been very important indeed. If the Marlins figured they would not get enough out of Maybin to justify paying him arbitration for Super Two status, the Fish would have been better off making a trade for the best value they could find. Now, the return of two decent but unspectacular relievers may have been too little for a former top prospect, but if the Fish may have thought it was the best they could get for one year of potential Maybin play before he hit arbitration and became too expensive for the team.

However, two things got in the way of that argument. One was the possibility that he would not attain Super Two status, which he indeed did not do despite playing a full season with the Padres. More importantly, however, was the Marlins sudden interest in spending significant amounts of money on talent. Prior to this offseason, none of us were sure of how exactly the Fish would spend with the new stadium revenue. But while we may not have known anything about their spending, I am certain the front office and ownership knew approximately how much they would be spending. If there was a real concern about how much the Marlins would spend on Maybin in 2012, it certainly does not appear as if the team has similar concerns on their spending on other arbitration players. Guys like Juan Carlos Oviedo and Chris Volstad are going to be paid significant arbitration money that could have also been easily handed to Maybin coming off even a sub par season.

So not only did the Marlins give up significantly early on a player when they afforded other similar players more time to develop, but the team did so at a position which needed filling in center field. Furthermore, the Marlins' primary financial reason for escaping from the Maybin situation turns out was not a legitimate problem, as they are having no issues paying for multiple players of similar caliber in 2012's arbitration round. Even without considering the relative success of Maybin's 2012 season, much of what went down with that trade has not turned out well for the Fish.