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The Miami Marlins and the Value of Trade Value

The Miami Marlins may have garnered significant savings in their trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, but there is a legitimate question as to whether that trade value holds any real value with a franchise run by Jeffrey Loria.

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has created a lot of value in his fire sale trade, but if he does not use the money saved, that value will dissipate.
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has created a lot of value in his fire sale trade, but if he does not use the money saved, that value will dissipate.
Mike Ehrmann

One of the most important positives of the recent mega-trade between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays is that the Fish got rid of a significant amount of salary over a large number of seasons. In addition, the team rid themselves of two negative assets in Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle who, despite their obvious talent, were not likely to live up to the remainder of their contract. The most positive aspect of this trade is that this large amount of salary coming off of the books not only helped get the Marlins future talent to bring the team cheap wins in the future, but also picked up money the team can use to buy wins to support a competitive future Marlins core in a few seasons.

If this were any other team, such a move would be considered decent at worst and a coup at best. In one move, the Marlins cleared all of their salary obligations and picked up talent. The Boston Red Sox did a similar thing in the midseason by trading away Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most analysts thought it was a shrewd move by the Sox to clear their commitments and reappropriate that money if necessary into better assets. However, as we discussed yesterday, the Marlins did the same thing and were lambasted, and the reason for that is that the team lacks the credibility in the front office and ownership to make proper moves with the assets that they did acquire. Unlike the Red Sox, it is uncertain that the Marlins will be able or even willing to do anything with the savings they just acquired.

Again, the critical part of the trade that makes it valuable for the Marlins is that they garnered so much salary space with the move that the team can reinvest the money into other assets at presumably market prices and receive fair value. But as we discussed late last week, free agents are going to be harder to find for the Marlins now that the front office has once again betrayed their long-term commitment talk. This is especially going to be a problem after the news discussed yesterday that the Marlins gave verbal commitments to Reyes and Buehrle that they would not be traded and that the team was interested in the long haul with their signings. The front office sent a clear message that was obscured before by the glitz and glamour of the 2012 rechristening: if you are a free agent signing with the Miami Marlins, do not expect to be around for too long. No player is safe in a Marlins uniform, no matter the promised commitment by the team.

But there is a question beyond whether free agents would want to sign with the Marlins. The additional question is whether the Marlins, under Jeffrey Loria and David Samson, would be interested in signing free agents at all. After all, the four major free agent signings of multiple years and many dollars that the Marlins made under Loria's reign have all ended in offseason trades after their first season under the team. Reyes, Buehrle, and Heath Bell joined long-time member Carlos Delgado in that group of players signed by the Fish in free agency only to be traded away after one season by Loria and the front office. In no season have the Marlins showed enough commitment to even want to take on free agents to build a competitive team that would be given significant time to mesh, and it would seem the future holds little different in store for the Marlins.

Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball shared an anecdote regarding Samson in an essay on the greed of Jeffrey Loria (subscription only) that seems pertinent to the Marlins' perpetual plans.

I mentioned (naively, it seems in retrospect given recent moves by the club) how the retention of talent must be difficult without their own ballpark. It was also here that I realized just how scary the Marlins’ brain-trust really was (and still is). Samson broadsided me, not by speaking of the Marlins directly but by disparaging a fellow club.

"Can you believe those [effing] Brewers?" Samson said, not hiding his disgust. "They’re giving away tickets to the last game of the season because they finished over .500. How [effing] stupid is that? Giving away tickets for being ‘average.’ I tell you, we’ll build it up and tear it down year after year if that’s what it takes to win a World Series."

Samson showed a rare glimpse at the mindset of Loria and the Marlins ownership. If the team has evaluated that this group will fail, no matter how premature that evaluation may or may not be, they will tear it down to allow for it to rise again.

Except that this never happened during the Loria era of the Marlins. The post-2003 core was kept mostly intact by Loria, but it was dismantled before the 2006 season. From 2006 to 2011, the Marlins had five seasons in which to find a competitive core and supplement it with appropriate additions to make it a winner. The Fish did no such thing and allowed Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson to fend for themselves alongside a few lucky additions (Cody Ross) and mostly nothing else. The Fish were a few wins away from a potential playoff berth in 2009; would it not have been nice to have a real third baseman or additional corner outfielder during that season instead of the chaff the team eventually ran out that year? But the Marlins never made proper additions until after the league reprimanded the organization for a lack of spending.

And that brings us back to this initial point regarding the infamous Toronto Blue Jays trade. The surplus value of the trade was enormous. The value of acquiring prospects who could provide extra wins in the future at reduced prices is tremendous, and the Marlins also accomplished the job of shedding now-bad contracts as well. But all of that value, which I calculated before as upwards of $100 million-plus, means nothing if the Marlins do not reinvest it into the team. Surplus value is great precisely because you can add bonus wins with the money saved on good prospects to supplement them and reach contention. That value is meaningless if the money instead simply lines the pocket of Jeffrey Loria, as it does not add any wins to the table.

The Marlins have mentioned that they are more than willing to tear it down and build it back up to win a World Series. Well, the team has accomplished their fair share of "tearing it down, and the one time they even considered "building it up," the situation lasted for one season. The Marlins have torn it down again, and in that respect, it was a successful tearing down of this current core. But the reason this trade has been generally panned is that, despite all of the trade value that it brings, the actions of the Marlins make it hard to believe that the team will use that money and value created to help "build it up" to a World Series. If the money once again enters the coffers of Loria, then all of the surplus trade value in the world could not save the Marlins from an endless cycle of mediocrity.