As you might have figured from last week's mega-trade between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays, the Fish are not interested in trying to win many games this season. When you look at the trade, you can see that the Marlins did not consider 2013 much in the move just by looking at the sheer number of prospects the team acquired. Only one of the four prospects the Marlins picked up are expected to be ready before 2014 or 2015.
Of the remaining players the Marlins did receive, all three are expected to make the Opening Day roster. Jeff Mathis is slated as the team's backup catcher. Henderson Alvarez has a spot in the Marlins' decimated rotation. Yunel Escobar, the embattled shortstop whom Jose Reyes will replace in Toronto, is expected to join the team and shift over to third base to accommodate the defensive talents of acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
But that is if Escobar even gets to stay in south Florida, and if I were him, I would not purchase my property here just yet. From Yahoo's Jeff Passan:
How excited are the Marlins to have Yunel Escobar? They were calling around shopping him last week, before the mega-deal was even official.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 20, 2012
The Marlins are considering trading the only really established player that the team acquired in Escobar, who has been around the league for six seasons. Escobar is currently the team's only option at third base, or at least the only one who will not be named Greg Dobbs. Given the team's need at third base, why would they consider trading their only useful player at the position? Let us weigh some of the pros and cons of moving Escobar before reaching a decision.
Bounce Back Potential
Just one season ago, Escobar hit .290/.369/.413 (.348 wOBA). This would not have been relevant had he not spent multiple seasons hitting at about this level just a few seasons before that; in his first three years as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Escobar hit .301/.375/.426 (.355 wOBA). Of course, since that time he has had two terrible seasons on offense sandwiching one good comeback year. But just based on that, one would think the Marlins would be wise to hold onto him to see if he can return to the All-Star, four-win player form that he had just a season before.
Just from a glance at Escobar's statistics, the major concern from last season seems to be his declining walk rate. In 2010, when he had his first offensive meltdown, he was producing no power and getting unfortunate bounces on balls in play just like in 2012, but the difference was that in 2010, he was still walking at a 10 percent rate. He did just that for four straight seasons from 2008 to 2011, and that combined with his perennially low strikeout rates to keep his batting average and OBP more stable than most players. But in 2012, his walk rate collapsed to 5.6 percent, thanks in part to an increased rate of swings outside the strike zone. If he can bounce back to a higher walk rate, it is very possible that this will stabilize his batting line and return him to at least 2011 form.
Of course, opposing teams who are interested in Escobar may be thinking the same thing, thereby increasing his trade value slightly. The Marlins may be able to rope in a team looking for help at shortstop with Escobar, given the paucity of options in the free agent market, and this would be the primary marketing point in trading him.
At the same time, teams have only the last few seasons with which to evaluate the talent of Escobar, and he has gone through two bad years in the last three. Given his last season was bordering on a collapse year, the Marlins would selling very low on Escobar despite his previous showings. Why should the team sell low on a volatile asset like Escobar when it can wait out an affordable year and check in the following season?
Escobar may be on one of the friendliest contracts in the league for an asset who may be difficult to trade. He is owed just $5 million in 2013 and the Marlins own two team options at $5 million for 2014 and 2015. For a player who could very well be an average or better starter at a premium position, it seems strange to see him traded so often and so willingly. The contract holds a lot of value to a Marlins team that is looking to fill its roster with cheap talent. This goes double for the third base position, since the Marlins have a clear and present need in that area and Escobar, should he perform decently in 2013, could end up filling that position until 2015 at a reduced rate.
At the same time, the cheap contract also adds a lot of value to his trade prospects, as teams would not be risking as much on a clearly volatile asset. In addition, because the 2014 and 2015 seasons are team options, any acquiring club could simply cut its losses after this year if Escobar fails to meet expectations again, giving any team who ends up with him a lot of flexibility in managing the asset. The cheap contract is a clear boon to both the Marlins' "keep" and "trade" arguments.
Escobar was suspended by the Toronto Blue Jays following an incident in which he had a gay slur written on his eyeblack. He was suspended for three games, but this was not the first incidence of supposed character problems with regards to Escobar. There is speculation that a major reason that the Atlanta Braves traded him initially to the Blue Jays was his problem with effort and character in addition to the issues with his play in 2010. Fans have often seen him as aloof and unfocused on the field, and this reputation was only worsened by the eyeblack incident from last season.
All of those character issues serve to diminish value to the Marlins relative to other teams. Typically, character issues are seen as better handled when there are team veterans keeping players in line. The Marlins have now been left with very little in the way of veteran presence, with only Dobbs there to "lead the clubhouse." The Marlins may not feel having Escobar around is conducive to the team's future success, especially with young players like Hechavarria being critical to the team's future. If the team is concerned about chemistry, it may see Escobar as a net negative given his uncertain play.
In reviewing the various aspects of trading or keeping Escobar, I have come to the conclusion that the Marlins would be wiser to keep Escobar for 2013 than trade him away. With a volatile player like him, it is hard to know when you are selling low or just getting value before a collapse, so there is an inherent problem in evaluating Escobar's value. Still, given the down season he just had, it is far more likely that he regresses upwards rather than continues to free-fall, so the bet is that he should be better than last season.
How much better is still a question, and if Escobar were locked into multiple seasons in his contract, that would also be a factor. But because his contract is so friendly, both in price and in length, the Marlins have an easy option available to them for the 2013 season. Rather than trade him now for low value, they can hold onto him for 2013. If he rebounds from his bad 2012, he will have gained trade value and the Marlins can then make a decision with regards to either holding onto or trading him for a much better return. If he is just an average player, the team will not have lost any value, as the club options are cheap enough that teams will still be interested in acquiring Escobar. If he stagnates at 2012 levels or collapses, the Marlins are not beholden to him and can simply let him go; this scenario is the only one in which the Marlins "lose" compared to trading him now, and the damage of having that happen is mitigated by the fact that the team can cut ties with Escobar cleanly.
Rather than sell very low on a player who has had plenty of highs in the past, the Marlins should consider holding Escobar for at least one more season. With his price so low, there is no reason for the team to bail quickly on him, especially since the roster has very little guaranteed money invested as it is. If Escobar improves, which is the most likely scenario, then the team at worst retains his trade value heading into next season and possibly improves it. If he struggles, the Marlins can cut ties easily.