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The Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Trade Value of Big Contracts

The Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of making another large trade, acquiring R.A. Dickey and sending away Travis D'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard as part of the return. This shows the negative value of the Marlins trading Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle.

R.A. Dickey is being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a bigger prospect haul than the Miami Marlins got for three good major leaguers.
R.A. Dickey is being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a bigger prospect haul than the Miami Marlins got for three good major leaguers.
Marc Serota

The Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of making another trade for a top pitcher in acquiring 2012 National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets in a seven-player deal that sends away prospects Travis D'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard as part of the package.

If you recognize those names going back to the Mets for Dickey, it is probably because they are two of the best prospects remaining in the Toronto farm system after the trade with the Miami Marlins raided the entire organization of minor league depth in its mega-trade that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto. The Marlins, of course, did not end up getting either of D'Arnaud or Syndergaard, opting instead to receive Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Adeiny Hechavarria amid a slew of other players.

This is important because one of the critiques of the Marlins' trade with the Blue Jays was that the Fish did not receive enough from Toronto in return for two of the team's most productive players. The Marlins were rumored to be getting one of the Jays' catchers, potentially starter J.P. Arencibia, but the team eventually ended up with a negative asset in Jeff Mathis instead. The team also ended up with Nicolino instead of Syndergaard, with most prospect folks rating the latter higher than the former. Combine that with the addition of a very flawed, lower-ranking player in Hechavarria and you can understand how Marlins fans may have felt duped by this trade.

But as we discussed at the time of the deal, the Marlins actually received a nice package for their troubles, one that valued current value a lot more than future value. It still included two of the best prospects in the Jays' system in Marisnick (second-best in the system according to Baseball America before the trade and likely a top-100 player) and Nicolino (fifth-best) along with added depth, but a common complaint was that the club got neither the Jays' best position player (D'Arnaud, an upper-tier top-100 player) nor their best pitcher (Syndergaard, according to most lists), but sent out all of that talent in return.

The reason for that, of course, is simple. As talented as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle were, we saw in the linked article at the time of the trade that the two players were the most negative assets in the trade. Reyes and Buehrle were very likely to under-perform their contracts the rest of the way and theoretically cost the Jays money in the long run, and that aspect had to be taken into account when the Marlins received their haul in return. Even with the Jays likely valuing the advantage of present value in players like Reyes and Buehrle more than they probably would have if they were not going "all-in" this season, it is very likely that the Fish could have received a better package by only trading one of those two players to Toronto. Their contracts weighed down the return enough that at least one of those deals cost the Marlins an upgrade to D'Arnaud.

Combine that and the fact that Dickey projects as a better pitcher to start 2013 than Johnson and you can see why the Marlins got less in prospect value by trading three major pieces while the Mets are getting more by trading one. But despite all of those problems, I still do not believe you can be all that upset about the return the Marlins received. Nicolino and Syndergaard are probably not all that far off, as the Jays' three better pitching prospects (those two and Aaron Sanchez) are all fairly evenly matched in terms of numbers, pedigree, and level of development. The drop from D'Arnaud, a major-league ready catcher, and Marisnick is the big blow, but with the amount of large contracts the Marlins sent, the team should be happy it received a similar haul for this trade.

At the same time, you wonder if the Marlins could have done better by withholding one of those names, likely Buehrle, and trading just one large contract and smaller pieces in order to retain some of the negative trade value and upgrade on the prospects. Would the Marlins be better off sending just Reyes among its fat contracts and getting back a D'Arnaud rather than Marisnick or an extra pitcher in Sanchez or Syndergaard? If the team were not so interested in shedding salary, this may have been something to consider and could have left the Marlins better off in future seasons.