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Miami Marlins Sell Low on Yunel Escobar Trade to Tampa Bay Rays

The Miami Marlins completed a trade sending Yunel Escobar to the Tampa Bay Rays. The return of middle infield prospect Derek Dietrich is decent, if not underwhelming given Escobar's trade value and rebound season potential.

The Miami Marlins likely sold low on former Toronto Blue Jay Yunel Escobar, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Miami Marlins likely sold low on former Toronto Blue Jay Yunel Escobar, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Marlins completed their trade to send Yunel Escobar away from Miami before he ever put on a Marlins uniform. Escobar will now be manning shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, who sent middle infield prospect Derek Dietrich in return.

In a way, both teams achieved something they wanted. For the Rays, they got a starting shortstop who has a good chance for a bounce back season after a rough 2012. For the Marlins, the team received a prospect who could presumably play second or third base, two positions of dire need in the organization, in return for a player who had questionable character and performance upside.

The problem is that the Marlins may have given up just a little too much on the current production side to fall just a little short on the potential future production aspect of the deal. Given Escobar's value and his cheap contract, it seems as though the Marlins could have squeezed a little more value from this trade.

Yunel Escobar's Value

We have already discussed Escobar's trade value as part of the mega-deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that sent him here in the first place. He struggled in his latest season with the Jays, and his approach was more aggressive than it had been seasons past, leading to a lower walk rate than we are used to seeing. Still, one has to believe that Escobar has a decent amount of potential to bounce back from that ugly year, as he is only a year removed from being a .290/.369/.413 hitter (.348 wOBA). As a shortstop, that holds great value, as I mentioned in the trade value article.

It seems almost impossible to guess Yunel Escobar at this stage. In his last three seasons, he has hit .266/.335/.358 (.312 wOBA), but that included a nice sandwich season between two uglier campaigns. Combine that with decent, though sometimes baffling, defense and you have a player who could easily be a three-win player next year. Adding Escobar likely improves the infield defense enough that, along with a bounce back of his bat, he could be a 2.5-win player in 2013 and decline as we usually project. The Marlins have two club options at $5 million a season after a $5 million salary in 2013. Assuming each year is picked up, Escobar could be worth $16.5 million in surplus value.

There is some concern, however, that Jays GM Alex Anthopolous likely knows more about Escobar than the Marlins do and may be selling low on his performance. Given his perplexing, up-and-down career, this may be a reasonable assumption, and I would be willing to knock him down to $13 million in surplus over the next three years.

Those appear to be at least passable assumptions about Escobar's current value in the trade market. At $13 million, the Marlins would at best be valuing him as closer to a league-average player in 2013 with a steady half-win per season decline. Last season, Escobar was a 1.7-win player when you take adjusted average of the three major Wins Above Replacement mechanics last season, and that was with a career-worst hitting year with a .253/.300/.344 line. If Escobar hits anywhere close to his three-year line of .266/.335/.358 (.312 wOBA), he should easily be an average player next season and hit that surplus value mark.

Derek Dietrich's Value

Dietrich was ranked as a C-plus prospect heading into the 2012 season by Minor League Ball's John Sickels. Here is what John had to say about Dietrich.

20) Derek Dietrich, SS, Grade C+: Good power, but poor strike zone judgment in Low-A and pending move to third base keep him from a higher grade at this point. With some adjustments could get into strong B range.

Dietrich did well enough in High-A to earn himself a promotion late in the year to Double-A, and he did a passable job at that level as well. The strike zone concerns remained a major problem, as Dietrich whiffed in almost 25 percent of his PA in Double-A while walking in less than five percent of them. But the fact that he got through two different levels with decent success has to be encouraging for Marlins fans and for prospect graders.

Scott Grauer over at the SB Nation Rays site DRaysBay tends to agree in his 2012 Rays prospect review.

For the first time in his career, Dietrich began playing some second base, especially when he found himself at Montgomery with Hak-Ju Lee. He's really not a shortstop long term, and the ability to play around the infield will add a lot of value to his profile. After 2011, perhaps the biggest question about Dietrich was whether or not he was a player just beating up inferior competition. By continuing to hit well at Charlotte and then holding his own in Montgomery, I think he answered that question.

I think the subjective assessment of his 2012 season appears to be in conjunction with the eye test of his FanGraphs page. He displayed the same problems as he did at the previous level, but he held up decently and should at least get a B or B-minus grade heading into 2013. If we consult the value table from 2009 based on Victor Wang's oft-cited research, we can see that a B-ranked prospect is worth about $5.5 million in surplus value.

Now that he enters a middle-of-the-pack Marlins organization, he should slot in nicely into the middle infield either at second base, shortstop, or third base. It is true that the Marlins had depth issues at those positions, particularly second and third base. But a cursory glance at the trade values of both players and you will see that the Marlins did not get fair value for this deal. The team sent an admittedly difficult but still talented player to the Rays and did not receive enough prospects in return to meet the fair value of the deal. As nicely as Dietrich fits into the organization's bottom half of the top ten prospects list, he still was likely not enough return for the Marlins.

There are potential reasons for this move failing to meet expectations. The first is the incorrect evaluation of Escobar. We know that the Marlins are not highly analytic in their judgment of players. It is possible that the team noted Escobar's struggles and weighed them more heavily than perhaps they should have. In addition, the team may have knocked him down further based on his character problems that were placed front and center last season during the eye black homophobic slur scandal. This combination of a recent poor performance and character concerns may have pushed the Marlins to trade as quickly as possible rather than being patient for the best deal.

The reason why patience could have been a good virtue for the Fish in this case is that Escobar's erratic play could have lent itself to improving his trade value during 2013. Had the Marlins held onto him, the likelihood was that he would at least bounce back a little and rebuild some of his trade value, enough so that the team could deal him at the deadline or at the end of 2013. Instead, the Marlins chose to trade him after a career-worst season and a public scandal, essentially throwing him out at his lowest value. The worst thing that could happen in keeping Escobar is that he craters and the Marlins cut ties with him after 2013. But there is a decent chance that he can return to some semblance of his four-win self from 2011 and garner much more value to the team in a trade.

Alas, the Marlins settled for what we can only presume is the best trade the team could find now rather than waiting to see if they could get a better deal later on. As a result, the club got a potential second or third baseman for the future to fill a dire need in a thin minor league system, but the team settled for less-than-ideal trade value instead of waiting out a sunnier alternative.