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This Day In Marlins History: Marlins Trade Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi, Acquire Paul Lo Duca from Dodgers

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In Fish Stripes' continued attempt to remind people of the past of the Florida Marlins along with the present and future of the Miami Marlins, we bring you a new feature published three or so times a week entitled This Day In Marlins History! The concept itself is very simple: whenever we publish this, we find an interesting fact or tidbit related to the Florida / Miami Marlins and write a little bit about that event.

On this date, July 30, 2004, the Marlins pulled off a trade before the deadline that was designed to fill an important hole on the club, but turned into one that opened more holes than it filled.

After the 2003 World Series championship, the Marlins set off with the goal of re-signing Ivan Rodriguez. Rodriguez had signed for one year with the Fish to increase his free agent value for the 2004 offseason, but he then stumbled into a winning combination in Florida and earned his only championship ring in that season in Miami. The following offseason, the Fish attempted to re-sign him, but they did not offer enough money and he chose the Detroit Tigers over the Marlins. The Fish went into 2004 without a top-end catcher once again.

It was not until this day that the Marlins acquired the All-Star catcher they wanted, as the team traded starting pitcher Brad Penny, first baseman Hee Seop Choi, and minor league pitcher Bill Murphy to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher Paul Lo Duca, outfielder Juan Encarnacion (ironically a member of the 2003 World Series team), and reliever Guillermo Mota.

With regards to the big two names, it seemed both sides were getting what they wanted. The Fish acquired a player who had hit .301/.355/.444 as a catcher with the Dodgers, earning himself a second straight All-Star appearance three years removed from an insane 2001 season. The Dodgers got their front-line rotation man after the team had suffered through a ton of inconsistent, mostly terrible starters behind Odalis Perez (?) and Jeff Weaver. In fact, the team ran out Kazuhisa Ishii, Jose Lima, and Hideo Nomo for 426 1/3 innings of 5.15 ERA ball.

It was reasonable to assume that both Penny and Lo Duca were similar-caliber players. Penny was traded with a 3.15 ERA in Florida up until that point, but in the year before he had a 4.13 ERA and had been a weak pitcher before then. Meanwhile, Lo Duca had fallen from his great years and now was merely a good-hitting catcher. Both players could be considered 3.5- to four-win players for 2004 and 2005. Conveniently, they both were under team control only through 2005, so their trade value was basically the same.

What killed the deal for the Marlins is that they inexplicably threw in Hee Seop Choi in the deal as well. Choi was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Derrek Lee trade, and he was no bit player in the minors; going into the 2003 season, Choi was the Cubs' best prospect and the 22nd-best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. He went into the 2004 season having had a mediocre start to his career, but it was not as if the Marlins traded him at a low point. He actually hit .270/.388/.495 (.379 wOBA) for the Fish and racked up 1.4 Wins Above Replacement by that point in the season. At the time he was dealt, Choi was at least an average first baseman in essentially his first season of team control. The Marlins had no reason to trade such a valuable asset who had done everything to prove he belonged in the majors in this trade.

What did the Marlins get in return? An admittedly decent reliever in Mota (1.97 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 2003) and an outfielder in Encarnacion whom the Marlins should have known was mediocre. Encarnacion played for the World Series team, and he was not particularly good, having hit .270/.313/.446 (.327 wOBA) that year. With the Dodgers, he was hitting just .239/.289/.417 (.302 wOBA). What's worse is that the Marlins only had control of Encarnacion for one more season, as he signed a two-year extension with Los Angeles after he was traded from Florida before the year began. If there was any team that knew the value of Encarnacion under a two-year, $8 million extension, it should have been the Marlins. Yet somehow, the team opted for Encarnacion for a season and a half and a reliever over six potential years of an elite prospect like Choi who had already begun hitting in the majors.

Even before the ultimate results of the trade came out, the deal was a clear loss for the Marlins. Of course, we all know how that trade turned out. Penny turned out to be exactly the pitcher we thought he was, as he had three solid three- to four-win seasons for the Dodgers before he suffered an injury and lost his game. Meanwhile, Lo Duca was a .277/.332/.377 hitter as a Marlin, compiled just 2.4 WAR in a season and a half in Fish stripes before being traded to the New York Mets, only to put up a final All-Star season in 2006 before his career more or less faltered. Meanwhile, Encarnacion was Encarnacion (though he had a solid 2005 season) and Mota pitched all of 100 innings with the Fish and put up a 4.74 ERA while he was at it. On the Dodgers side, they mishandled Choi in terms of playing time, yanked him around, and botched his development enough that he never played in the majors past 2005.

While the Dodgers may not have gotten all they wanted from this trade, the Marlins lost a lot of value in making this deal, easily one of the worst moves in the Larry Beinfest era of the Florida Marlins.