One of the interesting things about this season's "fire sale" narrative due to the recent Miami Marlins trades of Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and Hanley Ramirez was that the Marlins were supposedly opening up a number of holes on the team for 2013 that would prevent the club from competing, and thus the moves could be considered "salary dumps" or moves to get rid of contracts for salary dump's sake. And this is true in the sense that the trades did open holes on the team at second base and third base.
But the funny thing about that is that, while it did create holes that were not previously there, the trades also filled future holes that would have become issues beginning in 2013. Back in May, the Marlins were succeeding to a large degree due to pitching, but the concern was that the Marlins' current pitching staff was not in the team's long-term plans. Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano were both free agents at the end of 2012, and the Marlins had to make a decision about whether or not they would retain either of the two pitchers or open up two potential rotation spots with no good pitchers available to replace them among the in-house options.
That problem did not seem to loom large in May, with all the wins the club was racking up. But now that the team has fallen out of contention in 2012 and had to consider its chances in 2013, they needed to know how they might address those concerns. Luckily for them, those two trades involving Sanchez, Infante, and Ramirez happened to fill those two rotation spots perfectly with acquired pitchers Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi.Pitchers Picked Up
We have already discussed the two pitchers in relative detail in previous articles, but it is worth mentioning again that the Marlins did not pick up chopped liver in terms of pitching prospects. Turner was the 22nd best prospect in baseball heading into 2012 according to Baseball America, and Eovaldi was the 98th best prospect. Both of these guys are well considered based on their minor league work and their scouting reports. For example, here is what Minor League Ball's John Sickels said about each before 2012:
1) Jacob Turner, RHP, Grade A-: I think he could use some additional Triple-A exposure, but the Tigers may have different ideas. I don't see him as a number one Verlander-like ace, but more like a durable workhorse number two.
2) Nate Eovaldi, RHP, Grade B, Borderline B+. He made huge progress last year, although his major league K/BB ratio was poor and indicates he still needs some refinement. He would probably better off pitching out of the major league bullpen than going to Albuquerque if he doesn't make the rotation in spring training.
Those words are not highly encouraging for 2013, but they are certainly indicative of the Marlins acquiring talented players. And since that time, Eovaldi has been good enough to stick in a major league rotation for now, having put up a decent 3.94 ERA and 3.98 FIP. Turner has gone in the other direction, having been shelled in three starts this season, but he has the better pedigree, so the Marlins are banking on him being able to recover after a few solid Triple-A starts.
In any case, both pitchers seem to be close to ready for regular rotation work by 2013. Before the season began, Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein projected that Turner's and Eovaldi's estimated arrival times in the majors would be this season, and while both players have not performed so great that they could not use seasoning in Triple-A, neither has been around long enough to say outright that they would be embarrassed at the major league level in 2013.
Perhaps the more important aspect of this filling of the two empty rotation holes is the amount of money the Marlins saved on the moves that could be re-appropriated to fill their other needs. The Marlins clearly did not replace all of the wins they would expect to get from Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano by going to Turner and Eovaldi. But the Marlins do not have to replace all of those wins if the team gains back enough money to purchase wins elsewhere.
Assume the Marlins are giving up five Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, in letting Sanchez and Zambrano go past this season. Based on what we have seen of Turner and Eovaldi, a reasonable expectation for those guys ranges between two and three WAR. That means the Marlins are approximately making up for half of the wins contributed by Sanchez and Zambrano in 2013. That may not sound like much until you consider that those two prospects would be making four percent of what Sanchez and Zambrano would have made in 2013 and beyond. Sanchez was in line for a big contract of at least $16 million annually, and his current performance is not likely to get in the way of that eventual number. The Marlins would have also had to sign for at least five years. Zambrano may have been worth one win and commanded something like $3 million or $4 million in a one-year contract.
So the Marlins saved just about $19 million in replacing half of the wins with Turner and Eovaldi rather than Sanchez and Zambrano. The team also conveniently saved $15.5 million next season by dumping Hanley Ramirez's contract, so the money is present for the team to convert those savings into wins. In order to pick up the remaining 2.5 wins that we lost by going to Turner and Eovaldi, the Marlins would have to spend about $12.5 million in free agent money.
Filling the New Holes
So the Marlins know they lost a few wins with the conversion to Turner and Eovaldi, but they can spend money to get back those wins and then some in 2013. Conveniently, the team had two holes to fill at second base and third base that would have otherwise gone to replacement-level players. Unfortunately for the Fish, the free agent market is weak on both of those player types, but the flexibility of Emilio Bonifacio makes some of that point moot. Bonifacio has already moved to second base from the outfield, and that opens up the outfield position for potential free agent signings. As mentioned yesterday, there are a number of options among free agent outfielders available this offseason, and the Marlins can spend their money there to fill the hole left in center field.
The issue will continue to be filling third base, as the Marlins do not have a capable third baseman in their minor league system and the free agent market has very few capable options. This issue remains a concern, but the Marlins will have to be creative to resolve the problem they have on their hands. But the pitching problem may have been solved for the 2013 season, and if either Turner or Eovaldi develop into league average pitchers (around a 4.00 ERA according to this season's run environment), the team could be looking at making up almost four wins out of the five that the Marlins would have received by paying $16 million per season for Sanchez.