The Miami Marlins have serious, long-term needs at multiple positions, including the middle infield positions and catcher. The catcher situation, according to our report, is in the most dire strait, as Miami has questionable future options in the minors and have Jeff Mathis at the top of the Major League depth chart. As a result, the Fish are definitely interested in acquiring a long-term solution at catcher. Unfortunately, very few franchises would be interested in trading a young, promising catcher under cost control, even for the kind of starting pitching that Miami can promise.
But it turns out that the Los Angeles Angels are a team with a young, cost-controlled catcher who is available for trade. While the franchise would prefer trading Chris Iannetta and his two remaining salaried years, the team would also considering trading Hank Conger it seems. They would like to deal one of these catchers and allow the other to be a regular starter, but which one would be beneficial for Miami, and how would they acquire either catcher?
Iannetta has been underrated for a very long time, but he is no longer a spring chicken having his youth wasted in Colorado. When the Rockies failed to keep Iannetta in the majors due to his poor batting average and questionable defense, he was still a healthy 28-year-old or younger. Now Iannetta is 30 years old and likely heading towards the downside of his career.
Nevertheless, he is still a worthwhile catcher to have on a team. Last season, he hit .225/.358/.372 (.330 wOBA) and was 11 percent better than the league average on offense. That line was equivalent to players like Pedro Alvarez and Marco Scutaro from last season. For a player playing a premium defensive position, Iannetta is a solid offensive option. The batting average has classically fooled the Rockies, but Iannetta boasts a career .355 OBP and has decent power (career .183 ISO). Even after the move away from Coors Field, Iannetta posted a .152 ISO and hit 20 homers in 652 plate appearances as an Angel.
Iannetta's offensive skills are offset slightly by his defensive struggles. He has never been a good catcher save for one fluke 2011 season in Colorado, but last year may have been his worst season behind the plate. Iannetta caught just 20 out 104 would-be basestealers, leading to a paltry 19 percent caught stealing rate. He also allowed a wild pitch or passed ball every 20 innings caught, which was slightly worse than his career rate of one every 22 innings caught.
But the biggest deterrent against Iannetta for the Marlins is his contract status. His contract has decent trade value because he is only being paid $10.5 million over the next two years for his age 31 and 32 seasons. But the Marlins are not looking for a short-term catching solution and may not find one to take over for Iannetta after 2015. The Angels would prefer to trade him just to shed his minimal salary, but Miami would want a younger player with more team control.
Enter Hank Conger, the 25-year-old former top prospect who has languished for parts of three seasons in the high minors waiting for a big league chance. Conger boasts a potentially strong bat in the majors, but he never had a lot of Major League time to show it off. He had a 197-plate appearance stint in 2011 serving primarily as a backup for Mathis (deja vu!), but he was demoted to Triple-A the following year with the arrival of Iannetta. Conger got his second chance last season and performed well, batting .249/.310/.403 (.310 wOBA). That line was approximately league average and equivalent to batting lines of players like J.J. Hardy and Alberto Callaspo last season.
Of course, neither of those names inspires a great deal of confidence offensively, but fans often forget just how little is expected of catcher offensively in the big leagues. Only 14 out of 24 catchers in the majors with at least 350 plate appearances put up a better batting line than Conger last season, and a number of the ones who did not remained successful 1.5-win players thanks to some decent defense. Catchers as a whole hit just .245/.310/.388 (.307 wOBA) in the league, so not much is expected offensively.
Conger's defense has been questioned before, so it is not as though he is a stalwart back there. Last season, he did catch 25 percent of would-be basestealers and for his career he has caught 22 percent of those runners. He matches Iannetta's rate of wild pitches and passed balls with one every 20 innings caught for his career. But the one interesting aspect of his defense may be his pitch framing skill. Last season, he picked up 2.9 extra strikes per called game. The research suggests the difference between a called strike and a ball is at 0.13 runs, meaning Conger could have been worth 22 runs more than average in keeping or stealing strikes.
The form he shows on this one GIF (thanks to Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs) shows that pitch framing skill in action.
We likely cannot attribute all of those 22 runs to Conger, but if he played a major role in garnering more than two wins for his pitchers last season, that is a major positive.
Both players are valuable, but Conger's playing time situation gives him a major edge. In our Angels trade discussion, we assigned Conger a value of $49 million in surplus or trade value. In comparison, Iannetta stands at a much lower number. He is likely a better player than Conger right now according to the projections, but his contract and two years of control knock down his value. According to my calculations based on a projection of 2.7 wins in 450 plate appearances in 2014, Iannetta would be worth about $16 million in a trade.
The difference is staggering, and that is why the asset the Marlins send over to acquire either player would be dramatically different. Miami could send a middle-tier pitching prospect and flotsam to get Iannetta, but the Angels would not be interested. They are in a situation in which they are looking to win now, so acquiring future assets does not help them. What that team wants is a long-term, cost-controlled pitching option.
That is why we discussed the trade involving Henderson Alvarez or Jacob Turner. Both options would leave Nathan Eovaldi, the team's most prized second starter, on the Fish while using the team's pitching depth to acquire a position of need. An Alvarez-Conger swap would probably be exactly even, while a Turner swap would likely have to include one of the team's starting pitching prospects as well.
How would a Turner deal potentially look like?
|ANGELS RECEIVE||SURPLUS VALUE ($MIL)||MARLINS RECEIVE|
|Total: 35.4||Total: 49|
The deal seems skewed in Miami's favor, but there is likely enough fidgeting room to acquire Conger using these resources. After all, Conger is unproven after just 508 Major League plate appearances, so there is a chance the Marlins can convince the Angels to go for less than his apparent projected value. Still, in this scenario Miami would be parting with a top-100 pitching prospect in Nicolino.
What say you, Fish Stripers? Is a Conger-Turner deal with a Nicolino side dish the sort of deal you would pull? Who blinks first in that trade offer? Do you think one of the middle-tier pitchers would be a better fit? How about the straight Alvarez-Conger swap? Is the Offseason Plan's Conger-Howie Kendrick package a more appealing deal? Tell us your thoughts.