Yesterday, last season's devastating Miami Marlins - Toronto Blue Jays fire sale trade was officially confirmed by the Commissioner's office and executed. The Fish sent away a healthy chunk of players and salary directly to the Blue Jays in return for a cache of prospects that, at the time of the trade, seemed underwhelming. Miami attempted to sell the prospects as the key to the franchise's future, and it continues to do so in order to justify the trade.
A year later, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill understands why people were upset. He also noted several of the returning pieces in the deal are core pieces to the organization pushing forward.
"It's always tough when you move talented players," Hill said. "They were established players in the game, with established pedigrees. And the names coming back, a lot of people didn't know.
"What I tried to do in following up the trade was to just have people reserve judgment. See what we got back. See the talent we got back before they made an opinion."
Michael Hill points out that the franchise succeeded in bringing in talent that could be key to the future of the team. No one questioned that at the onset of the trade. Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino were on their way to being well-considered in prospect circles, and the rest of the talent acquired (save for Jeff Mathis) had its merits. But in justifying a trade that was a good one from a baseball standpoint, the Marlins are continuing to forget the reasons why the trade failed.
First off, the Fish never acknowledge the true reasoning for the move: to dump the significant amounts of salary on the contracts of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and others. The way owner Jeffrey Loria saw it, the team did not need to pay more than $100 million in payroll to be in last place, and in that respect, he was right. But for Hill and others to talk about this deal as a setup to build a bright new future rather than a fire sale to reset the ugly past is disingenuous. The Marlins made it clear they were uninterested in paying that much money for a product in which they had no confidence, so one season into the grand experiment, they aborted and took the money.
Now, as we mentioned before, the money that the Marlins saved on their various players was part of why the trade was a successful baseball one. The Fish got rid of the tail end of contracts that were heavily backloaded, likely with the thought that the Marlins would unload the contracts onto other teams should the franchise fail to compete. Getting rid of that exorbitant amount of cash was a good thing, but only if the Marlins decided to reinvest it into the team. But one season after the fire sale, there does not appear to be any interest in reinvesting that money saved. Giancarlo Stanton still has not received a much-needed contract extension. No other additions have been made to this team, in part because the franchise is struggling badly enough that random free agent additions would not help it compete.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that, even when Miami could invest to acquire better future talent, the franchise is skipping the process. Loria and the front office famously passed on paying parts of Ricky Nolasco's salary when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that resulted in a significantly smaller trade return. That is just the latest in a long line of instances in which Miami has decided not to pay salary and, in return, receive lesser prospects. And it is this sign more than anything else that continues to point to the Fish favoring penny-pinching over true value. The money the Marlins saved in the fire sale trade, so far, has resulted in no excess trade value.
All that is left then is the players, and Hill and the front office want us to believe that they will carry this franchise into the future. Four of the acquired players may play future roles in Miami, but at the time of acquisition, only two (Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino) held significant promise. Anthony DeSclafani was a great catch, and Henderson Alvarez has been great for half of a season. The other pickups have remained questionable at best. The Marlins picked up a lot of talent, and given what happened to the players traded, the results on the field have been good so far.
But could Miami have done better? The Fish chipped in plenty of cash, but could they have sent more to Toronto to offset some of the cost of the deal? Could they have kept a worse contract to get better players, such as withholding Buehrle or one of the lesser players like John Buck to get a Noah Syndergaard? Had the Marlins only kept Jose Reyes, could the team have squeezed out a deal for Marisnick, Nicolino, and another prospect? I believe the Marlins did not have to commit entirely to a plan to raid the team of Major League talent. Had Miami hedged its bets and gone halfway with the fire sale, they would likely have a better foundation for the immediate future and still establish prospect depth.
The Marlins still has not answered the questions it needs to answer thanks to this trade. Will the franchise supplement a future competitive roster with solid signings without pressure from Major League Baseball? Would players be interested in playing in Miami for market prices despite the team's history, or will it have to pay through the nose to acquire talent? Can Miami actually utilize the money it saved in that trade in a positive fashion? So far, that money has gone only into the Marlins' coffers, and that eliminates the value of the deal. The players have gotten better in 2013, but none currently have star potential and many have been negatives thus far.
The book on this trade is still being written, but not with how the talent develops, but rather with what the Miami Marlins do to help that talent going forward. This trade's ultimate legacy may lie in the Marlins' reputation rather than its on-field performance.