The Miami Marlins know that they would prefer long-term solutions to positions rather than short-term ones, especially if they are going to acquire a player via trade. The Fish have enviable starting pitching depth, and if it plans on using one or two of its top Major League or prospect arms, it would like a longer commitment than two or so seasons of production.
However, very few players in the trade market are available with that kind of control. We have already discussed Hank Conger as a trade option at catcher, but the Los Angeles Angels would much rather send Chris Iannetta away than trade the younger and cheaper Conger. The other trade options discussed so far have mostly been decent players with, at best, three years of service time left under team control.
So if Miami could conceivably acquire a 25-year-old player who, one season ago, put up a .288/.325/.509 batting line and played acceptable third base defense? That player could very well be Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
The Marlins have expressed interest in Middlebrooks, as they are looking for an upgrade at the position after the team's third basemen hit a collective .248/.315/.300 last season. Middlebrooks also provides the Marlins the sort of power for which they have been searching; in 660 career plate appearances, he has hit 32 home runs and posted a .208 ISO.
The Trumbo Corollary
In fact, if you are looking for the lighter, more defensively capable version of Mark Trumbo, you could certainly find him in Middlebrooks. The third baseman does not have the long-term reputation for power that Trumbo has developed over the last three seasons, but both players have hit a similar rate of homers. Trumbo has launched them at a rate of 31 per 600 plate appearances, while Middlebrooks has hit them at a rate of 29 per 600 plate appearances. The power is not the same, and certainly Boston's friendlier confines had something to do with it, but it may be comparable.
Of course, both players also have the same weaknesses. As pointed out in this FanGraphs article by Jeff Zimmerman, Middlebrooks has paltry plate discipline.
Career home runs = 32
Career unintentional walks = 30
Career K/BB = 5.1 K/BB (8th worst among hitters with 500 or more PA over the past two seasons)
He displays some nice power with his 32 home runs coming in 660 PA, but the plate discipline is destroying his value. His all power, all strikeout, no walk approach reminds me of another failed prospect, J.P. Arencibia.
That profiles very similarly to Trumbo's approach, except even the often-mocked Angels first baseman has done a better job drawing walks in recent years. He is projected to draw a walk in 7.7 percent of his plate appearances next season according to Steamer, while Middlebrooks can only expect to see a free pass in 5.9 percent of his chances. To his benefit, however, Middlebrooks is also expected to strike out less, in part because he is less of a free swinger (45.3 percent career swing rate) than Trumbo (51.4 percent) and makes more contact (75.2 percent career contact rate).
Still, the plate discipline problems are evident, and the fact that he lacks the ability to draw walks makes his power more questionable when moving to Marlins Park. Much like Trumbo, he has very little else to add offensively, and he has the capability to post a sub-.300 OBP and sink much of his power value in the walls of Marlins Park. Marlins Park has a 90 park factor in terms of home runs for right-handed hitters, meaning that it suppresses 10 percent of home runs hit (this accounts for the fact that the team plays only half of its games at home). This is compared to Fenway Park's 103 factor, which means that we would expect Middlebrooks to lose 13 percent of his homers, or the equivalent of four homers per 600 plate appearances.
But Middlebrooks still holds plenty of value, more so than Trumbo, who is in his first season of arbitration. Middlebrooks has five seasons of team control remaining, making him a nice cheap alternative. Furthermore, he can play third base, something that Trumbo cannot promise.
The Marlins may not even have a problem with him holding third base in the presence of top prospect Colin Moran. If and when Moran is ready for the majors, the Fish could potentially move the 6'3", 220-pounder to first base to fill in the role when Logan Morrison leaves. Thus, there is no conflict with the pickup of Middlebrooks and the impending arrival of Moran, though it does cut into his value as a player.
Assume Middlebrooks hits Super Two status and earns a nice salary in his four years of arbitration. Also, let's assume he is switched to first base in his third year with the team, thus cutting into his value by making him an average first baseman. Assuming a starting point of a 2.5-win projection based on a .262/.309/.464 (.334 wOBA) batting line and progressing it up to three wins in 2015, I calculate that Middlebrooks would have value between $35 million and $43 million.
That is equivalent to a top-10 positional prospect, but the Marlins would be more interested in trading pitching prospects and ready players. A deal with Jacob Turner and a mid-tier pitching prospect may be enough to entice the Red Sox to make a deal, if the Red Sox were interested in pitching.
The problem is that the Sox may also be interested in Middlebrooks. Any team's attempt to acquire the 25-year-old Middlebrooks would require the Sox to have an excess at third base, much like they did last season with Stephen Drew and top prospect Xander Bogaerts. The issue with this in 2014 is that Drew is a free agent and unlikely to return to the Red Sox. The Sox could look at Bogaerts at shortstop and Middlebrooks at third base, forming a cheap and effective left side of the infield. If the team decides to bring Drew back, there is a possibility that Middlerbrooks becomes expendable, but that currently appears unlikely.
Combine that with the Red Sox' lack of pitching needs, and it does not seem like a strong fit for a trade. The Red Sox have Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster as Major League-ready starters and a number of prospects as well. The Marlins' young starters may not be all that tempting.
What do you Fish Stripers think? Can the Marlins pull off a deal, or is Boston simply not interested in anything Miami is selling?