The Miami Marlins have more than just Ricky Nolasco available for trade this season. The Fish are also potentially interested in dealing a number of their relievers because, well, they're relievers and you cannot depend on them. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that the Fish have some of the best relievers available in a trade market always interested in bullpen arms. The trade deadline is the right time to send a reliever packing, as teams are more willing to overpay for parts at a time like this.
So who would the Marlins have available? The crown jewel of their relievers is closer Steve Cishek, who has bounced back after a difficult April and returned to his prime numbers. After last night's save in the Marlins' 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves, Cishek has now picked up 17 saves with only two blown on the year. If shutdowns and meltdowns (FanGraphs statistics measuring relief outings that have been worth a lot or cost a lot in WPA, respectively), Cishek is not necessarily your man, as he has 15 shutdowns versus his five meltdowns. Nevertheless, he is beginning to get his peripherals statistics back in order, and every team interested in back-end relief would like to see his current 2.97 ERA on their roster.
So what is the market value for a guy like Cishek, and would the Marlins be willing to send him away?
While the market for Cishek's services may be large, his availability remains the factor most likely to get in the way of a potential trade. The Marlins have made it known that they would prefer to keep Cishek and Mike Dunn on the team, as both players remain relatively cheap. Both Cishek and Dunn will enter arbitration for the first time in 2014, and the Marlins likely believe they can build a contender before Cishek's prices become too expensive. At the very least, the club feels that it is important the team have a closer ready to hold leads in the ninth inning for a young team.
Running counter to that is the fact that the Marlins could find replacements for their top-end relievers like Cishek. While no pitcher has been better than Cishek in the Marlins' pen, fellow trade candidate Dunn could slip into the role if he were to remain on the team. A.J. Ramos has the relief stuff, if not the command at the moment, to play that role, and he is fresh out of the minors and in his first big league season. Finally, the team has at least two arms in the minors who hold some interest for the bullpen. Former catcher Chris Hatcher has been mowing down Triple-A hitters for two years and could earn a promotion, though not necessarily for the closer role. Prospect Arquimedes Caminero is already 26 years old and is doing a similar job to Double-A hitters.
So the Marlins have two factors affecting Cishek's availability. The team should trade their relievers if they hold good trade value as team-controlled assets, and the club has some other names to consider if they do, but the very reason why players like Cishek are valuable in trades is the same reason why the Fish find them valuable.
The market for relievers is always high among the Major League contenders as they head towards a playoff berth. Among the 16 teams within five games of a playoff berth, six are in the bottom half of the league in bullpen ERA and nine are in the bottom half in bullpen FIP, This opens up some opportunities for teams interested in improving their pen to offer deals to the Fish.
The most prominent teams, however, are the ones who are struggling in the closer role. The two biggest names in that department are the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers. SB Nation's Tigers blog Bless You Boys has already covered the potential Steve Cishek trade, and the prevailing thought is that their team would be very interested if Cishek is available. Likewise, the Red Sox have shown interest given their failing closer situation and their current lead in the AL East division.
The Marlins could be looking at up to six or seven suitors for Cishek, with two of them in particular looking for closers. The Fish could deal Cishek as a setup man as well, and he would likely be better suited in that role as a righty reliever who has relative struggles against lefties. Other teams on the list of clubs with interest could include the Cleveland Indians, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Baltimore Orioles.
Compared to other relief options on the market such as Francisco Rodriguez, John Axelford, and Kevin Gregg, Cishek has the advantage of team control on his side. The Marlins can offer three seasons of control to an acquiring team, all at arbitration prices. While arbitration can make an established closer a lot of money (witness Juan Carlos Oviedo, aka the former Leo Nunez, making $6 million in his final arbitration year), it is still a good deal less than a top-flight closer might make.
Cishek's numbers indicate that he is potentially on the way to that status. Among players with at least 30 saves since 2010 (50 players in total), CIshek ranks 15th in ERA (2.66) and 17th in FIP (2.98). There is a case to be made that he is better than at least half the closers in the league right now, let alone worth plugging into a mediocre bullpen. His performance could improve (and his value could increase) with proper leveraging of late-inning situations, such as if he were placed into an eighth-inning righties-only role. In either situation, the most likely occurrence is that Cishek would excel, because he has quietly become one of the better relievers in the game right now.
Combine that performance record since 2011 with his long-term team control and you could be looking at a nice asset for most teams. Cishek could be worth half a win the rest of the way this season to almost reach a one-win status, then he could make a total of $12 million over the next three years (similar to Oviedo's three arbitration seasons in Miami) and be worth about 1.1 Wins Above Replacement each year, with an estimated ERA of 3.33. If that gets any lower, you would be looking at an even better performance; an ERA of 3.00 yields 1.6 WAR per season, and an ERA of 2.70 (close to his career average) is a two-win player.
In this scenario, Cishek would be worth approximately $21 million in free agent value and be paid $12 million and change, yielding a trade value of $8.8 million. That would be good enough to earn at least a B- and C-ranked prospect. Add to that the value of the "proven closer" label and possible overpays for being traded at the deadline and Cishek could pull back even a bottom-end Top 100 prospect if the Marlins get lucky!
Such a trade holds a lot of value for the Marlins, but the roadblock of the team wanting to hold onto Cishek while he remains relatively cheap is still an obstruction to deal. If the Marlins get the right offer, probably an overpay, they could earn themselves a big reward for trading the second-best true closer on the market. Holding Cishek for one more season cuts into almost all of his trade value, so if the Fish do not do it now, they might have to do it at the end of this season.