The Miami Marlins did not finish up working the trade market this season, as they moved on from their bonanza in early December with yet another move in trading for New York Yankees super-utility man Martin Prado and pitcher David Phelps. To get those players, the Marlins paid a steep cost, dealing starter Nathan Eovaldi, first baseman Garrett Jones, and pitching prospect Domingo German for the right to pay Prado $16 million of the remaining $22 million left of his current contract.
The Marlins got older, traded a 25-year-old pitcher with a blazing fastball and good peripherals two years running, and gave up a prospect just to lose Jones's salary. In return, they got a guy who is not expected to be that much better than Eovaldi in Prado, who has been worth 10.5 wins over the last three years but 2.5 wins a season over the last two. So why did they do this? Let's delve into the deal.
Guaranteed Prado Wins
Prado has been consistent throughout his entire career. In six full seasons as a big-league starter, he has only once posted a year below league average, back in 2011. He also only once posted a year above four wins, with a five-plus win campaign in 2012 that helped earn him a four-year contract worth $40 million. He is now at age 32 and heading into the second half of that deal, but with that level of consistent work at the plate and defensively, the floor for his game has to be considered low.
And that may be what the Marlins were looking for: guaranteed wins. The Fish felt they were at the end of the wins spectrum where finding certainties was better than having a potential low-floor variance candidate like Eovaldi. Neither player is expected to produce much more than the other, with both likely to be around worth two wins. But Prado's floor contains less of a chance of a complete collapse, whereas the question marks around Eovaldi are still at least present.
Prado certainly brings expected production at the plate. He has no power, with only 11 homers per 600 plate appearances and a career ISO of just .138. But neither did his predecessor, Casey McGehee, who figures to go the bench and had an awful power year with just one home run to his name. Prado's home runs are likely to decrease with the move to Marlins Park, but he has other skills that should translate well. He makes great contact, with a career strikeout rate of just 10.9 percent. While the walk rate of 6.7 percent is not convincing, the low strikeouts should help stem some of the tide of the low power and make him a little less BABIP-dependent. Plus, Prado's line drive approach (career 20 percent line drive rate) fits well in the big outfield gaps in Miami.
Defensively is where Prado's game adds value. In those six seasons as a starter, Prado has played multiple positions and has only once been a net negative defensively, and his best infield position was at third base. In 3186 innings at the position, UZR rated him as worth +5 runs a season, while DRS has him at +11 runs. Even if he is only a modest above-average defender at the position, that should be an upgrade over McGehee, who should not be expected to play well at the position again. Overall, a reasonable suggestion is that Prado is a half-win upgrade over McGehee on defense.
With the offensive advantage as well, Prado is at least a one-win edge over McGehee. And at just $16 million over the next two years, the Marlins are not paying much. If you figure Prado is somewhere between two and 2.5 wins a year in the next two seasons, he may be worth $30 million in the free agent market. Given recent deals to older players like Adam LaRoche, it's not unheard of for Prado to earn $35 million. In these cases, Miami probably acquired $15 million in surplus / trade value.
Young, Steep Price
But to get that one-win advantage, Miami traded a 25-year-old player with a great fastball and upside in Eovaldi. In 2013, Eovaldi posted a 3.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP in 106 1/3 innings, and it was an impressive second season for a young guy with four years of team control remaining. And we knew why Eovaldi looked so much better: his fastball had bloomed to a 96 mph heater on the regular.
But the Fish then saw 2014, in which Eovaldi posted a 4.33 ERA due to a bad BABIP. Despite stable strikeout rates and a decrease in walks to a career-best 5.0 percent, Miami thought it saw a stagnating player. The Fish ignored the improvement in peripherals and improving FIP (3.37) and began looking to see if it could trade the righty, despite having run down his value with rumors and late-season benching threats.
The Yankees are betting that Eovaldi will look somewhere closer to the 2013 version than the 2014 version, and that is a good bet. The common perception is that Eovaldi's fastball was getting squared up and hit harder, hence the worse BABIP. But the statistics don't hold that argument up.
The batted ball distribution of Eovaldi's fastball looks exactly the same between those two seasons. There is no evidence that Eovaldi was being hit harder somehow this year versus last season. Eovaldi got more success out of his slider versus lefties than he was having with changeup in 2013, so he dropped the changeup to decent results. The whiff rates on his slider remained static, at least against righties, from 2013 to 2014.
Yes, there is still a chance that Eovaldi's career 4.07 ERA is going to hold steady and that he remains just a mediocre guy or worse. But he has tremendous upside at a young age and with one fantastic, useful tool in his blazing fastball. Heading into next season, a 180-inning campaign from Eovaldi would be reasonably expected to be worth two wins for the Fish, not much worse than what Prado would provide next year.
That would be worth a lot going into three years of arbitration. Eovaldi is expected to earn $3.1 million in his first year of arbitration. If he were worth two wins in each of the next three years, the Yankees might expect him to be worth $30 million more than the value of his arbitration salaries. That is a big sum of money gained to be used on other sources of wins for the Yankees.
But for the Marlins, they clearly did not value Eovaldi in this fashion. They saw his 4.33 ERA last year and thought of him more as a one-win, back-rotation type. This is may be incorrect, but their valuation of him was based on the fact that that may be where his floor is. Miami wanted more guaranteed victories, and so they opted to take the guarantee of Prado's production over the potential upside of Eovaldi.
For a team closing in potential contention, this is not necessarily a bad idea. Eovaldi has value, but he has enough flaws that his upside may be limited too. He was a three-win player according to FanGraphs last season, but a replacement-level guy according to Baseball-Reference and a 1.5-win player according to Baseball Prospectus. Miami did not want that kind of variance, especially on the low end, and they turned to a more "consistent" player with known production. For that, they gave up a lot of future value and a promising player, in the hopes that Eovaldi does not develop. I would not have made that bet for a one-win upgrade, but it is a reasonable thought.