As the Miami Marlins enter the post-2014 Winter Meetings, they still have needs that need to be addressed on their roster. One of those needs is in the infield, where the Fish are deficient in nearly all of the positions. The Marlins believe they have a future piece in Adeiny Hechavarria, whom they would like to offer a long-term contract, and with the 2015 Marlins Offseason Plan, we already tried to resolve the first base situation by signing Chase Headley to a four-year contract and shifting Casey McGehee to first base.
One position that is left for Miami is to shore up second base. The franchise does have some competition at the position, with Derek Dietrich being the most obvious candidate to win the spot. But Dietrich struggled last season despite a passable year at the plate. He had a hard time playing defense at an up-the-middle position, and the Marlins benched and later demoted him due to those deficiencies. He also suffered some hand injuries that may have gotten in the way of his play. Donovan Solano, Jordany Valdespin, and Ed Lucas clearly were not answers at the position last season as well.
The Marlins need to find an answer, at least temporarily, while it waits for guys like Avery Romero and Austin Barnes to declare themselves as prospects. That is why in our plan, we devised a way of trading pitching depth for hitter depth in a four-player swap of prospects and Major Leaguers. In this plan, the Marlins would trade Steve Cishek and Justin Nicolino to the White Sox for Alexei Ramirez and an infield prospect.
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For the Marlins
The Fish would get Alexei Ramirez, who is currently an above-average defender at shortstop and a league average hitter for his position. Of course, they would end up having to move him to second base, not only due to potential decline going forward but the presence of Hechavarria, whom the Marlins perceive as a better defender. It is possible Hechavarria is a better defender than Ramirez at shortstop at this point, but by moving Ramirez to second base, they will ask him to handle a lesser load and be compared to worse defenders overall. The positional transition is not as hard to make as some other moves as well, as many of the responsibilities are shared up the middle. Furthermore, Ramirez played second base in his first season in Chicago before moving up the curve.
Ramirez's concern has always been at the plate, where he has been unsteady. For his career, he is just a .277/.314/.405 (.314 wOBA) hitter, and that translates to only a 91 wRC+. In the last three years, that has been worse, at just an 85 wRC+. And at his age, it is not surprising to see a slow decline in hitting. But second basemen since 2012 have been an average of 10 percent worse than league average at the plate, so it is not as though those players are lighting it up. Ramirez's line from the last three years matches guys like Dee Gordon and Dustin Ackley among second basemen.
That may not be a great list, but none of those players can play defense like Ramirez. He can also add value on the basepaths, as he has totaled 11 runs better than average over the last three years. Overall, one could reasonably expect Ramirez to be a league-average second baseman, and there is upside to his defense playing extremely well at the position and serving the Marlins even better. There is always the benefit of playing a shortstop-caliber defender at a lesser position and reaping the rewards of excellent glovework, even if the bat begins to decline.
More importantly, the commitment would not be for long. The Marlins would be on the hook for just two seasons at $20 million total. In fact, the team could decline the 2016 option if Ramirez falters completely, which gives them an easy out if needed.
The prospect Miami gets coming their way would be one of the two infielders the White Sox have behind Marcus Semien, who would likely help take over the shortstop position. Tim Anderson has had more success at the plate, with a .297/.323/.472 (.357 wOBA, 120 wRC+) year in High-A. He can field at shortstop, has a solid hit tool, and may rack up some power. Micah Johnson is the more likely name, and his appeal is that he is more advanced and could take over a position if needed more urgently. He is a second baseman by trade and is 24 years old already, but he hit .329/.414/.466 (.403 wOBA, 153 wRC+) in a short Double-A stint before suffering a hamstring injury and struggling in Triple-A. His appeal is in speed; last season, he stole 84 bases in 110 attempts through three levels.
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For the White Sox
The White Sox have been interested in trading Ramirez, who has those two years left on his deal but is otherwise not likely a part of the future of this organization. It also has some enviable middle infield depth in the minors, including Semien, Johnson, and Anderson. They also have an apparent need for pitching, and that includes both starting and relief help.
It turns out Miami happens to be deep in both departments! The Marlins quietly had a decent bullpen last year, even beyond Steve Cishek. Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, and Carter Capps all appeared more than competent in relief. Chris Hatcher worked out the kinks and was a valuable member, as was Sam Dyson. The team even just acquired Aaron Crow in hopes of a comeback. Beyond that, the Marlins have bullpen depth in the minors, with Grant Dayton, Nick Wittgren, and others possibly ready for Major League play.
So in this deal, Miami would trade from its vast bullpen depth and help to redistribute salary accordingly. Cishek is estimated to make nearly $7 million next season as a closer in his second arbitration season. He still has two more years of team control left, and given his save counts and raises, it would not surprise anyone to see him average $10 million a year for the next three seasons.
The Marlins want to be competitive in 2015, but they cannot afford to log around that kind of salary for very long. With the amount of depth they have, using Cishek as a trade piece is a huge benefit to the team. They can redistribute that salary to a position of need while upgrading the rest of their players and losing fewer wins in the bullpen. The Marlins are still limited in payroll, and relievers are notoriously fickle investments. That money is best spent elsewhere.
The White Sox have no qualms right now about paying for a closer. The team is considering paying free agent David Roberston his expected four years and $50 million-plus. It would be far easier for them to pay Cishek, who is similarly talented, $29 million over three seasons than a Jonathan Papelbon-like $12.5 million per season.
To get them to agree, we would also want to help them with their pitching need. Justin Nicolino had a great 2014 year, but there is a huge red flag with his drop in strikeouts. Furthermore, the Marlins have a huge font of starting pitching in the minors, with Andrew Heaney leading a group of Anthony DeSclafani, Jose Urena, Adam Conley, and Domingo German among others. If there is one piece the Marlins can afford to trade, it is starting pitching.
The Overall Deal
This trade shifts Miami's pitching depth a little into the infield, while giving them a strong piece to fill in at a position for two years. Miami's bullpen will likely not suffer in trying to replace Cishek and his saves, while the team would have felt the difference between Ramirez and the team's lesser second base options. Meanwhile, the White Sox cover up their closer need at a far lower salary than Robertson's while picking up a starting pitcher who could start by midseason next year.
This is a win-win deal for both teams, a perfect match of need-for-need. But what do you Fish Stripers think? Would you make this move?