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MLB Trade Deadline: Steve Cishek, Marlins trade asset

The Miami Marlins could make a necessary move this trade deadline and deal Steve Cishek, who is a fantastic reliever but who could get mighty expensive in the coming years.

Scott Cunningham

The Miami Marlins have a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves which may help close the NL East division gap, provided the Fish come away with four victories. But at 45-52, it is unlikely Miami has a significant chance at the division at this point. If they become sellers, trading a few assets that are likely to regress may be an interesting idea. We already discussed potentially trading Casey McGehee, and another name has recently popped up in the trade rumors department: Steve Cishek. From the original Jon Heyman article:

With Huston Street off the market after being traded to the Angels, and Jonathan Papelbon's contract fairly unpalatable, Cishek may be considered the top current closer on the market -- barring Boston more seriously considering a deal for superstar closer Koji Uehara. Cishek is 4-5 with a 3.66 ERA and 46 strikeouts against 14 walks in 39 1/3 innings, and he's saved 21 games in 25 chances.

There are still a number of competitive teams looking to add a closer or strong reliever for the stretch run. Miami could capitalize by picking off some top prospects for a full three years of team control of Cishek at below-market rates. A team that, right now, is not expected to compete this year or next could afford to swing a trade for a reliever who will earn plenty of cash in arbitration in the next three years. This sets up perfectly for the Fish to get a decent return.

The Trade Value

Steve Cishek looked like an elite closer for most of this year before three bad outings took him out of the running of the All-Star Game. Since 2011, Cishek is 11th among qualified relievers in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) with 4.6 wins to his name. The names in front of him are all elite closers (except for Matt Belisle), meaning that Cishek is likely in the same territory as those guys.

The question becomes what to expect for Cishek and what teams think of his performance. We all know that, in a WAR-based value system, relievers tend to be lower in value than the average MLB club seems to think. While I believe that is rightfully so, a team may not be as incline to agree, especially if they see a pertinent need at the back end of the pen. So while Cishek's value may hit a certain number in terms of WAR, that value may get bumped up thanks to that perceived value by teams.

ZiPS projects a 2.62 ERA and 2.77 FIP going forward, but I believe their wins projection is currently off the mark. Given that those numbers are very similar to what Cishek has done the last three years (2.71 ERA, 2.62 FIP), I will take his performance from the last three seasons and project it for each of the next three years. That means that Cishek would be expected to bring 4.6 wins over the next three-plus seasons. That is the sort of production a fourth outfielder like Justin Ruggiano could bring if he started full-time. That brings a rough estimate of about $28 million in value in free agent dollars.

But we would expect teams to value those wins a bit more because of "proven closer" status, especially at the trade deadline. Perhaps Miami instead gets something like $40 million in value, with the expectation being that Cishek is actually closer in production to an average position player in the eyes of the league.

Cishek made $3.8 million this year in arbitration, and it is easy to project his salaries going forward. Miami should expect a raise to eventually $10 million by the final year, meaning he may make something like $25.2 million over the next three-plus years. You are looking at between $3 million and $15 million in trade value, with a lean closer to the $15 million side.

The Interest

Accoding to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, as many as eight teams are definitely in the market for a reliever.

The Marlins could shop Cishek to any number of these teams and find someone willing to take on the $25 million in remaining expected salary. For the Marlins, that salary might be better spent investing in their young talent and finding a cheaper relief alternative, especially with a slew of starting and relief prospects in the minors with no clear path to the bigs.

Of the teams listed, only one (the Braves) are clearly out of the picture for a trade, as Miami would not want to trade within division rivals. But every other team, even the dreaded Tigers, would be in play. If any of those clubs could offer an experienced low-top-100 prospect or high-B-ranked player plus filler, Miami would be interested. It's the possible the Fish could get even more given the market set by Huston Street in the Angels-Padres trade from over the past weekend.

For example, Miami could look at Daniel Norris, a lefty in the Blue Jays organization who ranked 35th in the most recent midseason top prospects update at Minor League Ball, as the primary linchpin of a deal with the Jays. Tyler Glasnow, a righty in the Pirates organization who ranked 26th in the midseason update, is another option. Those are just a few examples.

Trade Him?

I have always been in favor of trading Cishek while his value still remains high, and his value is unlikely to get any better from here on out. Miami trading him later would decrease the value as his salary gets increasingly more expensive. The Fish could avoid paying those hefty arbitration salaries and divvy that money out towards different players going forward. Why pay upwards of $8 million or $10 million for your closer at this stage of the win cycle? The Fish have other, errr, fish to fry first, especially at shortstop and second base.

But Miami will not trade Cishek. It has emphasized this multiple times, and I imagine it would take a monumental offer to pry him away. While it would be the prudent thing to do, this franchise has rarely ever been prudent in its deal-making. It sees Cishek, a reliever who could break at any second, as a valuable building block.