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A retrospective look on the 2012 Marlins-Blue Jays trade

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The Marlins-Blue Jays trade of the 2012 postseason was always a good baseball trade that was bad in the context of the franchise. Two years should not and have not changed that result.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday night, Fish Stripes Jay Ramos approached me about posting a FanPost regarding a topic that had not crossed my mind for a little while: the November 2012 trade between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays. I agree with a vast majority of what he said. The Marlins made a smart baseball move that was wrong in the context of the team for a variety of reasons. Those reasons were ones that I mentioned a few years ago when I reviewed the trade at the onset of the deal. I had mentioned that trading these players, many of them prominently just one season after the Marlins had committed to a seeming change in franchise culture, would make it difficult to re-sign Giancarlo Stanton and would make attracting free agents to Miami in the future difficult.

The Marlins, as mentioned by Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, would say that two years later, the trade is a clear positive for Miami.

As unpopular as the trade was, Marlins’ ownership insisted it was the right thing to do.

Yes, the trade was a money purge, ridding Miami of $163.75 million in guaranteed salaries owed through 2018. Yes, the trade made the club younger, and in the short-term meant more losing. That clearly happened with a 100-loss campaign in 2013. And to the Marlins, yes, the deal was necessary because it helped reset the culture in a clubhouse in need of changing. Mike Redmond replaced Ozzie Guillen as manager, and the organizaiton now has a "team first" mentality.

Why rehash one of the darkest days in Marlins’ history today? Because of how that blockbuster continues to influence the roster overall as we head into 2015.

Frisaro goes on to review the names of the players who are still here from the trade and the ones who got here due to players involved in the deal. He points out that Henderson Alvarez was an All-Star last year, and that Adeiny Hechavarria was a Gold Glove finalist. Justin Nicolino was the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. If you throw in Derek Dietrich in the haul, that's a great return, right?

Well, not exactly.

No Retrospective Trade Analysis

The Marlins would be kidding themselves if they told you right now that they foresaw the future and determined that Alvarez was an All-Star starter in waiting. He was coming off a season with a 4.85 ERA and 5.18 FIP with just 78 strikeouts in 187 innings to his name. Expecting a player like that to, just two years later, turn into a guy who could post a 2.68 ERA and a reasonable 3.58 FIP and improve to that level is probably unrealistic. Alvarez was going to pitch better after moving to Miami, but expecting that drastic a change would have been disingenuous.

The Marlins are trying to sell that the prospects and talent they got in this deal were the real prize of the trade, when that simply is not the case. The Marlins got two top-100 prospects, both of whom had decent questions. Marisnick was a tools-first guy with a lack of seasoning, and Nicolino was the lesser of the trio of Blue Jays pitching prospects from that time, though they were all fairly evenly matched.

The remaining players the team received in the deal were question marks or non-prospects. Anthony DeSclafani wasn't considered much at the time, and the Fish were lucky to have him develop. Hechavarria had a major question mark in that he barely hit at any minor league level until his most recent Triple-A season. Yunel Escobar was coming off a bad season but had a good contract, but the Fish traded him anyway. Alvarez had major strikeout concerns.

The way they developed going forward should not affect the decisions of the past. The Marlins had no access to Alvarez's All-Star 2014 season, nor did they know about Nicolino's worrisome declining strikeout rate. They had no idea that Marisnick wasn't going to develop beyond his tools, just like they had no clue DeSclafani was going to be a pleasant surprise. Judging this trade based on how the players developed two years later is unfair, whether the results are positive or negative.

WAR Totals

However, just for the record, if you wanted to check out how those players did, we can always tally Wins Above Replacement totals for the last two years.

BLUE JAYS, 2013 FWAR RWAR AVG WAR SALARY ($MIL)
Jose Reyes 6.5 5.4 6.0 23.0
Josh Johnson 0.5 -1.6 -0.6 11.3
Mark Buehrle 6.2 5.7 6.0 26.0
Emilio Bonifacio -0.4 0.1 -0.1 2.0
Total 12.8 9.6 11.3 62.3

The Jays essentially paid market value for those wins, but most of their losses came from Josh Johnson's bad 2013. Without Johnson's struggles, the Jays actually come out just fine, with two players playing at least up to their contract values.

MARLINS, 2013 FWAR RWAR AVG WAR SALARY ($MIL)
Henderson Alvarez 4.1 6.5 5.3 1.0
Adeiny Hechavarria -1.3 -1.1 -1.2 4.9
Jeff Mathis -0.4 0.0 -0.2 3
Derek Dietrich 0.3 -0.3 0.0 0.8
Jake Marisnick -0.2 0.1 0.0 0.1
Anthony DeSclafani 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.2
Former player salaries --- --- --- 8.5
Total 2.6 5.3 4.0 18.5

This of course does not include the Marlins' minor league contributors, and this form of evaluation is not appropriate for a trade that brings in prospects as well, but you can see that the Marlins lost out on about five (if you really think Hechavarria is a great defender) to seven wins in the last two years with this deal, presuming everyone plays up to the same level. The team also saved about $44 million in salary, or about $22 million a year. Keep that figure in mind for later.

The Other Factors

The talent evaluation had already been made at the time of the deal; evaluating the development of those players is just retrospective commentary on a deal. However, we can evaluate how the Marlins did on the other factors of the deal, the factors that eventually made this a bad decision for the Fish.

Giancarlo Stanton deal: It is impossible to tell just how the negotiations with Stanton were affected by the 2012 fire sale trade, but the Marlins eventually not only got a deal done, but got one that was beneficial to both sides. The Fish essentially signed a six-year deal worth $107 million in the prime of Stanton's career, while Stanton was afforded the option of leaving Miami for more money at age 31 or earning a full $325 million and staying for the rest of his career. It would be difficult to argue that Miami could have gotten a better deal, especially since the Fish showed no interest in signing a deal with Stanton earlier on, like after the 2012 season.

Surplus value, reinvested: The team saved $22 million a year on salary in the last two seasons. How much of that was reinvested into the franchise, and how much of that was pocketed? The Marlins spent about $7.3 million in 2013, but mostly on washed-up products like Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre and relievers; that money might as well not have been spent. The team did a better job the following year, as they bought on three players in free agency. The team spent $13.6 million on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, and Jeff Baker last offseason. Only one of those players was an actual medium-term asset, while the rest appeared to filler or bench pieces.

In total, the Fish spent about $20 of that $44 million they saved in the trade in two years. They pocketed a large amount of the money as savings, justifying the move's status as a salary dump. If you look at the initial estimation of trade value at $59 to $83 million and take away the money the Marlins didn't spend, you get a significant decrease in trade value.

Free agent allure: The Marlins have talked about going big in free agency, but it turned out that they just wanted to save money and only spend up to a certain amount. The Fish have been unable to lure any major free agents to Miami yet unless the player had ties to the south Florida area. They got Saltalamacchia because he is a Palm Beach County native. Michael Morse came here in part because he was from Broward County. The remaining free agents were veterans without many options available to them. You can additionally argue that the Fish didn't exactly wisely spend their available money either, making it so that they bought fewer wins than they could have with the money spent.

Conclusion

The conclusion this year really is the same conclusion I had last season: the Marlins are better off with the trade, but it is likely Miami could have gotten more for the return had they tried to invest more of that money into the deal or into better players in the free agent market. The franchise has taken steps forward this offseason, but it is still pinching pennies with a laughably small budget compared to other teams. And the early returns in terms of the Marlins investing money on luring major additions to the team seem to be still questionable. The team was lucky to be able to entice Stanton to such a good deal and improve in 2014 primarily on the backs of homegrown guys like Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna, guys who would have been here even if the team had not made the Blue Jays deal. Judging this trade as anything but that is attempting to spin a net negative situation into a positive.