The first part of the difficult offseason the Miami Marlins are sure to have is to decide what direction to go with their roster. The Fish ideally will attempt to sell off a bit of their extraneous rental pieces in order to build back up their tattered farm system. This move works towards the future without sacrificing the present, a 2016 season that likely will not end in the playoffs.
The most rental piece the Fish have remaining is third baseman Martin Prado. He had a strong 2015 season more than worthy of his salary and the team's desire to acquire an improvement at third base. However, Prado only has one season left on his contract, and that 2016 season is not likely to help Miami make it into the playoffs. At the same time, Prado is still likely a useful player, meaning he may command a reasonable sum that the Marlins are not willing to pay after 2016. If this is the case, the Fish should go ahead and make a move and trade Martin Prado to a contending team who might offer the club a prospect in return.
Why Trade Now?
The Marlins have two reasons to make a deal. For one, as mentioned above, Prado provides the Fish no added benefit for the rest of his contract. Even with Prado's league-average performance overall, the team is unlikely to creep into the playoffs. The club only has control for another season, and unless they can pull off an Omar Infante-esque short contract, it would probably behoove the Fish to not re-sign him. For all intents and purposes, this is likely Prado's last year in a Marlins uniform.
Furthermore, the team has a ready replacement on the bench. The club was impressed with Derek Dietrich's hitting, but it has always had an issue with his defense. They tried Dietrich in left field last season for bits of time, but that yielded poor results early on. In order to avoid future problems, Miami can finally test Dietrich at one position and see if his glove can actually stick. Trading Prado will open up a spot for Dietrich full-time, allowing the Marlins to gauge his skill level and decide whether he is a regular piece for this team or someone not worthy of a starting spot.
Looking for suitors for Prado on a one-year deal should be fairly simple. The ideal trade partner is a contending team looking to upgrade at an infield position. Luckily, Prado offers the benefit of versatility, as he plays second and third base regularly. He is a better third baseman, so it would be best to start there to find teams of interest.
Last season, 14 of the 28 third baseman with at least 400 plate appearances had a lower FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement than Prado. Looking at perennially contending teams in need of help at third, Miami has a few options available. The Los Angeles Angels will likely let David Freese move on in free agency after a few decent seasons. Luis Valbuena was not a fantastic player for the Houston Astros, though one could argue he and Prado are of similar ilk for next season.
The field broadens a little once you include second base problems into the mix. The New York Mets are an in-division rival, but they might lose postseason hero Daniel Murphy and might need not only second base help but also insurance at third base for an increasingly fragile David Wright. The crosstown rival New York Yankees are still trying to replace Prado at second base and could always use depth and versatility for an aging infield roster. The Angels could also use help there, as could the defending champion Kansas City Royals.
The market is flush with teams interested in a third baseman.
The Marlins have to know that any return is going to only be modest, both due to Prado's age and his $8 million salary. Still, there is some precedent from just last season. Howie Kendrick was a defensively solid, offensively acceptable second baseman on a one-year deal last season for just $9.5 million. He was expected to be a better player than Prado, but if the Marlins route the Yankees' money over to the acquiring team, Prado would earn $1.5 million less than Kendrick did. The eventual return for Kendrick was former Marlins prospect Andrew Heaney, who was a top-100 pitching prospect.
The Marlins may not quite get a top-100 pitcher, but if they trade Prado, they would expect $8 million in trade value assets in return. That kind of value should get a pitching prospect just outside the top 100. Examples from last year's prospects include guys like Rays starter Taylor Guerrieri, Braves prospect Touki Toussant, and Astros elite starter Lance McCullers.
Realistically, the Marlins would probably have to settle for a tier even below this, but a lower B-ranked pitching prospect may be in the cards for one season of Prado. Last year, he was a three-win player with great defense at third base, and many contending teams could use a player like that on their roster. The Marlins could cash in by adding more depth to their system by picking up a guy who might be a tad better than the likes of Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena. Given the team's lack of starting pitcher depth, this would be a smart move to start off the 2016 offseason.