The Miami Marlins struggled in 2015, but they did find a few interesting players along the way. One of them was A.J. Ramos, who took over for Steve Cishek and saved 32 games for Miami while serving as the closer the majority of the year. Ramos flashed his usual game of trickiness and high strikeouts without having ballooning walk rate for most of the year, and that bought him a one-way ticket to closer-dom and a lucrative set of arbitration years.
This is exactly why the Marlins should take advantage and trade him before the 2016 season.
The second part of the 2016 Miami Marlins Offseason Plan involves shedding some salary for the Fish to acquire more help in areas of need. The Marlins have less of a need for a closer, and Ramos is going to start earning a hefty salary starting next season. The best chance for the Marlins to cash in on a new closer-type reliever is to trade him a year early rather than a year late, as was the case with Steve Cishek. This is the time to do it with Ramos.
Why Trade Now?
The Marlins should make a move on Ramos in order to avoid exactly what happened last year with Cishek. For two years, Cishek looked like one of the best closers in the game. The next year, he lost velocity on his fastball, struggled more with his control, and ended up non-tendered this offseason by the St. Louis Cardinals. Relievers are notoriously difficult to predict, and it is unlikely that Ramos is the next Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon.
This is especially true given his performances in the past. Prior to last year, Ramos had been a control mess who walked more than 12 percent of his batters faced. Even in the second half of the year, he struggled more with control, though not as badly as he did when he walked 15 percent of batters in 2014. There are no strong guarantees that Ramos has actually figured it out, and any collapse would crush his trade value.
That trade value gets worse and worse every year as he enters the sort of salary climb expected of a closer in arbitration. He is already slated to make an estimated $2.8 million in his first arbitration year. The Marlins need to pinch every penny to fit their payroll around $80 million, and the club can't afford to pay a questionable reliever almost $3 million.
That is especially true given the team's ready replacement. Carter Capps was hurt at the end of the year last season with elbow troubles, so he is by no means a guarantee. However, Capps also had one of the most dominant 30-inning stretches a reliever has ever put up, and he has the right "closer stuff" with a hard fastball made harder by his unique delivery. Capps was so unhittable last year that even if he returned at 75 percent of his work from last year, the Marlins would be happy at closer.
And it is not as if the team needs an elite closer. The Marlins are not going to compete in 2016, particularly with its myriad of pitching problems. If the team is not expecting to compete for a playoff spot, a "proven" closer is not a great use of the team's limited funds.
The Fish clearly have plenty of reasons to try and trade A.J. Ramos. This also extends to Mike Dunn, who is not a closer but is an expensive reliever who is unnecessary to the team's situation in 2016. But who will act to acquire a closer with only one good year under his belt? Relievers are likely in higher demand now than they have been in years past now that the Kansas City Royals used a (previously) three-headed giant tandem of Kelvi Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland to make it to the World Series twice in a row and win the latest crown. Any number of would-be competitors might be interested in adding Ramos, even if they do not have a clear need for a closer.
Teams like the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, and Seattle Mariners have clear needs in the bullpen, and some of those squads may be in need of a closer as well. Ramos is under team control for three more seasons, and while $3 million may be a lot for a cheap squad like the Marlins, it is less than what a team might expect to pay for free agent closer options like Tyler Clippard, Ernesto Frieri, Ryan Madson, or Darren O'Day. If any of those teams that still need a late-inning reliever by the time those names come off the market, the Marlins could capitalize on their desire to contend in 2016.
Ramos's value is difficult to assess, as it depends on the valuation of relievers. Relievers have been classically difficult to assess in terms of value, and this is especially tough for Ramos. He has suppressed hits on balls in play in a major way the last three years, but there is no guarantee that will continue and that he will keep overperforming his peripherals. Then again, he has known and obvious flaws, and teams have to know that he only had one year in which he was obviously good.
Still, over the last three years, he has averaged 1.3 Wins Above Replacement per season if you average out all of the different pitcher WAR metrics. Depending on how you credit relievers, that value could be even higher, and his best season was clearly last year, when he averaged 1.5 WAR. If you expect a similar performance again and project a reasonable decline afterward, he may still be worth $6-10 million in trade value. That kind of player might even get you a similar prospect to the types of players we expected Martin Prado to snag in his potential trade.
This would be a huge benefit for the Marlins and their depleted depth. A one-for-one deal of a reliever with "closer experience" for a pitching prospect who could bolster the rotation within the year is a very effective use of resources for a team expected to lose plenty of games in 2016. The Marlins should explore these avenues next season.