The Miami Marlins just traded deposed closer Steve Cishek for nothing in order to get rid of his rapidly climbing salary for next season. Since Cishek began his salary arbitration scale last season with a closer-level starting price of $3.8 million and bumped up to $6.6 million this season, Miami was looking at a figure of likely $8 million on his next salary bump, even with all the struggles this year. The team simply could not afford that, and they decided to cut bait, just a year too late.
Guess what? In a few years, you can expect the Marlins to make the same errors. From Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
### Despite a flurry of Internet rumors, Hill said he never seriously considered trading Carter Capps because "he’s a championship-caliber piece under team control."
It would have been unnecessary to trade Carter Capps now, of course. Capps has been entirely dominant thanks to his new pitching approach and his insane velocity, and more importantly the Fish still have Capps under team contol through 2019. However, both Capps and current closer A.J. Ramos will be arbitration eligible starting in 2016, meaning they will begin their clock of expensive payments much like Cishek did back in 2014.
One would think that the Marlins would have learned the lesson of avoiding attaching themselves to a supposedly elite reliever. From 2011 to 2014, Steve Cishek was 11th in ERA, eighth in FIP, and 11th in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (WAR) among the 67 relievers with at least 200 innings pitched. So from his rookie year until last season, it could easily be said that Cishek had a claim to being one of the 10 best relievers in baseball.
One season later, he was traded for nothing. That is how fast a closer, or any reliever, can deteriorate.
Once again, the attrition rate was at 75 percent. The high odds are that, if you are an elite closer over the previous three seasons, you will not be one for the next two.
And yet here are the Marlins making claims based off of 31 innings of pitching that Carter Capps is a "championship-caliber piece." It is almost as if they are making the same error that they made with Cishek when they considered him a core piece of the Marlins roster. The Marlins are equating current relief success with future success, and that may be a problem given that relievers more unpredictably suffer attrition and that a team like Miami needs all of the help it can get monetarily.
This concern is less bothersome for Capps, who appears to have some real changes heading into this year that have led to better outcomes. It is a little more concerning for Ramos for a few reasons. Without explanation, Ramos has found his control, though that has faltered as of late. The drop in walk rate is a big part of why he has been so good in the closer role this year, but it goes against his track record as well. However, the Marlins will be paying for the saves he racks up this year when he hits arbitration next season, and those saves come at a more expensive rate than an eighth inning option, even a dominant one like Capps.
At any point, Ramos may return to the player he was last year, when he walked almost 16 percent of batters faced. While he pitches like this, he is a commodity even at arbitration prices. But a team claiming poor like the Marlins needs to invest its money on reliable, good assets, especially with the club's minor league farm system dry. The Fish have to look forward and be smart with their relievers as the prices for those players climb yearly. A player like Ramos, one who is relatively unproven at this level of play, is not a luxury the team can start paying $4 million or $6 million in a year to afford.
One would think the Marlins would have learned their lesson by now after paying most of the $27 million owed to Heath Bell just so that he could have one poor season with the team. You would think they would learn once Cishek too eventually failed them and they could not afford him for a potential bounce back year. You would think they would have known in the first place when Leo Nunez struggled off and on and turned into an expensive, absentee Juan Oviedo. But it sounds like the Marlins are willing to make this mistake again with Ramos and Capps, hoping that they find the next Jonathan Papelbon and praying they did not uncover the next Jonathon Broxton or, worse yet, the next Oviedo instead.