The Miami Marlins acquired Fernando Rodney from the San Diego Padres in exchange for minor league pitching prospect Chris Paddack, a player who likely would have been highly rated amid the team’s dismal farm system had he reached the end of the season with Miami. Paddack had a tremendous start to his 2016 campaign and has shown surprising polish for an upside high schooler out of the eighth round. Miami quickly shuttled him away at (so far) his highest value to get half a season of a cheap reliever who has been an inconsistent performer in the past.
At the time of the trade, I felt Miami fired off an important bullet to try and acquire a player of lesser need, with the team really in need of starting pitching. However, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com seems to think that the Marlins are ready to send off low minors talent away from their already-depleted farm in order to help make a 2016 playoff push a reality.
the #Marlins also don't have anyone untouchable in their system— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) June 30, 2016
the #Marlins are going for it and willing to move players at their lower systems to do it.— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) June 30, 2016
On the one hand, there will be Marlins fans who applaud the team for "going for it" after having spent years not trying to compete or support a talented core. Remember, the Marlins were close to a playoff berth in 2009 around a solid core with Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and others, but the team failed to improve on that squad in the offseason and instead felt the need to fire their manager to bring about improvement. Fernando Rodney at least improves the 2016 team, if not ever so slightly.
On the other hand, the Marlins have already been doing just this, and they haven’t exactly succeeded in their moves. Remember, the team thought they were close to contention in 2014 as well, when they were five games out of the Wild Card around the trade deadline and were interested in starting pitching. They dealt from the minors, sending 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran and outfield prospect Jake Marisnick as part of the deal to acquire Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez. The logic at the time was that Cosart was a budding player under team control who would be a long-term contributor.
This is the same logic Miami had in that following offseason, when they sent Hernandez and three other names, including top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, for Dee Gordon and one season of Dan Haren. It’s also why they traded Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach for Mat Latos that year. In other words, it is not as though the Marlins have not forsaken their minor league system for the bigs for several years now. They have been trying to do this.
In fact, these trades are part of the reason why the Marlins are so limited right now. The team’s moves have plummeted this farm system down to the 29th-ranked system in baseball before the 2016 season, at least according to Keith Law of ESPN. The Marlins have needed to acquire talent in large part because the pipeline of prospects has run dry and the club has little to show for its most recent set of drafts.
There is an easy example of the logical extreme of that scenario. Take a look at the Los Angeles Angels, another team with a star surrounded by a questionable cast that has gotten worse over time and no farm system to back it up talent-wise. The team’s roster is now decimated at the big league level after several signings failed and the club’s trades for big league talent faltered to start the 2016 season. Outside of Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, an injured Garrett Richards, a struggling Andrelton Simmons, and Matt Shoemaker, no one on the Angels can be counted for even average production.
Now, Miami is in a far better state at the big league level. The Fish have a competent, surprisingly deep middle infield, three great outfielders including one recovering star and two potential rising ones, and one top-of-the-line ace pitcher. They are younger, having already done all of their promoting in 2013. But the club still has holes in the rotation, and it has been shown that the high-minors starters they planned on using, including once-prized prospect Justin Nicolino, were not the answer. Does Miami have enough in the minors, with their system already shot, to acquire a starting pitcher?
Any move for a starter at this point almost necessitates a cost-controlled player, especially if Miami is planning on trading any of the remaining decent prospects in their system. It is likely this team will have no one to promote to an important position on the Major League roster in the next few years. A guy like Jake Odorizzi or Drew Pomeranz will be under Miami’s control for the next few years beyond this one, making him a more permanent rotation fixture than a short-term fix like Rich Hill.
Who else is left to deal for Miami? The most obvious candidates are a pair of low-minors hitters who recently came to prominence for the Marlins. First baseman Josh Naylor, the team’s 2015 first-round pick and Futures Game representative, earned marks as the team’s second-best prospect before the season, and you have to figure he may be the biggest chip left in their arsenal. Likewise, Stone Garrett has struggled (and got hurt by Naylor no less!) in Low-A Greensboro compared to what he did last year in the Penn League, but he may need to be used as well. Neither guy is dominating in Greensboro, but both would be the biggest remaining names, and either or both could be attached to a high-minors recovering starter like Justin Nicolino or Kendry Flores to try and acquire a real starting pitcher.
There is a certain thought to the idea that, with Miami "going for it," they may as well sell the remainder of their pittance of a farm system for medium- to long-term help in the big leagues. They already dealt a relatively big name for them for only short-term help. If the team is going to fire off its remaining bullets, they will have to get someone who will help beyond 2016.