Longtime Miami Marlins fans should be experts at rooting for players in different uniforms. A 14-year playoff drought means living vicariously through familiar faces like Anibal Sanchez, who helped the 2012 Detroit Tigers to a World Series run, or Hanley Ramirez, as he closes in on his fourth October berth since being traded. Whenever watching meaningless games down the stretch becomes too upsetting, there’s typically at least one former Marlin in contention to distract from your pain.
Slightly different story this season. The Fish unloaded four veterans in recent months to trim payroll and replenish the farm system, but all of them enter September 12 on teams with losing records.
Were these “buyers” wrong to believe in Adeiny Hechavarria, David Phelps, AJ Ramos and Tom Koehler? Or maybe it was Miami’s mistake to move significant role players, sabotaging their own Wild Card hopes?
Let’s update and analyze their progress.
Traded: June 26 to the Tampa Bay Rays
Adeiny Hechavarria, 2017
The Rays initially had some serious buyer’s remorse about this. Among 185 qualifiers during the month of July, Hechavarria ranked dead last in Major League Baseball with two weighted runs created plus. He didn’t fare much better in terms of raw on-base percentage (184th) or slugging percentage (also 184th). Even with solid defense, he was costing them games in a heated AL Wild Card race.
Hech’s hot streak over the past month has salvaged the deal, though. He is basically performing as advertised overall, with one more year of team control remaining.
From the Marlins’ perspective, this was about creating an everyday role for JT Riddle (who has since suffered a season-ending injury). It’s a defensible move in hindsight, but the timing stills seems off considering that Riddle had minor league options remaining.
Traded: July 20 to the Seattle Mariners
David Phelps, 2017
As they cycled through a record-setting total of 40 different pitchers, the Mariners were an obvious fit for Phelps, given his versatility to start or relieve. They demonstrated that eagerness by sacrificing four(!) prospects. The only franchise with a longer playoff drought than the Fish was going all-in.
Like Hech, Phelps was coveted for his remaining year of arbitration eligibility...and that’s really the only silver lining. His 2017 campaign is over due to a right elbow impingement. The M’s bullpen ranks among MLB’s best since the All-Star break, but that hasn’t been enough—they will need to leapfrog five other clubs to qualify for October.
Meanwhile, the Marlins own a 5-8 record in one-run games since the Phelps trade, their late-inning struggles on full display last weekend while suffering three walk-off losses in Atlanta. Losing that depth has certainly hurt them.
Traded: July 28 to the New York Mets
AJ Ramos, 2017
I have the utmost respect for Brad Ziegler and his improbable scoreless streak that made August so much fun. But in 2017, your highest-leverage relievers should generally be equipped with swing-and-miss ability. That’s what the Marlins miss most about Ramos.
Their ‘pen maintained a respectable 22.1 strikeout rate during that first full month without him (16th in MLB), then plummeted in September (16.9 K%, 27th). Allowing balls in play and using Derek Dietrich and Tomas Telis as starting corner infielders has been an ugly combination.
Ramos is due a significant raise in 2018 coming off arguably his worst full season, so ultimately, the Marlins acted responsibly by securing two minor league arms—Ricardo Cespedes and Merandy Gonzalez—in exchange for him. On the other hand, trading him to an NL East rival makes it more difficult to root for his short-term success.
Traded: August 19 to the Toronto Blue Jays
Tom Koehler, 2017
Koehler led the Marlins in batters faced each of the past two seasons. This deal is proof that perception changes quickly, because even the desperate Blue Jays didn’t value him as a viable starter.
After one turn in the rotation, they reassigned the right-hander to relief work, where he’s actually been pretty good! The sample size is ridiculously small, but Koehler has thrown 72 percent of his pitches for strikes in the new role (compared to a 61.8 career strike percentage). Another few weeks of that and the Jays might be crazy enough to retain him this winter.
It’s intriguing to reflect on what the second half of the Marlins season would’ve looked like had the roster remained intact through the trade deadline. Worst-case scenario, this foursome would be playing out the string together, instead of in the company of strangers. Best-case scenario? They give the Colorado Rockies something to sweat about.
But the reality of the situation is satisfying, too. Recent performances will ensure that their careers extend well beyond the current season, allowing them more opportunities to latch on with legitimate contenders.