Even if we didn’t know whose name would appear on the dotted line or the specific dollar amount it would take, this move has seemed inevitable. On Wednesday morning, the Marlins finally signed a veteran outfielder.
The name? Cameron Maybin. The contract terms? A $3.25 million guarantee for the 2018 season, plus incentives that could boost his earnings to $4 million.
Hey, a reunion! Maybin spent the 2008-2010 seasons in South Florida and made a few memories.
But let’s cut to the chase: he is just a stopgap. Maybin flashes potential as an efficient baserunner and solid defender, though his production at the plate is consistently inconsistent. Durability has been a concern throughout the past decade, and that ain’t changing entering his age-31 campaign. High-ceiling outfielders Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Magneuris Sierra all joined the rebuilding effort this offseason; Maybin is being paid to keep the seat warm for them.
With so little established talent surrounding him on the Marlins roster, you might feel tempted to dismiss the deal as inconsequential. Ms. Mambo speaks for many Marlins fans:
They’re both one year deals on rebuilding teams. It doesn’t matter.— MsMambo (@Ms_Mambo) February 21, 2018
According to the MLB Trade Rumors Transaction Tracker, there were 53 one-year major league free-agent signings in 2017. There were 64 in 2016, 69 in 2015 and 61 in 2014. Most of them have a marginal impact and some actually wind up being counterproductive, so yeah, history suggests that you won’t be telling your grandkids about the time the Marlins brought back Cameron Maybin.
However, the essence of professional sports is proving the haters wrong. Competitive players want to do it, and every front office wants competitive players who want to do it.
You say short-term, low-profile signings by presumably bad teams don’t have wide-ranging consequences? How about these recent exceptions?
Desmond was coming off a miserable walk year with the Washington Nationals. In 2015, he batted .233/.290/.384 (83 wRC+) with a career-worst 29.2 percent strikeout rate. Aggravating the stress, the 30-year-old botched routine plays at shortstop on numerous occasions, convincing teams that he’d need to move away from his primary defensive position.
On the last day of February, with spring training games already underway, the Texas Rangers took a flyer on Desmond—one year, $8 million to play the outfield. He acclimated to the new role rather smoothly en route to an All-Star selection.
The Rangers had been reigning AL West champions, but were widely projected to take a step back in 2016, even with Desmond. Their previous summer’s run differential of plus-18 resembled a barely above-average team. The trendy Houston Astros had burgeoning superstars like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel; their in-state rivals would be relying on...37-year-old Adrian Beltre?
Desmond led his new squad in plate appearances, games played and runs scored, producing 3.3 fWAR (while Beltre defied the aging curve to continue being awesome). The Rangers won another division title and finished with the best record in the American League.
Because Desmond rebounded so well, he re-entered free agency with a lot more buzz. That allowed Texas to extend a qualify offer and recoup a first-round draft pick after he signed long term with the Colorado Rockies. They used the pick (No. 29 overall) on high school shortstop Chris Seise.
The Boston Red Sox needed to clean house. Their 2012 team finished with only 69 wins, the lowest total for the franchise in any full season since 1965.
So they purged overpaid malcontents in an August blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and fired manager Bobby Valentine. They sought high-character veterans in free agency, including Napoli.
Somewhat like Desmond, he hit the open market with poor timing. The longtime catcher faced the reality that he was being cast as a first baseman/designated hitter. Moreover, the Red Sox medical evaluation revealed a serious hip condition. That nixed a three-year, $39 million deal, forcing Napoli to settle for a mere $5 million guarantee in 2013.
He immediately emerged as a leader in the clubhouse and on the field. Boston first basemen—primarily Napoli—would contribute 5.2 fWAR, the third-best total in the American League.
By the way, the Red Sox went onto win the World Series.
The Toronto Blue Jays totally lucked out.
They deployed Encarnacion at third base late in the 2009 and throughout the 2010 seasons. He racked up 29 home runs in 138 games, but seemingly offered little value in other aspects of the game, so they placed him on waivers, where the Oakland Athletics claimed him.
When the A’s decided against tendering him a contract for 2011, Encarnacion became a free agent. Toronto struck a $2.5 million deal with a club option for the following season.
The breakout came in 2012, when the Dominican slugger began to blend on-base skills with his premium power (.280/.384/.557, 150 wRC+). The Jays recognized that the production was sustainable and extended him through 2016.
By the time that new contract ran its course, Encarnacion had helped the franchise return to the postseason for the first time in decades. He ranks third on Toronto’s all-time homer list (239) and top 10 in slugging percentage, runs batted in, walks and plate appearances (just to rattle off a few categories).
And it all happened north of the border because of that initial one-year free-agent contract.
Perhaps you’re really skeptical of the Marlins turning into a contender because of Maybin’s direct involvement.
Well, consider the possible ripple effects of a midsummer trade.
The Baltimore Orioles had a virtually zero percent chance of being relevant in 2011. They simply didn’t have the talent and resources to imagine it in the perennially deep AL East. That didn’t preclude the front office from putting some thought into who they’d sign to round out the roster.
Uehara was available after quietly spending the past two seasons in Baltimore. It only cost a $3 million base salary plus various performance-based incentives to keep him in the fold.
The O’s faded out of the playoff picture fairly quickly, but through no fault of the veteran right-hander. Uehara maintained a stellar 1.72 earned run average through four months of the season, allowing just 33 baserunners in 47 innings.
A hot setup man has more much value to teams in the pennant chase than to a cellar dweller, so Baltimore shipped him to the Rangers at the 2011 trade deadline. The return? Hard-throwing Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis, a huge infielder with lots of swing-and-miss to his game.
Sure, laugh now at the albatross contract Davis later got from the Orioles, but during his club-controlled years prior to that, dude was a beast. That 2013 campaign—.286/.370/.634, 53 HR, 7.0 fWAR—would’ve been MVP-worthy if it happened in the National League (rather than being overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout). “Crush” led the big leagues with 159 long balls from 2012 to 2015. Baltimore averaged 89 wins during that same period, the best four-season stretch for the franchise since the 1980’s.
Spending to sign a known commodity whose market has cratered is a low-risk, high-reward move that can create surplus value in a variety of ways. It’s especially a no-brainer for the Marlins in this current transition, when they have nothing left to lose.