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Ranking top 5 MLB players who the Marlins traded away as prospects

The Marlins have developed tons of homegrown, impact players through the years, but pulled the plug early in these notable cases.

Adrian González poses for the camera at Marlins Media Day Getty Images

The Marlins have been refreshingly aggressive this offseason in an effort to take a leap forward at the major league level in 2022. A team that just barely avoided a last-place finish in the NL East this year is setting far higher expectations moving forward. Of course, good intentions do not always beget good results. It’s difficult to anticipate precisely how veteran players will age or adjust to new environments.

Moreover, making trades with the objective of immediate improvement has meant sacrificing promising young talent. Although Kameron Misner, Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott weren’t ready to be contributors to the Marlins major league roster yet, they were each early-round MLB Draft picks in recent years. They could potentially haunt the Marlins as opponents in the not-so-distant future.

I was curious about the Marlins’ track record of trading away minor leaguers, so much so that I browsed through every transaction in franchise history (available via Baseball-Reference). Which of these once-expendable Fish farmhands developed into productive big leaguers elsewhere?

A few important notes before we get to the rankings:

  • Johan Santana doesn’t count. The Marlins never had any intentions of keeping Santana after selecting the eventual perennial Cy Young award candidate in the Rule 5 Draft—he was traded to the Twins later that same day.
  • Players selected from the Marlins in the Rule 5 do count. These individuals had been under their control, but were left unprotected because the decision-makers preferred existing members of the 40-man roster. It’s the same principle as a prospect depth trade, except with the sting of settling for minimal compensation in return.
  • I excluded MLB rookies who were traded with prospect eligibility remaining. The Marlins had already seen guys like Zac Gallen, Carl Everett and Enrique “Kiké” Hernández in The Show before parting ways with them. Their cases don’t carry the same “what if...” element because of the additional data that the Marlins had on them at the time.

1. Adrián González

  • Traded to Rangers with Will Smith and Ryan Snare for Ugueth Urbina (Jul. 11, 2003)
  • MLB career: 5x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove, 2x Silver Slugger, 127 wRC+, 36.4 fWAR in 15 seasons

No question, A-Gon deserves the top spot here. He would have been more widely appreciated if not for the misfortune of occupying the same position in the same league at the same time as Albert Pujols, and he may have even had a borderline Hall of Fame case if his power output didn’t wane so much in his 30s. Imagine the durable and dangerous González solidifying first base in the mid-to-late 2000s instead of Mike Jacobs/Jorge Cantú/Wes Helms.

However, the Marlins and their fans don’t really feel much regret about this move. That’s because Urbina reinforced the back end of Florida’s bullpen for the rest of that 2003 regular season and postseason en route to the World Series title. Flags fly forever!

2. Luis Castillo

  • Traded to Reds with Zeek White and Austin Brice for Dan Straily (Jan. 19, 2017)
  • MLB career: 1x All-Star, 123 ERA+, 14.4 fWAR in five seasons; still active
Luis Castillo #58 of the Cincinnati Reds in action against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 27, 2019 Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With such limited experience in the upper minors, Castillo understandably wasn’t going to be under consideration for the 2017 Opening Day roster. Swapping him for Straily ever so slightly boosted the Marlins’ chances of snapping their postseason drought in the final season of Jeffrey Loria’s ownership. How humiliating it was on July 30 of that same year, with the Marlins below the .500 mark and having already waved the white flag by shipping off several veterans, to be dominated by Castillo in Miami for eight innings.

As then-Marlins president David Samson tells the story now, his baseball executives were allegedly unconvinced that Castillo would stick in a major league rotation. Total whiff on that evaluation. On the contrary, since the date of his debut, he ranks near the top of the MLB leaderboard in total starts.

Even before the trade, the Marlins were thin on controllable pitchers with elite upside. Entering the 2017-18 offseason without Castillo or anybody of his ilk in the pipeline unfortunately made rebuilding the only path forward for the organization.

3. Mark Canha

  • Selected by Rockies (and flipped to Athletics) in 2014 Rule 5 Draft
  • MLB career: 116 wRC+, 10.6 fWAR in seven seasons; still active

Justin Bour and Mark Canha didn’t have anything left to prove at Triple-A. The Marlins could’ve plausibly tried to platoon them at first base for the 2015 campaign. Instead, they were smitten with the accomplishments of free agent Michael Morse, declining to protect Canha on the 40-man roster and officially signing Morse days after the Rule 5.

Canha began his A’s tenure with a bang, going 3-for-5 with 4 RBI. His first three seasons combined were merely replacement level, but patience paid off. His batting stats from 2018-2021 were more or less identical to what he did as a Marlins prospect from 2011-2014.

Canha has barely had any head-to-head matchups with Miami during his career due to MLB’s scheduling practices, but that’s about to change. He’ll be with the division-rival Mets for at least the next two seasons (with a club option for 2024).

4. Scott Podsednik

  • Selected by Rangers in 1997 Rule 5 Draft
  • MLB career: 1x All-Star, 89 wRC+, 9.4 fWAR in 11 seasons
Scott Podsednik #26 of the Boston Red Sox slides safely into second before the tag of Donovan Solano #17 of the Miami Marlins during a game at Marlins Park on June 11, 2012 Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

Podsednik wasn’t knocking on the door to the big leagues like Canha—in his uninspiring audition for a 40-man spot, he was a light-hitting, Low-A outfielder playing mostly in the corner spots. The Marlins should be forgiven for leaving him exposed in the Rule 5. It took a half-decade from the time of his selection to become a positive contributor at the highest level (and that was only after both the Rangers and Mariners had given up on him, too).

Tip of the hat to a late-bloomer who regularly stolen 40 bases a year in his prime and won a championship with the 2005 White Sox.

5. Trevor Williams

  • Traded to Pirates for Jim Benedict and Richard Mitchell (Oct. 24, 2015)
  • MLB career: 95 ERA+, 6.7 fWAR in six seasons; still active

The Marlins thought Benedict would make a lasting impact as their vice president of pitching development, easily offsetting whatever Williams could do on the mound individually. It was an unconventional deal...and it backfired. While Williams was co-leading the 2018 Pirates rotation (alongside Jameson Taillon), Benedict had already been canned by the Fish and moved on to the Cubs.

Williams’ best days appear to be behind him, but he demonstrated enough versatility for the Mets in 2021 to avoid being non-tendered. Don’t close the book on his career quite yet.

Honorable mentions: Robert Person (traded to Mets, 1994); Domingo Germán (traded to Yankees, 2014)

Other ones to monitor: Michael King (traded to Yankees, 2017); Chris Paddack (traded to Padres, 2016); Josh Naylor (traded to Padres, 2016)