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The Marlins overpaid for Luis Arraez

The four-player blockbuster was one of the few completed MLB deals in recent years to be “rejected” by Baseball Trade Values’ model.

Luis Arraez #2 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates against the Kansas City Royals on September 13, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Baseball Trade Values, the website that attempts to calculate the surplus value of all MLB players and most minor leaguers, has its flaws and limitations. The main one is that their trade simulator makes it too easy to create “acceptable” mock proposals. Fans are incentivized to chase the satisfaction of matching up the BTV on every side of their deals, rather than considering the motivations of the teams involved. They are misled to believe that the universe of trade possibilities is much broader than it actually is.

On the other side of the coin, when trades happen in real life, they almost always get the green light from BTV’s model. Over the past three-and-a-half years, that’s been the case 94.2% of the time. And their staff deserves credit for constantly adjusting the model to achieve that hit rate.

Friday’s trade between the Miami Marlins and Minnesota Twins, sending Pablo López, José Salas and Byron Chourio up north for Luis Arraez, was an outlier. Miami’s outgoing package contained more than doubled the estimated surplus value that Arraez has on his own.

Maybe BTV is overdue for a recalibration? During what’s been a quiet winter for the trade market, three other deals have also been rejected by the model. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for now. Plenty of pundits arrived at a similar conclusion—I’d recommend that you check out this article by Ben Clemens of FanGraphs and his explanation of “second-level trade mistakes.”

I browsed through real-life trades from previous offseasons that also fell outside of BTV’s margin for error. Some of them were complicated by finances, involving significant cash changing teams and/or veterans whose contracts were deep underwater. But López plus prospects for Arraez was a pure baseball trade.

I landed on this 2022 post-lockout transaction as the most relevant comp:

  • Reds traded Sonny Gray ($28.3M median trade value) and Francis Peguero ($0.1M) to Twins for Chase Petty ($4.8M)
Sonny Gray #54 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the second inning of the game at Target Field on September 14, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by Matt Krohn/Getty Images

Just like López, Gray was an established starting pitcher with two years of club control remaining projected to continue providing above-average quality when healthy. He had a superior track record to López, though that was offset by his older age and higher salary.

Missing about a quarter of the 2022 campaign due to injuries, Gray was very good on a per-inning basis (3.08 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 2.4 bWAR in 119.2 IP). The Twins did not hesitate to pick up his club option for 2023.

Petty is multiple years away from reaching the majors for Cincinnati, but he boosted his prospect stock this past season. His trade value on BTV has risen accordingly (from $4.8M to $12.8M).

The jury is still out on who “won” this trade.

It’s going to be a while until Salas fully develops and even longer in Chourio’s case, but from the Marlins’ perspective, the 2023 season will go a long way toward determining whether Arraez was worth such a steep price. They are counting on him to immediately boost their run production and they are putting faith in Johnny Cueto to come close to emulating López’s numbers. If Miami’s young starting pitchers take incremental steps forward, that would make López’s departure even less noticeable (and lift some pressure off of Cueto’s shoulders).

Arraez will be mainly utilized at second base, according to Kim Ng. When everybody’s available, that will displace Jean Segura to third base and Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center field. Can Segura’s and Chisholm’s athleticism compensate for their inexperience at those positions? We’ll find out soon.

The Marlins were hellbent on acquiring a very particular type of hitter who’s reliable, affordable, controllable, defensively versatile and still in his prime. Incapable of developing their own version of Arraez from within, they paid a premium to push this long-rumored deal across the finish line.