Monday, February 11, 2008

Florida Marlins: Off-season Report Card.

The Marlins only really made one move this offseason, but it was a huge one, shipping Dontrelle Willis AND Miguel Cabrera in the same deal to the Detroit Tigers for prospects Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Dallas Trahern, and Mike Rabel.

The deal has been talked about for months as one of the best trades made in years, but of course everyone means from the Tigers’ perspective. From the Marlins’ perspective, this is an abominable trade, so bad you almost feel like Marlins fans should be able to sue the team for some sort of breach of fiduciary duties

First of all, there is the overwhelming feeling you get that the Marlins would almost certainly have gotten far more in return if they had traded Willis and Cabrera in separate deals, most likely to two separate teams. Both were marquee names, both could have been expected to have a large market, and Miguel Cabrera is probably one of the 5 best players in the entire game right now. The only two words that could adequately describe the feeling around the baseball world when word came down that both players had been traded to a single team in the same deal was, “absolute shock.

Second of all, is the players the Marlins actually got in return. Centerfielder Cameron Maybin and lefty starting pitcher Andrew Miller were supposed to be the centerpieces of this deal, but both players are still extremely raw, and if the Marlins have any sense they will start them both at Double-A this year (note: it is unclear whether the Marlins have any sense). I mean, if these were dominant Triple-A players on the verge of major-league stardom, then that would be one thing, but there is a lot that players have left to learn if they are going to make the show from Double-A, so while Maybin and Miller have upside and projectability, they are as of yet nobody’s idea of “can't miss.” Meanwhile, the other three pitchers are all C-grade prospects, and catcher Mike Rabelo is nobody’s idea of a prospect at all.

But thirdly, and this is where my own opinion comes in, above and beyond the general consensus that this was a bad deal by the Marlins, I can't help thinking that what makes this deal so shameful and regrettable is that the Marlins actually had a pretty good shot to contend this year, with just a few moves.

What’s that, I hear you saying. Did he just say that the Marlins could have contended this season?

Well, yeah, actually. I'm sure the Marlins front office probably looked at their 71 wins last year and decided this team had no hope, and that they might as well shave an extra few million bucks off their payroll by dumping Willis and Cabrera. But I submit to you that if they had kept Willis and Cabrera, who are still relatively cheap, the Marlins would really only have been a few players away from being a serious menace in the NL East.

For one thing, the Marlins have a lineup stacked with young players making the major league minimum who are all still on the upswing side of their young careers. Second, the Marlins could have easily improved their defense dramatically, with a few moves. Last year, Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Miguel Cabrera were woeful defensively at their respective positions. But if you simply moved Cabrera to first, Uggla to third, Ramirez to second, and found even an average defensive shortstop, you would suddenly have a vastly improved infield defense.

Thirdly, the only real hole in the Marlins’ lineup last season was in centerfield, which was exactly the position with the most free agents to choose from this offseason. The Marlins may not have been too inclined to jump into the Torii Hunter or Aaron Rowand sweepstakes, but with only a $30 million payroll last year, they easily could have afforded to go after Mike Cameron. And an even better idea would have been to make a trade for Boston’s Coco Crisp.

With a powerful young lineup headlined by Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, and Jeremy Hermida, the Marlins would have put up a ton of runs, and a promising young rotation led by Willis (who was bound to improve on a down year) would have benefited greatly from an improved defense. Meanwhile, the Marlins bullpen is actually a secret source of strength: now that last years disasters Armando Benitez and Jorge Julio have been shown the way to the exit, the pen can be fully turned over to respectable closer Kevin Gregg (3.54, 32 SV), and extremely promising young arms Lee Gardiner (1.94 ERA last year), Henry Owens (1.96), Matt Lindstrom (3.04), Justin Miller (3.65), Renyel Pinto (3.68), and closer-in-training Taylor Tankersley (3.99).

So by my count, all the Marlins would have needed to do this offseason to field a very competitive team this offseason would have been to acquire a centerfielder, a cheap defensive-oriented shortstop (such as Cesar Izturis or Adam Everett), and a reliable 5th starter who could eat innings while Rick Vanden Hurk develops a bit more polish and Anibel Sanchez heals from surgery (Livan Hernandez?). Also, they should have resigned starting catcher Miguel Olivo, who doesn't walk enough, but is strong defensively and has some good power, and would have only cost a few million at most (he wound up signing a one-year deal with the Royals). That is literally all they would have needed, as the lineup, rotation and bullpen would have been totally set everywhere else, and set with young players who are actually good, and pretty much all have upside left.

Of course, enacting this plan would have required that the Marlins actually care about winning anymore, rather than just whining about having no stadium deal. But clearly, winning is not a priority.

Offseason Grade: F

Additions: Luis Gonzalez, Mark Hendrickson, Dallas McPherson, Mike Rabelo, Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin

Losses: Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Olivo, Armando Benitez, Aaron Boone, Byung-Hyun Kim, Joe Borchard, Wes Obermueller

Projected Lineup:
SS Hanley Ramirez
2B Dan Uggla
RF Jeremy Hermida
LF Josh Willingham
1B Mike Jacobs
3B Dallas McPherson
CF Alfredo Amezaga
C Mike Rabelo

Projected Rotation & Closer:
LHP Scott Olson
RHP Sergio Mitre
RHP Ricky Nolasco
LHP Andrew Miller
LHP Mark Hendrickson

CL Kevin Gregg

Atlanta Braves: Off-season Report Card.


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