How the Miami Marlins Trade Impacts the Nationals and the NL East
Since the Nats moved to DC in 2005 the Marlins have been a thorn in their side. The Nationals .392 winning percentage against the Marlins is the worst of any team in the division and the third worst of any NL team. The Phillies happen to be next on the list at .397, but that is understandable. While the Phillies were busy winning division titles the Nats were busy being the worst team in baseball. The best team in baseball should own the worst team, but the Marlins were never all that good. More often than not as the Nationals were finishing fifth the Marlins were finishing fourth. This is just a tale of one team having another's number for no reason what-so-ever.
The Marlins yesterday made a decision. They reached the conclusion that the big free agent signings from a year before hadn't helped them draw like they expected and they needed to go back to their old model of doing business. The Marlins are in a situation where building through the farm system is better for them than trying to win now year after year and ending up with win totals in the 70's due to the lack of young talent on the roster.
If winning only 69 games wasn't indication enough that the Marlins were ready for a rebuild then this trade certainly drove that message home. Ozzie Guillen is a crazy manager, but no manager can make that much of a difference. It was time for the Marlins to dump payroll and re-invest in other areas. The real problem with the Marlins is their past. Everyone looks at Loria's dishonest nature and will judge this trade as if last off-season was all for show to get season ticket holders into the new park, but the Marlins believed they could contend last off-season and many in the media picked them to finish first or second in the NL East.
The Marlins started April off poorly but then exploded in May. For a couple of brief days at the end of May it looked like the Marlins could hang with the Nationals and Braves and that Giancarlo was close to a shoe in for NL MVP. Then Stanton got hurt and the Marlins season went into a downward spiral that ended with them trading away Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers and Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers. The trading hasn't ended there as before the World Series was even over the Marlins dumped one big salary in Heath Bell into the laps of the Diamondbacks and have now shed a lot more dead weight in getting rid of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and John Buck. The only real talent the Marlins gave up was Jose Reyes.
We will start with the pitchers and make this very clear Josh Johnson was recovering from injury and may be Josh Johnson once again, but a 3.81 ERA is not what a team is looking for from its Ace. If the Josh Johnson everyone saw last year is the future of Josh Johnson then the Marlins were smart to dump the one remaining year of his deal onto the Blue Jays before these facts were exposed during the 2013 season. Johnson could return to form and be the pitcher everyone knows he can be but as he is right now he is much more of a number three or four starter than an Ace. The Marlins as they stand do not have an Ace, but the production they got from Johnson in 2012 can be replaced by Jacob Turner who had a 3.38 ERA in seven games and was thought of as the Tigers best pitching prospect before he was traded.
Mark Buehrle is the case of a team wanting a name. His 3.74 ERA might look better than Johnson's but it comes with a 4.18 FIP as opposed to 3.40 for Johnson. Buehrle has always been more of a pitch to contact pitcher, but at this stage in his career he is not worth the salary he was drawing. Henderson Alvarez who had a 4.85 ERA and 5.18 FIP in 31 games started for the Blue Jays in 2012 could be the replacement for Buehrle in the rotation. While Alvarez's 2012 numbers aren't good a move to the NL could help him and he is only 22 while Buehrle is getting to the stage of well past his prime, but Alvaraz is just one option for that spot in the rotation. Nathan Evoldi, who the Marlins received in the Hanley trade, 4.16 FIP is in line with Buehrle's and it isn't unfeasible that he could replace the missing production.
The last big name and only true talent in the trade is Jose Reyes. Some might argue John Buck should be included, but Rob Brantly had already taken his job. Jose Reyes was the second best player on the Marlins last season worth 4.5 fWAR, and as a Nationals fan it is good to see him out of the division, but being welcomed back into the division is Yunel Escobar. Reyes is a great and dynamic player, but he has struggled with hamstring and back issues during his career and his defense was starting to show signs of decline. Escobar is one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball, and is coming off of a down year in 2012. He won't be able to replace Reyes but the difference between he and Reyes isn't as great as most would assume.
This trade leaves the Marlins in the exact same positions they were in before making this trade, but now they have money to invest in the farm system and international signings. Before making the trade the Marlins looked like a club that not only wasn't going to be very good in 2013 but was going to be locked into bad salaries and unable to improve for the future. The Marlins made the same move the Red Sox did a couple months back, but because the Marlins have done the fire sale thing before the way this trade is treated is very different. Consider though that with a new stadium and all the free agent signings the Marlins were still only able to finish 12th in the NL in attendance. That is a lot better than last, but the Marlins weren't drawing enough money to have the type of roster they do, and when it comes to alienating the fan base the Marlins have to win to have a fan base to alienate. Big money spending to win now when the roster is still full of so many holes was not the way to go. If the Marlins did anything they rectified the mistakes of the 2012 off-season and faced facts that they are in for a rebuild.
The 2013 Marlins without Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson, Buck, and Bonifacio are going to finish with a record very close to what the 2013 Marlins with those guys would have had. The Marlins were not a good team before or after the trade. One way or another Gorkys Hernandez and Chris Peterson were set to start in left and center with Donavon Solano, Logan Morrison, and Gregg Dobs at second, first, and third. This trade didn't make the Marlins any better, but it didn't make them that much worse, and now they have money to spend on the areas they have always spent money well, player development. The real test for the Marlins will be what they do with the homegrown talent if it ever helps them to win and they are drawing fans.
For the Nationals this trade signaled that the Marlins do not view themselves as contenders in 2013, and with the Nationals expected to once again compete for the NL East title this will truly test the theory that anyone in a Marlins jersey can beat anyone in a Nats jersey.