The hits and misses of Larry Beinfest, Pt. 1


Inspired a bit by Matthew Pouillot’s piece on former Cleveland Indians GM Mark Shapiro and Tom Tango’s response, I decided to take a look at our own general management brain trust and see how they fared in the trades they made so far. Of course, no examination of this Marlins front office would be complete without looking at Larry Beinfest and his accomplishments at keeping the Marlins afloat amidst a woeful payroll restriction.

For this, I decided to take on Beinfest’s trades/signings less in a hit/miss fashion and more in a good/push/bad fashion. Keep in mind, however, that this retrospective look is still attempting to keep things in the perspective at the time of the trade/signing. In other words, just because a player busted since getting here or leaving here doesn’t mean the move was a failure or success; we can only judge moves by how they looked at the time they were made. Let’s look into some of the more high profile moves and see how they turned out.

The Matt Clement/Dontrelle Willis Trade

Trade: The Marlins sent Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca to the Chicago Cubs for Julian Tavarez, Dontrelle Willis, Jose Cueto, and Ryan Jorgensen

Prognosis: Push

The Marlins had acquired Clement the year before as return for Mark Kotsay, but apparently were not pleased with his 5.14 ERA in 2001. The 4.34 FIP and almost 50% GB% belied a potential regression to a better player in 2002, but the Marlins did not wait and instead offered Clement and “bullpen ace” Alfonseca to the Cubs for a smorgasbord of uninteresting names. I don’t have a strong grasp on the Cubs system, but I believe Willis’ name was close to the top 10, while the others were of no import. Tavarez appeared to be a fairly suitable replacement, as he was more or less league average the last two seasons peripherally. This one was fairly even I think at the time of the trade.

Of course, the Marlins struck gold with Willis, getting two excellent seasons and two average ones before the bottom fell out in 2007. The Cubs on the other hand ended up with an excellent fourth starter for a few years before Clement left Chicago for the Boston Red Sox and subsequently suffered an injury.

The Mike Hampton/Juan Pierre Trade

Trade: The Marlins sent Charles Johnson, Preston Wilson, Vic Darensbourg, and Pablo Ozuna to the Colorado Rockies for Mike Hampton and Juan Pierre. The Marlins then sent Hampton to the Atlanta Braves for Tim Spooneybarger and Ryan Baker

Prognosis: Slight Win

This trade felt more like a salary dump for two of the teams involved. The Rockies and Fish looked like they were just dumping contracts on each other; the Marlins interested in ridding themselves of Wilson and CJ’s large contract signed in 2000, while the Rockies were more than willing to send off the mistake that was Mike Hampton’s eight-year, $121M pact to some other team. The Braves actually looked like the only team gaining, hoping that Hampton’s return to normal atmosphere would return him to being good. The Marlins did, however, make off with Pierre, who before the trade had put up a decent 1.8 WAR season in his second full year in the bigs. As a stellar defender who was team controlled for another four years at the time, the move was a good one for the Marlins. The only negatives were that the remaining pieces received were two relievers who were no better than most relievers and that the Marlins were stuck footing a significant amount of Hampton’s contract for the Braves as part of the deal.

The Ivan Rodriguez Signing

Contract: Ivan Rodriguez for one year, $10M

Prognosis: Win

Pudge was around a 4-WAR player that season, far from his greatest productive years in Texas, but still very valuable. Pudge’s .297/.369/.474 line was worth a quite respectable .361 wOBA, and his defense was solidly average at catcher according to TotalZone. Based on what the market paid for that year, the Marlins got $13.3M in production for the one year and paid $10M, a slightly favorable deal. The loss was perhaps in having Pudge walk, as the Marlins did not receive above average contributions from that position until 2009.

The Ugeth Urbina Trade

Trade: The Marlins sent Adrian Gonzalez, Will Smith, and Ryan Snare to the Texas Rangers for Ugeth Urbina.

Prognosis: Loss

Urbina provided about a quarter of a season worth of excellent relief work, giving the Fish 38 1/3 innings of 1.41 ERA/2.80 FIP, en route to 1-2 WAR, depending on who you ask. While he was shaky at times in the playoffs, his effective play down the stretch obviously helped the Marlins make the playoffs and head to the World Series. But was he worth Gonzalez, a former No. 1 pick from 2000 who was still highly regarded in the system? True, Gonzalez was coming off an injury, but he was still on Top 10 lists back in those days. Was he worth literally 30% of a season of relief pitching? Probably not. The Marlins likely overpaid a bit for Urbina, and knowing they would not resign him made this move a bid dubious.

The Derrek Lee Trade

Trade: The Marlins sent Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Hee-Seop Choi and Mike Nannini

Prognosis: Push

This was a pure salary dump by the Fish. At the time of the trade, I did not think as highly of Lee as I do now, but he was coming off of a 4-WAR season in which he batted .271/.379/.508. The team could not afford his salary and dealt him essentially straight up for Choi. Choi actually was a promising player as a 25-year old prospect out of Korea. He started 2004 with a bang, but then was inexplicably traded as part of the Brad Penny deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Next time, we’ll delve into the Penny trade and the sales of 2006.

Tags: Miami Marlins

  • JoeA.

    Michael,

    I still cringe thinking about losing Adrian Gonzalez in the Urbina trade, but it can be argued we would not have won the Series without him. My feeling is considering the circumstances it’s hard to label that trade a loss. As you mentioned, I think Beinfest knew he was overpaying but felt like this was our “shot”. He gambled and we won. Sort of like the Smoltz-Alexander trade or the Bagwell-Andersen trade except we didn’t just make the playoff. We went all the way.

    • Michael Jong

      JoeA,

      You and Dave share the opinion that Urbina was critical to the success of that team. I agree that he was stellar when he got here, but I don’t know how much he added to our chances of winning. Maybe an eighth of a World Series ring? Is that eighth worth maybe a projected 2 WAR/year 1B over 6 years? Maybe so. I have bad memories myself of Urbina after he had some late inning shenanigans in the WS, so I have a bit of a biased view. But was Looper really that much worse? And could we have projected Urbina to be as good as he was?

      As you say, it was a gamble, and we got the ring to make us feel better. But even without considering Gonzalez’ status now (he’s a bona fide 4-win player now), I think we might have given up too much. I’d love to see where he ranked in our organization that year.

  • http://marlinsdiehards.com Dave

    Methinks you doth protest too much. Clement-for-Willis a push? The Marlins got way more out of that trade than the Cubs, and packaging Willis with Miguel Cabrera helped the Fish get Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, both of whom still have high ceilings (time will tell if they meet their potential…).

    Also, Gonzalez for Urbina turned out to be a very high price, but Urbina did help the team win a title, and that is the point, isn’t it? I’m not convinced the team wins the World Series without making that deal.

    On the other hand, the Derrek Lee trade has to be a loss. Their are salary dumps, and there are salary dumps that set up a team well for the long term. This was the former.

    • Michael Jong

      Dave,

      You have to consider the trade at the time it was made. Could we honestly expect Willis to have been a house for four years? Prospects make it and don’t make it every day. Willis may have been a B prospect (I don’t know, as I don’t have any grades from back then), and Clement was playing at least around league average level before we traded him.

      The Urbina trade can be argued for. It again depends on how well regarded Gonzalez was at the time of the trade. There is some value to be added for making it to the postseason (and eventually winning the Series, but that’s as much luck as anything, right?), but I’m unsure that the team doesn’t make it without Urbina. We ended up winning the WC by more than 1-2 games.

      I initially was going to label it a loss, but consider this. Choi came in as a 25 year old. If he was an average player for the amount of time the Marlins had control of him, we would’ve ended up with much more surplus value than an extra season of D-Lee (I believe Lee had one more cost-controlled year left). And it isn’t as if Choi didn’t come out firing, hence the awesome batting line and 1.6 WAR in the first half. I don’t think it’s his fault that the team inexplicably dealt him for Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota. That can’t be a loss in my book. We didn’t get much back for Lee, but it was because the team for some reason dealt Choi that same year. Otherwise, we may have picked up 8 WAR over four or five more years, which would have been very well worth it.

  • JoeA.

    Michael,

    Agreed. Once the playoffs start luck plays a huge part in winning it all. That said, Urbina did play a big part of the Fish even making the postseason in 2003. If I recall correctly, Gonzalez was still highly regarded at the time of the trade but there was some concern that he had shown almost no power up until that time. Of course even though this was only seven years ago the analysis of prospects has advanced light years since then. Mostly, I believe, because of writers like yourself. Power is usually the last tool to develop and he was still very young. But yes, it does hurt to watch him tearing it up in another uni. Imagine how much closer we would have been to the Phils if we could have plugged him in at 1b last year.

    • Michael Jong

      JoeA,

      Thanks for the kind words, but my knowledge of the minors and prospect analysis is only OK at best in my opinion. Thank the work of guys like Sickels and Law, because those are the guys who are using scouting methods and trying to keep up with the statistical analysis. Also, thank Victor Wang for his work in valuing prospects, an amazing piece of work.

      Of course, I would also be remiss without mentioning my partner in crime John Herold as well. He knows our system pretty well, and I trust his opinions on our prospects over a lot of people.

      On Gonzalez, it’s tough. I knew he was coming off injury and, not having shown any power, I can see why his grade would slip. On the other hand, that Choi grade is some high, huh? Vindicates me a bit, I suppose. I imagine that the Marlins prized him in that Lee trade, which makes it all the more strange when they traded him HALF A YEAR LATER. I swear, we gave up way too much for Paul Lo Duca. But I digress.

  • JoeA.

    Found this review of the 2003 top prospects list from Matthew Pouliot. It’s interesting not only where Gonzalez is but check out Hee Sop Choi!!!

    http://www.rotoworld.com/content/features/column.aspx?sport=MLB&columnid=2&articleid=29890

  • JoeA.

    Michael,

    I remember the Choi/Penny trade being a bit puzzling at the time. Choi played the best Major League ball of his career while here and Penny was a key part of the rotation(although he was constantly in Mckeon’s dog house).
    I think the most interesting aspect of this analysis of Beinfest is the unique circumstances with which he has to deal, being with the Fish. I think he has done remarkably well on those trades where he’s selling and all of MLB knows he HAS to sell due to salary containts. The team has remained competitive, even after multiple “fire sales”.

  • John Herold

    Too add on the annoyance of the Urbina trade, we also did not offer him arbitration after the season. With concern of injury, it was likely the right move (Urbina would miss the first weeks of the season, and got just 3.5 mil). However, it’s still frustrating to know there was the possibility of at least getting two draft picks for him and we were unable to get them. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was in the FO’s mind when they traded for Urbina: We’re giving up Gonzalez, but hopefully we can replace him in the draft. Things didn’t work out that way though.

  • Michael Jong

    JoeA,

    You’re absolutely right, Beinfest had to deal with some interesting circumstances certainly. I think he’s done a solid job overall, but there are always misses in these types of moves (Penny/Choi trade in particular sticks out in my mind).

    I think what he did to form up that 2006 squad was impressive. Sure, a lot of it was luck (Uggla, Ramirez growing into form at just the right time), but he had a strict need to trade away players and did the best he could. It helps that the team was already set with a lot of minor league talent that turned out just right (JJ and Willingham come to mind).

  • Michael Jong

    John,

    Agreed. You had to figure that, at that time, arbitration would not have been taken; the economy was ripe for guys like Urbina to actually get signed for decent money even with Type A status getting in the way. It would not have happened today, but in 2004 I think it would’ve been a no-brainer.

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