The Hits and Misses of Larry Beinfest, Pt. 2

Last time we met, we discussed some of Larry Beinfest’s major transactions up to and past the 2003 World Series season. Today, we’ll cover a couple more moves from Beinfest’s time as general manager and see how they grade out.

First though, a quick update on the Derrek Lee-for-Hee Seop Choi trade. Reader JoeA dug through the Internets and found this article from RotoWorld in reviewing the top prospects as listed by now current NBCSports writer Matthew Pouillot. What was intriguing was that Pouillot ranked Choi as the fifth-best prospect in the country at the time, behind some pretty prominent names; Mark Teixeira, Jose Reyes, Joe Mauer, and Brandon Phillips were ahead of Choi, though names like Joe Borchard and Wilson Betemit landed behind him. In addition, apparently Baseball America had him ranked 22nd prior to 2003, and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein had him ranked 7th! That status, combined with a solid rookie year in 2003, showed that he had a lot of value behind his name. Perhaps trading Lee, a player who the Marlins were unlikely to sign and would only remain for one more season, for top-25 hitting prospect like Choi one-for-one was a pretty decent idea.

Of course, Choi’s top prospect status and performance in 2004 make it all the more puzzling that the Marlins pulled this next deal off.

The Brad Penny/Paul Lo Duca Trade

Trade: The Marlins sent Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi, and Bill Murphy to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion

Prognosis: Loss

The motivations for the Marlins to make this move were clear. At the time of the trade, the team was in the hunt for the playoffs and had two major holes to address: catcher and the bullpen. At the time, the Marlins were filling the position with Mike Redmond, he of the .256/.315/.341 batting line and .295 wOBA. For the bullpen, the Marlins had very little options outside of closer Armando Benitez, who was having a stellar comeback season with the Fish. The team had already traded shortstop prospect Wilson Valdez to the Chicago White Sox to get their hands on embattled former closer Billy Koch, who pitched pretty poorly for the team despite a shiny 3.50 ERA.

Those concerns were quite real for a team that was in competition for the Wild Card in 2004. The Marlins felt a need to fill those holes and did so by acquiring Lo Duca and Mota. The acquisitions themselves were not unwarranted. Lo Duca was a slightly below average hitter (.318 and .323 wOBA the last two seasons) overall, but was a decent contact hitter (.281 and .273 batting average the last two seasons) with few other skills. For a catcher, that’s a pretty decent hitter. Mota had come off a monstrous 2003 season in which he pitched 102 innings in relief for the Dodgers.

The problem was what the Marlins gave up in return. The team traded Penny, who was having an excellent year with the team so far (19.5% K%, 6.1% BB%, 3.40 FIP, 3.15 ERA) and Choi, who was having a similarly strong campaign. The Marlins tossed a pitcher who was worth 2.8 WAR so far that year and a young, cost-controlled first base prospect who was worth another 1.6 WAR that year to relieve the awful catcher and bullpen situations. In order to make sure the team had adequate starters at each position, the club also took on Encarnacion, who was part of the 2003 World Series team but among its weakest players.

Was it really necessary? Lo Duca was around a 3.0-3.5 WAR player and was under contract for about one more season. Penny was a similar player at a different position, so that alone should have been enough to make the deal. Did the team really need to throw in Choi, who looked to have a promising major league career and was likely to provide plenty of surplus value, for Mota (a reliever) and Encarnacion (a perennial borderline 3rd/4th outfielder)? This was a clear overpay for the purposes of contention, and one that was far more egregious than the Adrian Gonzalez deal. In that deal, at least Gonzalez was a year or so away from the majors. Choi was already a major-league caliber player, and the Marlins traded him for a reliever and a borderline starting outfielder.

The Carlos Delgado Signing

Contract: The Marlins signed Carlos Delgado to a four-year, $52M deal

Prognosis: Win

The 2005 Florida Marlins were a bit of a disappointment, but Delgado was not the person to be faulted. In his lone season with the Marlins, Delgado batted a monstrous .302/.399/.582, putting up 33 home runs and 41 doubles on his way to a .407 wOBA and a 4.2 WAR season. Apparently his defense held him back that year, as he was rated at 12 runs below average for the season by UZR. This of course is by no means a surprise, as Delgado was long past being a solid defender at first base. But his bat held up, especially when we consider how much the Marlins paid him that season.

The contract was a ridiculous ploy by the front office. If the team could secure a stadium deal and put up a playoff contender, the Marlins would be interested in keeping Delgado around past the first season of the contract. However, if the team could not achieve these goals, they would come away with minimal losses for the long-term commitment to Delgado. The Marlins backloaded the contract badly, allowing them to pay Delgado only $4M in the first season of his services. Once the post-2005 fire sale began, the Marlins were more than happy to have another team pick up the tab on the remaining three years and $48M (including the potential $4M buyout).

The Josh Beckett/Hanley Ramirez Trade

Trade: The Marlins sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Guzman, and Harvey Garcia

Prognosis: Win, I think

This was the mega-trade of that offseason, and it could not have worked out any better for both sides in the end. But at the time, this trade was one tough cookie to evaluate. The Marlins had no shot of extending Josh Beckett at the time, and he would only have two more years of team control left before he was off to free agency. In that respect, the Marlins weren’t going to gain much surplus value from him. Lowell, who was a mainstay in Florida for six seasons, would have entered his third year of a four-year extension that had an odd stadium clause involving the Marlins’ new stadium plans. The team guaranteed his third year (prior, he could have entered free agency in 2006 or exercised a $14M option), then traded him to the Red Sox.

Beckett was still considered solid, though the perception was that he had yet to put it all together. Lowell was coming off an atrocious 2005 campaign which saw him .236/.298/.360, worth 0.4 WAR. The Marlins thought the decline stage was here for the 31-year old Lowell, and packaged him for a premium return. The jewel of the return, Hanley Ramirez, came with his own baggage. There were worries of attitude concerns and the fact that he had yet to put it all together in the minors. Despite that, he was still the highest ranking Red Sox prospect in 2005 and would have been behind only Jon Lester in 2006 were he not traded (according to Baseball America). Ramirez ranked 10th in all of baseball by BA’s rankings in 2005 and 30th in 2006. The additional arms that came in the deal were not half bad either, presumably.

Of course, the deal turned out nicely for the Fish since. Beckett has established himself nicely in Boston, but the Marlins of course received a franchise player in return. In addition, Sanchez may still develop into a decent pitcher, though the other two arms are no longer considered in our organization. At the time, there was uncertainty on both sides as to how good each package was, but the overall deal may at the time have been a slight win for the Marlins. At worst, it was a push.

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