A couple of days ago, the Marlins dealt Jorge Cantu away for a pair of minor leaguers, Evan Reed and Omar Poveda. I won’t pretend to know what these players are all about, but I’ll let prospect maven Bryan Smith of FanGraphs fill us in:
[Poveda] never had a particularly good fastball, so there has to be some concern that he’ll return to the mound without a heater to speak of. If so, it’s unlikely to project that he’d be able to carve out a big league career. But, he was a guy that had a feel for a change-up and curveball, and will likely come out of the gate pitching backwards. It’s not a sexy career path, and it’s an unlikely one to work, but again, it’s a near-free shot in the dark for Florida.
The better chance at providing actual value to the Marlins is Evan Reed. A third-round pick in the 2007 draft, the Rangers drafted the Cal Poly closer with the intention of making him a starting pitcher. Doing so for the 2008 season was a bit of a disaster — between the California League and pacing himself, Reed lost his abilities to strike people out and keep the ball in the park. It clearly was misguided, and the Rangers acted swiftly last year, moving him back to the closer role. Reed responded with a 12.0 K/9 and 0.2 HR/9. He was over his head in the Arizona Fall League, however, allowing three home runs in limited work.
The Marlins may get nothing from either player and it would still be ultimately a good move. What could the Marlins possibly have gotten for Cantu over the next two months? Maybe half a win the rest of the season? The Marlins were definitely not going to resign Cantu, as evidenced by rumors that Chris Coghlan would have moved to third if Cantu was dealt had Coghlan not injured himself. The team was prepared to move on without Cantu, so getting any return would have been useful. It also seems as if Reed is a halfway decent bet to make the majors.
As for any other moves, the Marlins appear to be at a standstill. It does not look as if the Fish will be making any more moves. With Coghlan out with injury, the Marlins are more likely to hold onto Cody Ross, no matter how much money the team would save next season by dealing him. The club does not want to appear like it is tanking the rest of the year, even without much in the way of playoff chances, and Ross may be essential to keeping up the appearance of competition even though the team is definitely out of contention. Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus made mention of this problem earlier this week (behind a paywall):
Put together, one has to wonder whether or not trades of Cantu and Ross would more closely mirror exercises in transactional policy than ways to legitimately improve the team. What muddies the proverbial waters is how the Marlins seem to be changing their minds each and every day. A hot streak will do that to a team and front office, but in the period of time when I began brainstorming this article and when I started typing the piece itself, the following happened:
1. Uggla went from potential trade candidate to potential long-term extendee
2. Cantu went from being basically a sure-thing to go to the Rangers to being sought after by a couple of teams, with nothing imminent.
3. Ross, thanks to one of those common pie-to-the-face injuries to Chris Coghlan, went from being an expendable piece in the outfield to almost irreplaceable.
OK, I may have exaggerated a bit in the numerical list above, but that does not mean the Marlins haven’t flip-flopped about their personnel lately. The idea that an injury to Coghlan drastically changes the landscape of potential Ross deals tells me one of two things—either the Marlins know they aren’t going to get much in return for Ross and would rather just play him, or the team legitimately thinks it has what it takes to win the NL wild card, and without Coghlan, Ross is needed to keep the team as close to full-throttle as possible.
Seidman is right, in that there is no reason an injury to Coghlan should legitimately change the long-term plans of the Marlins’ roster building unless they feel they have a shot this season. Baseball Prospectus has the Fish at 7.4% odds, up from the 3.2% they were at before they hit the hot streak that has brought them a game over .500. At this point, nine teams have a better shot than the Fish at a playoff spot in the National League, including four out of five clubs battling in the NL West and two teams in our own division. Fighting to keep players of decent (but not great) value for a minute shot at the playoffs seems like the wrong move, but would the return for Ross be valuable enough for the Marlins to pass on having him next season to hold down the fort?
It’s a difficult dilemma the team is facing this trade deadline, and the Marlins’ recent streak hasn’t made it any easier. The right move is for the team to be a seller, and thankfully the club was smart enough to deal Cantu. However, with Dan Uggla out of the selling picture with talks of extension in the air, the team just doesn’t have a whole lot more to sell.