I’m happy for Cody Ross. He’s playing for a contender in the San Francisco Giants, and on Saturday night he came up huge, bombing two homers and contributing .235 WPA en route to a Giants 6-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s great that a guy like Cody can be a part of the playoff hunt for the first time and contribute in a big way. As a Marlins fan, it’s good to see him succeeding in the playoffs.
Seeing this sort of success has to make Marlins fans upset about how the Marlins gave up Ross, via a simple waiver claim to the Giants. However, said fans should recognize that Cody’s future with the team was limited anyway, and the Marlins were not going to receive much for him in any sort of trade. While it seems unfair that the team essentially lost him for nothing, it also seems totally appropriate given the market for a player like Ross and the particular team to whom the Marlins eventually gave Ross.
First, let’s consider the teams involved here. The Marlins were clearly interested in making room for their young outfielders and needed to clear Ross out in order to get an extended, late-season look at Cameron Maybin. In addition, this is the Marlins, a team that would not be happy paying a player of Ross’ caliber $7-8M for his final arbitration season. Once the Marlins decided that Dan Uggla would remain with the team in 2011 (seems like a foregone conclusion now), there was no more room in the budget for Ross. With Maybin once again tearing up the minors, there was no reason for the Marlins to pay the additional $1.1M owed to Ross to keep him around for the rest of the year. Moving him to another team was the right call.
The circumstances in which the Marlins made the move were particularly interesting. Because we were past the trade deadline, the Marlins had to have Ross clear waivers first before attempting a trade to any team. It seemed the Giants were interested in Ross only to block the San Diego Padres, who could have used a bat in the outfield next to Ryan Ludwick. The Giants themselves had little need for Ross, as they had a smorgasborg of outfielders available to them. Ross was certainly an upgrade over the guys they had (Jose Guillen, anyone?), but it didn’t mean the Giants would be willing to deal valuable players or prospects to acquire him, especially if their plan was to let him go the following season anyway. So without the option of a trade for Ross, the Marlins decided to save the $1.1M and let the Giants have him. Their hands were tied and there was nothing else that could be done about it.
There is an argument that, if the Marlins felt this way, they should have made a deal to get something before the non-waiver trade deadline. I absolutely agree with that sentiment, and I’m sure the team agreed with it as well. I am fairly certain the Marlins were shopping Ross before the deadline as well. Indeed, quite a few teams were involved in potential trades for Ross, including the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox.
So what went wrong? According to the articles linked in the above MLBTR linked piece, the “right trade” never surfaced. Given that the Marlins later decided to give Ross away for nothing, a possible explanation for this is that the Marlins felt like the team was within contention before the deadline. The Fish were 7.5 games back of the division-leading Braves and 5.5 back of the Giants, with quite a few teams standing in front of them. If they did not recognize that they were far enough from contention that replacing Ross with Maybin would have made little difference, then we cannot be too confident in the front office’s cognitive skills.
The only other possible reasoning for this perplexing play is that the Fish could not get an offer that involved players coming back and did not have paying any part of Ross’ remaining salary. This may be the only mistake the Marlins truly made in the Cody Ross situation; perhaps the team overestimated the return it was going to receive for a player of Ross’ caliber. After all, Ross is the type of guy who, at his best, could be expected to hit .280/.330/.480, and is far more likely to bat .270/.320/.440 on any given season. How much could the Marlins have expected a team to give up for an average defender at any outfield position who was about league average with the bat and was only under team control for an additional season? If the Fish decided not to pull the trigger before the deadline because other teams were not giving up enough, maybe the club should have considered how little suprlus (trade) value Ross actually had.
That error cost the Marlins little ultimately. Sure, we probably could have gotten a menial prospect or two, certainly more than what we received from the Texas Rangers for Jorge Cantu, but the team wasn’t going to get a whole lot for Ross without possibly paying the remainder of his salary. In the end, Ross will end up somewhere else and be a good fourth outfielder or platoon partner with solid defense. If he’s lucky, he’ll land a starting job and be an average player. The Marlins will move on with Cameron Maybin, for better or for worse. While the move was suboptimal, it wasn’t the travesty that some are making it appear after Ross’ playoff hot streak.
Note: It seems David of Marlins Diehards agrees with my sentiment. I like that line about nostalgia. Baseball is a business, and the Marlins are the cheapest kind of operator. Overpaying for nostalgia is a mistake, and almost always will be. Look no further than the Ken Griffey Jr. situation from the last two seasons.