What did the Marlins give up in Maybin?

Both Dave Cameron and friend of the Maniac Joe Pawlikowski had articles up on FanGraphs today regarding the Marlins’ recent trade activity. Sending Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin when both players were integral to the Miguel Cabrera trade had to feel bad for any Marlin fan, but it was a price that had to be paid given the Marlins’ current situation and the play of the two players.

Or was it necessary? While the Miller move was a no-brainer (Dustin Richardson appears to be about as good as Miller, except Miller was out of options and was heading into arbitration), both Cameron and Pawlikowski intimate in their articles that the Marlins are giving up on some decent potential and an acceptable major leaguer in Maybin. Here’s Cameron on the topic:

If this were Maybin’s true talent strikeout rate, I’d understand why the Marlins traded him – he’s unlikely to ever turn into more than what he is now with these contact problems. However, Maybin’s strikeout rate in Triple-A the last two years has been significantly lower – just 19.5% in 2009 and 18.5% this year. He had significant contact issues in the low minors, but has seemingly made some strides in that area, at least against minor league pitching.

If Maybin can get his whiff rate down to a more manageable 25 percent or so, then he’s a viable starting center fielder in the big leagues. At that point, he wouldn’t be much different of a player than B.J. Upton, for instance. Can he get there? Maybe, maybe not. But the Padres were wise to take a shot on him, as young, cheap, up-the-middle players with some offensive upside aren’t usually available for just bullpen help.

I get why the Marlins dumped him. It just seems a bit premature to give up on a guy really only needs to improve in one area to become a pretty nice piece for the future.

It’s an interesting take, and one that I can definitely understand. As we discussed before, Maybin needed to improve his strikeout rate to be an effective player. In a previous analysis on the subject, I found that Maybin’s strikeout rate would need to be at around 20-22% in order for him to reach around a league average wOBA (when accompanied by a 9.4% BB% and below average power). Cameron mentions a 25% K% for him to be a useful player, but my analysis shows that to put him at around a .310 wOBA. Of course, this presumes no further development on other aspects of the game, and you’d expect Maybin to maybe pick up a little pop as he ages.

That point is a fair one to bring up, but I’d lean on the side of the Marlins on this one. At this point, they had to know that Maybin’s primary problem was one of strikeouts, and they had to be working with him on improving in that area. If there was any party who knew more about Maybin’s strikeout issues, it would be the Marlins and their coaching staff. At some point, maybe the coaches approached the front office and said that Maybin just wasn’t going to correct his long swing and was going to struggle with strikeouts forever. How else could he assist the Fish?

Defense was questionable

Cameron alluded to the comparison with B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays. In theory, such a comparison would be apt, as Upton has similar strikeout issues (career K% 24.8%). However, aside from the fact that Upton has had good years at the plate before and has a plate discipline profile that I believe is more conducive of good play at the plate, I think Upton’s defense decently outstrips that of Maybin’s. Maybin’s best projection right now is at a .340 wOBA, despite what those strange CHONE/Bill James projections seem to think. At that kind of offensive performance, you would love a solid center field defender, but I doubt that Maybin reaches that mark for the next season or two. Much of his value is therefore going to come from his defense, and not many people are all that high on that part of his game.

All I have heard from the professional scouts are raving reviews for his defense, or at least his defense from a few years ago. However, Marlins fans have not been so kind to Maybin in their opinions of him. For two straight seasons now, Maybin has rated as a below average overall defender via the Fans Scouting Report (results shown on FanGraphs). From my personal view of him, he obviously has top-notch speed but gets some really bad breaks and taks bad routes ala the book on Jacoby Ellsbury. While the Fans of Tampa Bay love Upton’s defense, Maybin’s can hardly be considered comparable. Maybe that is a bit of small-sample judgment combined with non-professional scouting by us fans, but I can’t say I disagree with my fellow brethren. Maybin’s defense, at this point in his career, still leaves something to be desired, though it can be said that he has the tools (raw speed and supposedly a strong arm, though I’ve never seen it) to improve in the future. Maybe that was just a product of a lack of coaching from the organization or listening from Maybin.

Service time and the gap in center

This part was something both Cameron and Pawlikowski brought up. Here’s Pawlikowski’s basic take:

Not only is Maybin young, but he is also cost controlled. Heading into the 2010 season he had just 129 service days, and then didn’t spend the entire season on the active roster. There’s a chance he’ll attain Super-Two status after the 2011 season, but that’s no guarantee. If he doesn’t the deal works out even better for San Deigo. They’ll have acquired two very inexpensive years of a talented player, followed by three more expensive, but still cost-controlled, years.

I think this is an important part that simply cannot be overlooked. The only advantages Maybin has going for him heading into 2011 are his tools (at his age) and his pre-arbitration status. Yes, the Marlins would have had to keep him up in the majors all year since he is out of options, but the Fish basically had one more pre-arbitration year to hold onto Maybin and see what they could get out of him. If he faltered but still qualified for Super Two status and entered arbitration, the Fish would have let him go via a trade akin to the one they pulled with Miller. The question had to be whether the Marlins thought they were going to get anything out of him this year that would be of similar value to the two relievers they received.

Perhaps an equally important aspect, however, is who the Marlins have left over to fill the hole in center field. They might think Emilio Bonifacio or Chris Coghlan can slide in and play the position, but I have my doubts. If they struggle and Scott Cousins or Bryan Petersen cannot deliver, the Marlins just unnecessarily opened a gaping hole in center field in return for two relievers. Relievers are nice, especially ones like Ryan Webb who appear to have intimidating stuff, but they are still more fungible than center fielders. I think holding onto a guy who had an opportunity to be decent for the Marlins would have been a better call than to leave that spot frighteningly open while filling in your seventh inning relief situations.

Will they regret this?

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but it won’t really matter. The trade was done, and it has to be evaluated with regards to the current knowledge at hand. The Marlins internally must have felt that Maybin had little chance of improving in strikeouts (something at which I wouldn’t be terribly surprised) and thought the two relievers coming back would be enough to make up for it. I think that decision had something to do with his former top prospect status and the disappointing start to his career, but it also had to have something to do with how the Marlins have scouted out Maybin and projected him. It may also have had a lot to do with how the team reacted to having a terrible bullpen last year, maybe stretching for the extra relief help. I am sure plenty of factors went into the decision, but I doubt the Marlins came off all that behind overall. Maybin’s shot at success may be ultimately about as good as what the Marlins got out of the Padres, with an outside shot that the Padres flat out robbed us and equally outside shot that they get absolutely nothing out of Maybin. The timing may be off on the deal (the Fish could have afforded to wait and gotten a lot less), but in principle it seems like a fair offer.

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