Marlins give up on Cabrera trade tandem


Over the weekend, the Marlins made two moves, only one of which was expected. As expected, the Fish dealt Andrew Miller away, avoiding arbitration and getting something for him in return (H/T MLBTR). The deal to the Boston Red Sox brought back reliever Dustin Richardson, who isn’t terribly interesting but would be cheap if he stayed on the major league roster. That deal seemed underwhelming and completely predictable given Miller’s 2010 performance and his arbitration status. What was more surprising was the second trade of the weekend, dealing the other major piece from the 2007 Miguel Cabrera trade away. The Marlins sent Cameron Maybin to the San Diego Padres for relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica (H/T MLBTR) in a move to bolster the bullpen.

I have to say that I am floored by this early-offseason movement by the Marlins. In one fell swoop, the Fish have traded away the two biggest cogs of the (retrospective) failed Cabrera trade, leaving only Burke Badenhop as the last remnant of the deal in the majors (of the other minor leaguers, only Dallas Trahern remains with the Marlins minor league organization). They also acquire three arms that are specifically for the bullpen, a move that has some questionable merits even given the team’s futile bullpen efforts last season. Let’s go through some of the major talking points in the trades.

Was it too early to give up on them?

There is an argument that can be made that the Marlins gave up on both players too early. With Miller, this argument would be patently wrong, something to which I have already attested before. But for Maybin, there was still a sliver of hope. He had struggled in two separate season starts (in 2009 and 2010), but had always come back and had decent Septembers to keep hope alive. This season figured to be the year the Marlins would give Maybin his ultimate shot to sink or swim in the big leagues, but it seems the Fish have already given up on his prospects.

This season seemed like the right time to test out Maybin. The Marlins had lost Cody Ross for nothing to the San Francisco Giants, with the likely intent of filling his spot in center field with Maybin. I don’t think the Fish were actively shopping Maybin, but they were more than willing to throw his name out there to hear what others would offer for him, and the Padres clearly caught the team’s interest. However, this leaves a pretty wide-open hole in center field for the Fish this year, and you have to wonder whether the team is overestimating some of its possible replacements out there in the outfield. Sure, Maybin struggled mightily in almost a full year’s worth of work in the majors, but he could not be appreciably worse than having Emilio Bonifacio out there, and at least Maybin had some power upside. At this point, Marlins fans should be dreading whether Edwin Rodriguez is penciling in Bonifacio in center field and at the top of the lineup as a result of this deal.

But what about the return?

The most interesting thing about these trades is what the Marlins targeted for return. This is the first offseason that I can recall in which the Fish have made it their top priority to fill the bullpen with quality arms. The team also mentioned that they were interested in cost-controlled, young arms rather than expensive free agents like Rafael Soriano or Brian Fuentes. If there is anything to be said about these trades, in particular the Maybin one, it is that the Marlins accomplished their goals.

Webb seems to be the catch among the three pitchers acquired. He is a hard-throwing, 6’6″ right-hander, so he certainly has the physique of a dominating bullpen pitcher. The most outstanding aspect of his game is likely his velocity, as he has averaged 95 mph on his fastball in his two years in the majors. Baseball America last ranked him the 24th best prospect in the Padres organization before the 2010 season, adding that along with the fastball he had a “strong” mid-80’s curveball.

The makeup is there for Webb, but so far the results have been less impressive. This year’s 2.90 ERA does pop out of his FanGraphs page, but you’ll note that much of that was from his absurdly low home run rate, which undoubtedly should go up due to both simple regression and moving from Petco Park to Sun Life Stadium. One thing going for Webb in terms of suppressing homers, however, is his impressive 60% GB% so far in his career.

Webb has actually been fairly underwhelming despite the electric fastball; he’s been under the league average strikeout rate in both of his seasons in the bigs, and in 2009 he had a bit of a problem with walks (9.4% BB%) in his short 25 or so innings. His 2010 season was much improved in terms of walks, and combined with the low home run total to give him a shiny ERA to go along with an even better 2.82 FIP. Still, for him to have success, he’ll have to up those strikeouts or risk becoming just like another former Marlins fireballer with a lack of strikeout stuff (Matt Lindstrom, anyone?).

The remaining arms are pretty interesting. Mujica upped his strikeout rate enormously this season (26.9% K% from a previous career 17.4% rate), but also gave up a Chris Volstad-like 14 home runs in almost 70 innings of work. Mujica has a batted ball profile more like Ricky Nolasco’s, so you’d expect some succeptibility to the home run from him. Richardson has worked primarily in the minors with excellent strikeout stuff (26.3% K% career in the minors) but with some control issues (11.5% BB% career). It doesn’t bode well for him that he is 26 years old and has been playing against players a good deal younger than him the last few seasons in Double- and Triple-A. Mujica should come in and immediately contribute, while Richardson I suspect will head to the minors.

Was it a good idea?

The Marlins picked up something (anything) for Miller, which has to be considered a win given how little the team thinks of the tall lefty. Trading Maybin must have been a difficult call given his status as an important piece in that trade long ago, but the Marlins got two solid bullpen arms, both of whom are under team control. Mujica is arbitration-eligible for the first time, but is unlikely to make much more than $900K, while Webb is still in his pre-arbitration years and likely won’t qualify for arbitration until 2013. So if the goal was to get team- and cost-controlled bullpen arms that could contribute this season, the Marlins achieved this goal. The question is whether or not the team did itself any favors by making these deals.

If you consider Maybin a 1-WAR player (I had him at 1.2 WAR), Mujica and Webb would have to contribute around that total to match up with him, presuming replacement level performance at center field. Last year Webb and Mujica racked up 0.7 rWAR and 0.8 fWAR pitching almost 130 innings. Both players faced below-average leverage (importance of appearance), but with the Marlins you have to figure the team will give them higher-leverage opportunities. The deal could break even in terms of 2011 WAR, but it has some fairly high variance given the nature of relief pitching. The Marlins are rolling the dice and hoping for good seasons out of these two players and an outside chance at anything valuable out of Richardson. We’ll see if it pans out over the next few years, but for now I’d say the team came up mostly even.